Rev. Andrew Cunnington
16th April 2017
Face to Face with the Risen Lord

On the 4th August 1967 I went for the first time to watch Sussex play cricket at Hove and I have been going every year since then, so this year is my 50th anniversary!

I can see you are impressed!

I remember that first day so vividly. My neighbour from across the road – Old Mr Rodgers, he took me to the game. Bring your autograph book with you he told me. We’ll be sitting in the pavilion and you might meet some of the players.

Well there was only one player I wanted to meet. His name was John Snow and he was my hero. A big strapping fast bowler with long black hair. Truly, a 1960’s trendy guy. He played for Sussex and was now in the England team too. He could be a mean and moody individual, just like I wanted to be.

So we sat there in the pavilion on that day and I loved every minute of the game. Then Mr Rogers, whispered in my ear “ Andrew look behind you”….and I looked… and there he was right there. His bat in his hands. His pads on, ready to go into bat next. John Snow sat there staring into space. I could have reached out and touched him.

“Go and ask him for his autograph then” said Mr Rodgers “he won’t bite you know”.

But I could not move. I could not reach over and ask John Snow for his signature. He was my hero and as such he was untouchable. And supposing he was in a mean and moody mood and refused to sign, that would ruin everything. So I just kept looking at him and he never once looked at me.

He’s still to be seen some days down at the cricket is John Snow. In his seventies he is now! The hair is still long, but it’s white where it was black and he still stares into space and there’s still that mean and moody demeanour.

This year, maybe I should go with my autograph book again, and, if I see him, I could ask him, well you know….and tell him about fifty years ago. But it’s too late now, it really is.

Jesus is risen from the dead. He is alive for ever more. He gives hope and purpose to our lives when nothing else can. So our Alleluia’s ring out as loud as ever today.

He did not make a show of this in front of vast crowds. He did not take the city by storm after Easter. He just crept up and sort of sat down behind a few people. Normally when they were sad or wondering or anxious. He crept up so that if they looked over their shoulders there he would be.

Face to face with Jesus in John’s gospel. We’ve been looking at those one to one encounters all through Lent and it’s no different in the closing chapters. In the Easter bit. The first alleluia’s did not ring in a vast stadium, a cathedral or a temple, but in the hearts of a few random individuals.

This morning Mary is lost in her grief of having discovered the body of Jesus gone. She cannot see that Jesus is sitting in the row right behind her so to speak. Not until he calls out her name does she. Then it’s good, it’s very good “Master!” she cries and she takes the saviour of the world into her very arms, as if she was his Mother or, maybe his lover.

Soon after that, although not in John’s Gospel, two of the other disciples are walking home disconsolately. They don’t know where they stand with it all any more. None of it makes sense. Jesus is sitting in the row right behind them so to speak.

He walks behind them and then draws alongside. And it is only near the end of the conversation that they realise who it is.

Then it’s good. It’s very good “ Lord stay with us! For it is towards evening” and they realised all along how their hearts burned within them. Alleluia’s bursting to come out.

Thomas misses Jesus when apparently he called on the other eleven and when he hears their tale -he says “I will not believe unless he comes and sits in the seat right behind me so to speak, and I see for myself the crucifixion marks and place my hand in them”.

Jesus comes again and Thomas is there and he can reach out and touch. Thomas then knows that it is he and it’s good. It’s very good and he cries “My Lord and My God”.

And Peter, Peter just cannot piece it all together. He is home in Galilee, back to the fishing. Full of regret and guilt at the way he had let Jesus down. If Jesus is risen, why would He be interested in Peter now. But he’s there sitting in the row right behind him, so to speak. On the beach. Whilst Peter is in the boat. Looking and watching and cooking breakfast. Peter swims to Jesus and it is good. It is very good.

Simon, son of John, do you love me….yes Lord you know that I love you..and he has a job for him, and I guess because of that job, you and I are here now.

Do you see the trend? Jesus is risen and he creeps quietly into the lives of individuals, sits in the row behind them so to speak and sees if they will notice. And he comes most certainly when the chips are down.

Mary is distraught. Thomas is unbelieving. Peter is sad, angry, and guilty.

So it’s not as if Jesus comes when we are ready for him. In fact he is most likely to come when we aren’t.

One of the good things about coming to church on Easter Day , is safety in numbers. If you keep your head down, you may not get noticed. The last thing you want is to be singled out. The last thing you want or expect is to meet with him when you’re not ready.

But he’s in the row behind you. He’s sitting right there staring into space. He’s in touching distance.

And the world is looking this way and that for reasons to be cheerful ..and there’s not much to see that gives us hope. But Jesus comes when people are not expecting him. Jesus comes when the chips are down to weeping Mary, disbelieving Thomas, guilty Peter.

So Easter faith means expecting him to come in the growing stand off between the USA and North Korea. The chemical weapons threats in Syria. He comes where violence is met with more violence and threat is matched by counter threat.

Easter faith is the hope of new life in impossibly dead looking situations. A hope that is generated through a discipline to prayer and an open handedness to practical help. Of worship together, thjat is not based on wishful thinking, but is truly heartfelt.

I’m not going to ask you to look behind you right now, but if you did you would see the familiar faces of the St Matthew’s congregation or of a welcome visitor in our midst. Not so much Christ in one body but in Our body. Sitting in the row behind you staring into space in the guise of a familiar neighbour.

So we have unavoidable responsibilities.

To recognise the Christ in our midst.

And to promote the Christ within ourselves.

So that our worshipping and our praying and our missioning are not just the things we do, but that these are the ways in which we are called to make Him known, and making him known, to affect a change in things.

The renewal of our Baptismal vows begin with the words Do You turn To Christ…

Yes I turn to him, for he is, so to speak, sitting in the row right behind you.