Reflections: Easter to PentecostHome / Services and Events / Reflections: Easter to Pentecost
These reflections cover the Sundays (mostly) between Easter and Pentecost. Click on a day to see the reflection for that Sunday.
Pentecost - Sunday 31st May
Today's reflection is based on Acts 2:1-21 and John 20:19-23.
We see reports on the television of crowds of people flocking to beaches – despite restrictions. Many of us are attracted to spending time on a beach and, if not swimming, then walking along the water's edge. Learning poems at school was perhaps seen by many at the time as something of a burden and not as an important part of education but I think that view is not correct. I often think of the lines of poetry I learned at Primary School. Who remembers learning the John Masefield poem, "Sea Fever"?
"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
Whilst these lines were not written about 'trips to the beach', nevertheless, many years after committing these lines to memory, I am sure that they have encouraged the love of being by the sea – if not necessarily sailing on it!
We remain isolated from each other and we cannot, as yet, meet together in Church because of the continuing restrictions of the "Lockdown." Our Gospel passage tells of the disciples being together – in self-imposed lockdown – not because of Coronavirus but "because of fear of the Judeans." If you think you have read this passage fairly recently, you are right! It forms part of the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter where it continues to tell the story of Thomas' disbelief that Jesus had risen and appeared to the other disciples. Here the reading is used, not so much to speak of the resurrection – although of course every Sunday does that – but rather, to emphasise the commissioning of the disciples. We remember reading in Acts Chapter 1 that Jesus told his disciples, "You will be baptised with the Holy Spirit" and a little later just before his Ascension he told them, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." And what difference was that to make to them? The 'Acts of the Apostles' is the account of what the disciples were able to do when empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told them that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and to the ends of the earth.
The crowd in Jerusalem who heard Peter speaking assumed that he was drunk because of what seemed like wild things that he was saying! You see, their collective memory had failed. Peter had to remind them what their Scripture said: that the prophet Joel had spoken of the day to come when the Lord would pour out his Spirit on all people. Peter tells them that this day has come and it is because of Jesus the Christ – the Messiah – whose coming was foretold. Now, says Peter, all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved. Today marks the beginning of the Church of Jesus.
The feast of Pentecost, the "fiftieth" day after the Passover – or 'Feast of weeks' as it is known in the Old Testament – marks the covenant at Mount Sinai and also marks the first Spring harvest. Jews from throughout the world would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate this great festival. The disciples experienced something dramatic. We are told that there came from heaven a sound as of a violent and rushing wind and also divided tongues as of fire and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. We see the Spirit in action with sounds and sights. No doubt we are meant to recall Jesus' baptism with its own sound and sight – the voice from heaven which said "you are my Son with you I am well pleased" – and the Holy Spirit descending upon him in bodily form like a dove. Now we hear of the Spirit descending upon the disciples. The disciples are the same people they always were but now seem to have a 'new life' in them.
The fire and mighty wind are symbols of what we see in the rest of Acts as the story of the Holy Spirit unfolds. The violent wind blows through Acts driving the story on, powerfully changing people's lives, compelling Paul, Peter and the rest of them on the journey to the 'ends of the earth' for, as Acts makes clear the Spirit changes people. We see the way intense opposition is overcome; we see the signs and wonders and healings that accompany the telling of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Acts of the Apostles is the dramatic illustration of how the fire of the Gospel spread through the known world; it tells how the wind of change blew from Jerusalem to Rome and then onwards down the centuries.
The Spirit is the driving force of that mission by the disciples which continues the earthly mission and ministry of Jesus himself and it should be the driving force in our mission and ministry today. I suspect that many of us are not keen on change – I include myself in this! However, I am sure that the world needs people to experience the power of the Spirit to bring change - and even perhaps change in me and you!
I am sure that the when the lockdown is eased sufficiently to enable services to be held once again, there will have to be some changes to enable any necessary 'social distancing' to be maintained. Perhaps we may also need to contemplate some other changes if we are to play our part in proclaiming afresh the Good News of Jesus.
