Brothers and Sisters, today is the 3rd Sunday of Easter. It’s very encouraging that the Church doesn’t call these Sundays “Sundays after Easter” but “Sundays of Easter”. In the Church’s mind, every Sunday of the year is an Easter, but every Sunday of Eastertide especially so. This is encouraging because Easter is something so large that we, with our souls like little plastic cups, can never take it in at one go. We need constant refills. During the forty days of his appearances, Jesus showed himself to his followers repeatedly. He gave “many proofs” of his resurrection, says the Acts of the Apostles (1:3). He didn’t appear just once: “Look, here I am risen from the dead – you can come and feel me if you like – and now off you go and tell everyone about it – and bye for now.” He knows the size, as it were, of his death and resurrection. He knows we are slow on the uptake. He knows that, in matters supernatural, we all have learning difficulties.
So, every year come these seven Sundays of Eastertide. Every year, fifty-two Sunday Easters. And Jesus shows himself in Jerusalem and Galilee: in a garden, in an upstairs room, on the road, by a lake, on a mountain. And each time the disclosure is the same, but different. Each Sunday of Easter shows us another face of the one, same reality.
Think of how winter turns into summer in our part of the world. In some places, it happens in a week or less. Not here. Here, it’s gradual, piecemeal, strung out, protracted. First the snowdrops and the aconites, then the crocuses, then the daffodils, then the buds on the bushes and shrubs, and the birds, but the weather goes backwards and forwards, up and down, and the trees still aren’t out. So it is, so it was with the disciples, so it is with our Christian life, so it is with the grace of Easter. It takes hold of us, turns our winter into summer in fits and starts, reverses and advances.
Today’s readings have a common thread: the forgiveness of sins. This is one name for Easter.
In the 1st reading, St Peter is speaking in Jerusalem to his fellow-Jews, to the Jerusalemites. And he says, “Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” – the sin, in this case, of your involvement in the events that led to Jesus’ Passion and death: “you killed him, but God raised him.”
In the 2nd reading, St John is writing to people, perhaps mainly Gentiles, who are Christian. “I am writing this, my children, to stop you sinning; but if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, who is just: he is the sacrifice that takes our sins away, and not only ours, but the whole world’s.”
In the Gospel, thirdly, on the evening of the first Easter day, Jesus tells his disciples how the Old Testament speaks of him, foretells his death and resurrection “and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached [which means offered] to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
We know the phrase so well: the Lamb of God who takes away the sins (or “sin”) of the world. That’s who stands before us today. He, the Lamb, can be the focus of our prayer today. He stands, slain but living, before the Father in heaven. He is present here in the blessed Sacrament.
Easter is the forgiveness of sins: “beginning from Jerusalem”, from the Cross, and spreading out to every time and place. Easter is the forgiveness of sins, beginning from baptism, but wanting to seep into every nook and cranny of ourselves – and make us a flourishing garden of God.
Without forgiveness, life can’t be lived. If I’m not forgiven, I’ll be forever locked down in whatever wrong I did or mistakes I made. If I don’t forgive, I’ll be forever locked down in my hurt and grievance and anger. Without forgiveness, life can’t go on. Without forgiveness, winter never turns to summer.
And the world doesn’t get it. We’re forever dividing ourselves into good and evil, into victims and aggressors. Black lives matter: of course they do. Me too: yes, of course. But if only it was as simple as that, if only such justice could resolve everything. It’s as if we want the Last Judgment to happen now, to pull up all the darnel in a day, to eliminate this or that category of person and bring about Utopia. It’s all to usurp what only God can do. It’s to overlook the full range and complexity of evil and therefore to leave us in its power. It’s to bracket off forgiveness.
“Beginning from Jerusalem”, though, there comes what we really need. Peter, a sinner himself, is talking to his fellow-Jews of their sins and his. St John is speaking to Christians of their sins and his. Jesus sends his apostles to proclaim forgiveness to “all the nations”. This is the real thing. This gets to the root. This acknowledges the universality of sin and our powerlessness before it. The Lamb underwent the whole force of human aggression, the Lamb was the Victim who includes all victims, including the ones who never get heard or advocated for. “Death with Life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own champion slain, yet lives to reign.” The power of sin is broken, forgiveness released, forgiveness proclaimed for every sin – “beginning from Jerusalem” where the future begins.
Says the Creed: we believe one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. In baptism we’re washed into forgiveness. It has been given us. It need never run dry. It can be released over and over again. We can be forgiven over and over again and we can now begin to forgive, not just seven times (on our seven Sundays of Easter) but seventy times seven. And on the hinge of Easter, our winter turns to summer.
(19 April 2021, St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen)