THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE

Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Easter 1) the 3rd April 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Acts 5: 27-32     Revelation 1: 4-8     S. John 20: 19-31

Part of John’s greeting to the Churches:

Revelation 1:5 describes the Son of God in this way: “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of Kings on earth.”

There are occasions in life, as I am sure you will all agree, that we become overburdened with various sorts of busyness. Many families will have their own particular focus of busy-ness; mine at this time of year as Rector of this congregation has often been the preparation of the Holy Week and Easter services. In the various sorts of things needing careful attention, it is not difficult to find oneself getting anxious about one thing or another, that something is being left undone, or not as well done as one would wish.

Anxiety such as this is perhaps only round the next corner for all of us, and it is something that is probably a greater temptation for some than for others, according to one’s personality. Like pain in general, in one respect anxiety has its good and useful side, in showing us that something must be attended to. The most dangerous aspect of the disease of leprosy, for example, is that it first attacks the capacity of the feeling in one’s extremities – and after a while the deformities result from an accumulation of injuries which because they are not felt are not attended to. A sense of pain is necessary to alert a person to do a simple thing like adjusting one’s weight from one foot to another or stretching out one’s toes. If, through lack of feeling and therefore lack of pain, such simple adjustments are not made when they become necessary, the foot or the hand begins to deteriorate. Before very long an ulcerous condition, which again is not felt, begins to develop, and so the process of decline accelerates.

Perhaps some may have no anxiety because they don’t care about anything, and then I suppose we have a mental equivalent of leprosy. If that is so, parts of our mental life, like leprous hands and feet, will begin to be deformed and useless, because we will have done these parts of our life injury and have not cared to repent or to attend to the matter in any healing way. In the same way, we who are members of Christ’s body, the Church, are supposed to feel for one another out of mutual concern. If we cut off that concern it may be that some even small injury experienced by a member through going unattended by the Church will cause deformation and ultimate loss.

We should always recall, however, that Jesus Himself taught that we should not remain in a condition of anxiety, and the grounds upon which He teaches this are the Fatherliness of God and the fact that He has a “Kingdom” or a rule that is active in our universe. How then do we put together the need to have concern, and the instruction not to remain anxious? Only by one way, it seems to me. That is the way of submitting the concerns we have to the rule or the Kingdom of God in prayer, and such prayer may be that of an intercessor as well as our own. Out of such prayer and particularly by His Word we will often find not only the relief of anxiety but the ways of addressing the concerns we feel. We will know that certainly the rule of God is in practical effect in our universe.

The greatest sign that this is true, that the rule of God is in practical effect in our universe, is the reality of Easter itself, the fact, as abundantly witnessed, that the Lord Jesus overcame death by being raised from it. This being raised from death is the confirmation we needed that His passion and death constituted the greatest acts of His royal clemency on our behalf. No temptation to anxiety, therefore, comes to us without the assurance of His Kingship and rule, because there is no trouble we know that He is not fully and personally acquainted with. In resisting temptation He is able to help us as a strong and merciful High Priest, and in suffering for righteousness’ sake it is He Himself who stands with us and within us. The signs that Jesus did, including the signs He did when risen from the dead, are written down, as St John explains in our gospel today, that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” This “life” is, of course, not merely existing, but an abundant life, which acts to oppose and defeat inordinate anxiety. Believing in the sovereign Messiahship of Jesus according to the scriptural witness is what enables us to have such abundant life. Surely Peter and the apostles were living that abundant life when they so boldly witnessed to their judges in the sanhedrin to the truths of Jesus and to the fact that while those same judges had condemned and killed Him, God had raised Him.

The opposition between the sovereignty of the Lord and the condition of unrelieved anxiety is revealed in the exodus events of the Old Testament by which His people were rescued. We heard about these things again during the Easter Vigil. The people were anxious and rebellious because they could see the enemy forces marching after them and they seemed to be trapped yet they were positioned where they were because the Lord had led them there. Their anxiety was understandable, but continuing in it was rebellion. It did not acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty nor perhaps His goodness. Their rebellion declared either that there was no God or that His word should be ignored, or that He should not be trusted to bring about what He had undertaken to do. When we experience anxiety and you peel away its layers, you may find a similar sort of rebellion there in our hearts against the sovereignty of God, which we are taught in our hearts through Christ to be in practical effect in our universe.

This, too, is the great affirmation in our text today from our second lesson, Revelation Chapter 1. Jesus Christ is acknowledged as the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the Kings of the earth. He was the faithful witness because he faithfully did the will of God unto death, exercising royal clemency on our behalf in a pure and costly act. Being firstborn or first-begotten from the dead incorporates also the meaning of sovereignty – He is sovereign of the realm or realms of the dead. As ruler or Prince of the Kings of the earth, He also has sovereignty here on earth. He has successfully opposed the claim of Satan to have such sovereignty. The children of Israel’s anxieties and our inordinate anxieties are not necessary and constitute rebellion. Let us put them away, and help one another to do so. For we are an Easter people, and our song is Alleluiah! The Lord Jesus, crucified and risen, reigns as King!