The Spirit re-animated a fearful body of people who had hidden themselves away; it gave them new life in a way that enabled them to be witnesses to Jesus in the world. So too we pray,
"Come thou Holy Spirit, come change our lives that we too may witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ so that others too might have new life in him."
I pray that you will be kept safe and well until we meet again – and until we can go "down to the seas again!"
With every blessing,
The Seventh Sunday of Easter - 24th May
Today's reflection is based on Acts 1:6-14.
Last Thursday we marked the Ascension of Jesus. The list of Readings set for Ascension Day explained that the portion of the New Testament set for the day from the Acts of the Apostles must be used as one of the readings. Likewise, today the lectionary says that the passage from the Acts of the Apostles set for today must be read.
The Reading from the Gospel set for Ascension Day brought us to the end of St Luke's Gospel where we found that Luke included – almost as a summary for us his readers – ideas which had been mentioned earlier in his Gospel in order to make clear that the promises of the Old Testament reach their fulfilment in the person of Jesus. We were told by Luke that Jesus "opened the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures." It emphasises the point that not everyone had thought of Jesus as the fulfilment of those Old Testament writings. As in his Gospel, so too in his writing of the "doings" of the followers of Jesus in his "Acts of the Apostles," Luke will continue to record that not everyone saw Jesus as the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Sadly, that remains the case in our own days.
Luke makes clear for his first readers (in his use of a word that does not really translate into English) that we are now reading the second volume of his work. He begins by re-capping how the first book finished. The Disciples apparently seemed concerned to know if Jesus was about to restore the kingdom of Israel. It was as if the Disciples simply had not understood what Jesus was saying and doing in the three years that they had journeyed with him. Jesus had been talking about the Kingdom of God and yet now, his closest followers still seemed to be pre-occupied with political change. Could the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus be equated with such political change, that is to say, the freeing of the country from Roman occupation? Modern "street" parlance might reply, "As if!" However, Jesus wanted to make clear that a new age was beginning which would be marked by the activity of the Holy Spirit and by mission – sending out – which would extend beyond nearby Judea and Samaria "to the ends of the earth."
For the moment however, the Disciples must wait. They returned to Jerusalem. We read that the distance they travelled was "a Sabbath-day's journey." These days we are seeing people out walking. It may be my imagination, but far more people seem to be out walking in these present times than used to be the case before the present "Lockdown" restrictions were imposed. Perhaps that is entirely understandable. Although restrictions on travelling have now been eased to some extent, initially, one was only supposed to travel fairly short distances and for specific purposes. 2000 years ago, the Disciples were obeying the Sabbath restrictions on travel. We read that they returned to Jerusalem from the place called the hill of the olive orchard. Luke adds that this was a "Sabbath-day's journey." Perhaps Luke at this stage wants to make clear that these disciples were faithful in their observance of the Jewish Law which restricted journeys to a distance of just over half a mile.
"Journeying" is most important in Luke's Gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles. The first followers of Jesus "went out" to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. We too in our journey through life are called upon to proclaim, by our words and our actions, the message of Jesus.
In the Ancient Athenian world, the "Ecclesia" was an assembly of the Citizens "called" together by the Crier. I hope that before too long, we will be able to make our 'journey' once again to assemble at our Church building, called together, not by a Crier but rather (to borrow from John Betjeman) "Summoned by Bells," in order that we may join together in worship; in our sharing together at the Eucharist and our celebration that, "The Lord is risen: He is risen indeed."
We read that the Disciples returned to the Upper Room where they were staying and were engaged, as one, in prayer. May our daily prayers for ourselves, for each other and for the world, unite us all.
With every blessing,
Ascension Day - Thursday 21st May
Today's reflection is based on Luke 24:44-53.
Like the Trinity or the Incarnation, the idea of the Ascension is open to quite a bit of misunderstanding. Many works of art depicting it have Jesus with clouds around his feet, his hands lifted upward, while his disciples are below him looking up. I do not know who coined the saying that "A picture paints a thousand words" but we probably all have a "picture" of the Ascension in our minds. However, it is centuries since anyone – or perhaps nearly anyone – thought of the three-fold levels of earth with heaven above and hell beneath. Yet picture language – as we see in Genesis – can have its place. A picture often aids understanding in ways that thousands of words cannot. A Child’s drawing of an elephant conveys a much better understanding of the animal than a detailed profile of its DNA!
As we reach the end of Luke’s Gospel, we find that he includes ideas which have been mentioned earlier in the Gospel. There is a sense of continuity as we see that the promises of the Old Testament reach their fulfilment in the person of Jesus. We are told by Luke that "Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures." It is a reminder that not everyone had thought of Jesus as the fulfilment of those Old Testament writings. In his writing of the "doings" of the followers of Jesus in his "Acts of the Apostles" Luke will also record that not everyone saw Jesus as the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Sadly, that remains the case in our own days.
The end of today’s gospel passage is short and perhaps all the more impressive for that reason. St. Luke describes the Ascension very briefly: "Jesus raised his hands and blessed them, and as he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven." Luke was far more concerned about the effect than the mechanics – and likewise that should be our concern. Perhaps even more importantly, the passage goes on to describe the response of the disciples: "Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy". We may ask ourselves: why would they respond in this way?
Before Jesus ascends – as I mentioned earlier, he instructs the disciples. They are left in no doubt that the story of Jesus is a continuation – and more than that, a fulfilment of a much larger story: the story of Israel.
Jesus want the disciples to be absolutely clear that the story of his life, his suffering and his rising from the dead, and his ascension fulfil what is written in the Old Testament. As we see repeatedly in the Gospels, this is not what the followers of Jesus had in mind for the Messiah. If we are really honest, perhaps most of us want a Messiah who will give us the answers; tell us what to do when things are difficult. However, the Ascension of Jesus is necessary in theological terms so that Jesus might be present at all times and in all places. This event is important precisely because it confirms what we will read in the opening of John’s Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." We now see that Jesus in a particular place and time. The ascended Lord is Emmanuel – God with us here and now and always.
On this Ascension Day, we would be meeting together were that possible. However, we can be together as we pray that, as the Collect for today puts it, "Grant we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens, so we in heart and mind may also ascend and with him continually dwell."
May you keep safe and well until we meet again.
With every blessing,
Luke, chapter 24, verses 44-53
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
The Sixth Sunday of Easter - 17th May
Today's reflection is based on Acts 17:22-31.
The list of passages from the Bible set for today the Sixth Sunday of Easter indicates that the passage from the Acts of the Apostles must be read today. Paul had travelled to Athens. Our reading begins with Paul addressing the Council which met at the Hill named after Ares, the Greek god of war. As with so many readings, it often helps to know something of the context in which Paul makes his speech. Athens is often referred to as the original democracy with its citizens taking turns to govern. In fact, it was a democracy only for a small minority. Athens is often thought of as the birthplace of philosophy and men were free to devote so much time to discussion because of the reliance on slave-labour. Names such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and the ideas of Stoicism and Epicureanism figure heavily in philosophy and the Athenians for centuries – down to Paul's time – spent many hours in philosophical debate. It is into that world that Paul entered.
Acts tells us that Paul was exasperated to see that Athens was full of idols. He held discussions in the synagogues and in the market place with anyone who would talk with him. Then apparently some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers came across him. They wonder what on earth he is on about! They refer to him in Greek as a 'spermologos'. Throw a handful of crumbs outside on to your path and you will see, in action, the meaning of the word! It was a word used of birds pecking on seeds but came to mean a garrulous person who picks up scraps of information but who speaks in clichés in parrot-fashion.
Having spoken of Paul in such a derogatory way it is somewhat surprising that they take him to the Areopagus to speak to the assembled Council which met on the hill of the Areopagus. What was the motive behind the invitation do you think? Acts gives an explanation for the invitation. Athenians had no time for anything other than talking or hearing about the latest ideas. Paul attempts flattery: "I see how exceptionally devout you all are" he tells the men of Athens. The truth is that they were not. Traditional religious devotion was largely side-lined as irrelevant: philosophical enquiry was what interested them. Paul latched on to the altar which he has apparently seen inscribed to the 'Unknown God' as a way into telling them about Jesus. We read that he spoke of the resurrection of Jesus. Our passage stops before we hear the result: some of them burst out laughing. Sadly, at times we find the same response nearly 2000 years later. No doubt to try to capture the interest of the Athenians listening to him, Paul included references in his speech to Greek writers and thinkers. "In him we live and move and have our being" is probably a quotation from the sixth Century Epimenides and the sentence that, "We too are his offspring" is a quotation from the third Century Aratus who came from Paul's home region.
In consequence, we have a speech that is well-crafted by Paul for his Athenian audience and yet it is only minimally successful. Although Paul does not mention the name of Jesus it is clear that Jesus is the one about whom he is speaking and that the Easter event – the resurrection – is the central fact of human history. Yet perhaps the reaction of the men of the Council of the Areopagus should not surprise us. The Athenians may have grown up with many of the trappings of religious devotion around them but often they only paid nominal 'lip-service' to religious ideas.
Have things changed over the following two thousand years since St Paul addressed the Athenians on the Hill of Ares? Many people consider that they have 'no need of God' and for them, God does not impinge upon their lives. Others will, like some of the Athenians, laugh. They scoff at the idea that Jesus was born died and rose again. They expect, if they give it any thought, that everything must be capable of scientific proof to be credible. Yet faith is not solely an intellectual exercise. Faith involves body, mind and spirit. Paul did not opt for the easy life: he preached and risked rejection; not for his own sake but for the sake of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ; for the sake of those who heard that they might come to know the saving power of Jesus. The same is, so often, true today.
Many of us perhaps have been busy sowing seeds – whether in a greenhouse or in the garden. How many of us find that weeds seem to grow so much better than the seeds which we have planted! It is often similar in religious life. However, we must continue to sow the seed. Only God knows when that seed-word of faith and hope in Jesus Christ will germinate and grow into a living faith in Jesus Christ and produce a harvest.
On Thursday this week, we would – in 'normal' times be meeting together in Church to mark "Ascension Day." Although we will not be able to meet, perhaps in 'heart and mind' we may be together. I will write a few words for posting on Ascension Day. For the moment, may we remember words from the Collect – the special prayer set for today:
"God our Redeemer, you have delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of your Son….."
May we all continue to pray that we and our world may indeed be delivered from this present time of darkness. May you all keep safe and well.
With every blessing,
St Matthias -
The Fifth Sunday of Easter - 10th May
Our Gospel Reading for today is John, chapter 14, verses 1-14.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled," says Jesus. "Believe in God, believe also in me……if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you also may be." The suggestion may be that to be with Jesus is to be somewhere other than where we are now. I suspect that many of us, in these difficult times, may prefer to be somewhere other than where we are now – at least for a time! The old Frank Sinatra song said that, "It's very nice to go trav'ling, to Paris, London and Rome." Just at the moment, we might use the colloquial saying, "If only!"
We find in the passage from John's Gospel set for today a number of sayings which are not found in the other Gospels. Perhaps one of the best known is the saying of Jesus that, "In the house of my Father are many rooms." Jesus is explaining that there is space enough for all of us. In consequence, whether we made a booking a long time ago or have tried to book only recently, there is no problem for us: there are still rooms available for all of us!
We read in the passage from John's Gospel last week that Jesus said to the disciples that he came that they might have life in all its fullness; real life which begins here and now. Jesus made to the disciples - and by extension, to us – the promise that the relationship begun here will not end. The words of Jesus convey the strong image of closeness – "where I am, there you may be also." We, who walk and run; who sit on the grass or lie on a beach (if only that were possible) or sit watching the late-night news, are promised that, in the fullness of time, we too will be with him.
Chapter 14 is the beginning of Jesus' last long conversation with His disciples and comes after they have shared a meal. Judas had already left the meal to go and betray Jesus and Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny him not once but three times. Jesus moves beyond His opening promise to say some rather startling things. Toward the end of today's reading, Jesus says: "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father."
Jesus is not talking about heavenly doings here: he is talking about life here and now. A little later in this same chapter, Jesus says, "I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me; because I live, you also will live." Very soon, Jesus will go away. He will not wash their feet but they will remember that strange night when he took the basin and towel and bent down and surprised them by washing their feet. It was that same night when he said, "A new commandment I give you that you love one another as I have loved you."
Jesus would no longer be with them in the physical body yet he promised to be present with the disciples in a different way and that promise holds good for all of us: Jesus promises to be with us here and now and in all of the difficulties that we may have to face.
Friday 8th May marked the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe – VE Day. We might have hoped to have been able to meet together to give thanks for the end of such devastation and loss of life and to remember the sacrifices made by so many people. I hope and pray that the situation will have changed by 15th August so that we can meet then and mark the end of the Second World War with the anniversary of VJ Day.
The ending of the Second World War seventy-five years ago, brought with it a fundamental change in the world order. Today's Gospel reading from St John reminds us that Jesus said, "I will ask my Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever." The new life offered by Jesus begins here and now and in whatever situation we may find ourselves.
Frank Sinatra's song says, "It's very nice to go trav'ling, but it's so much nicer to come home." May the Risen Jesus be with you in your home today and always.
With every blessing.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter - 3rd May
Our Gospel Reading for today is John, chapter 10, verses 1-10.
It's not easy being called sheep. Sheep have become in many ways, symbols, in our culture, of unthinking compliance. That idea may not be correct. How many times do we see sheep on a grass verge at the side of a road, having escaped from the field where they are supposed to be grazing? Even if you're comfortable with compliance, there's also the fact that, as stated by the farmer in a classic Monty Python television sketch, "Sheep are very dim." (I hasten to add that I was still at school when the Series was on TV!) Jesus, however, seems to credit sheep with a good deal more sense – in any event, with the one important sense of knowing their Shepherd's voice. This is important, not perhaps because the sheep are followers, but because they are wanderers by nature. Also, they are sensible; not dim enough to follow any voice but discerning enough to follow only the right voice. That discerning ear matters because the sheep are facing real dangers, from without and from within.
Jesus promises that with the Lord as our shepherd, we will "come in and go out and find pasture." Outside the fold, sheep are under threat from predators. The shepherd's rod and staff of Psalm 23 are not only comfort, but protection. However, the biggest risk comes from the sheep themselves – they are apt to wander off, each to its own way. We can probably hear those words set to music in Handel's Messiah, "For we like sheep have gone astray everyone to his own way." God promises to sustain us, but instead, we are constantly looking around for greener pastures. Jesus is warning of those voices that will try to lure us away to a life that seems more inviting or exciting. Perhaps Jesus is asking us where our priorities lie in following him.
In that same Monty Python sketch to which I referred earlier, a visitor to the farm is shocked to see sheep up in the trees – "nesting", as the farmer tells him. The sheep are also trying to fly, convinced by a sheep named Howard that they are, in fact, birds. The Farmer explains that Howard is "that most dangerous of all animals: the clever sheep." There are times when many people in the world try to be too "clever" and think that they can be totally self-sufficient; that they have no need of God. In the eyes of the world, we may seem foolish to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. A thousand competing voices call to us that we should look for escape instead of sacrifice; that we should seek an easier happiness than the peace of God; that we should search for our own 'greener pastures' and leave the rest of the flock behind.
Jesus Christ crucified is still today a stumbling block; still looks like foolishness to many people. Why would we worship a God who became like us, who died as one of the lambs? However, Jesus doesn't call us to become something completely different; rather, he calls us to grow into who we truly are. The Good Shepherd doesn't round up the sheep with a whistle, or with dogs. The Good Shepherd calls the sheep by name. Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, calls us by name.
Jesus says in our passage from John's Gospel today, "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved." I find it interesting that the word which is used in this passage in John's Gospel for "gate" is also used for the entrance of a tomb. Perhaps we are being pointed towards the tomb in the Garden where Jesus was placed following the crucifixion; the tomb which could not hold Jesus, but which points to new life in the resurrection.
It is still not easy to be called sheep, but it is a blessing to know that Jesus knows each of us by name and offers to us, his sheep, new life through faith in Him.
In the end, wisdom is to know our shepherd's voice. Our skill as 'sheep' is to listen – to listen from the deep place in which we recognize who we truly are, and whose we truly are, because the Good Shepherd is the one who calls us by our own names for he is the one who fully knows us, he is the one who offers us Eternal Life.
A Prayer set for today perhaps speaks to us in the current national and international situation which requires us to stay at home in order to protect not only ourselves but others.
"Merciful Father, you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the Good Shepherd and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again: keep us always under his protection and give us grace to following his steps; through Jesus Christ our Lord."
May you know Christ's presence in your life. May the Lord protect you from harm until we can meet again to proclaim together the Easter Message: "The Lord is Risen: He is risen indeed. Alleluia!"
With every blessing to you all.
The Third Sunday of Easter - 26th April
Our Gospel Reading for today is Luke, chapter 24, verses 13-35.
I am sure that I was at Primary School when I first heard the words by Robert Browning, "God's in His Heaven all's right with the world." I don't think these words have come to my mind for many years but looking out of the window today, I see a few white clouds, much blue sky and the sun. One could think, at first glance, that all is right with the world. It is the sort of day when we want to get out and "do things". Last week in our Gospel reading, we found that the Disciples of Jesus were together behind locked doors because they were afraid that they might be next in line to suffer the same fate as Jesus. Today, we continue to find ourselves behind the proverbial "locked doors" because of the "Lockdown" which affects the world. We would, in normal circumstances, be meeting this Sunday morning in Church to celebrate the Eucharist, the service of 'Thanksgiving.'
We read in Luke's Gospel – in fact Luke's Gospel is the only one which gives us this account – that two of the followers of Jesus were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus when they were joined by a stranger who asked them what they were talking about as they went on their journey. The question took them by surprise. Indeed, more than that, they wonder where this person has been in the last few days! They ask him, "Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn't know what has been happening there?" One can almost 'hear' the utter disbelief expressed in these words. As we find in the Gospels, even amongst the close disciples of Jesus, disbelief is sometimes the first response. The Stranger walking with these two does not rise to the bait! He continues to ask them to explain what they mean. The two tell him the full story. They explain that they had hoped that Jesus would have been the person to "set Israel free." What do we think they meant? "Set free" – in what way or from what or indeed, for what purpose? They then tell the Stranger of the empty tomb and the women who had gone to the tomb returning with the story that Jesus was alive; and that others had then gone to the tomb and had found it exactly as the women had told them – but they did not see Jesus.
When the two reached Emmaus, the Stranger wanted to carry on the journey, but they persuaded him to stay with them because it was getting late. They began their evening meal and the Stranger took bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. In that moment, in that act, the pair recognised the person who had walked alongside them. They could not stay there a moment longer. They had to rush back to Jerusalem to tell the others: the "Lord is Risen."
This Gospel passage is not simply a "story" of the experience of these two followers of Jesus who were walking to Emmaus. We recognise it is a service: it is a Eucharist. We can no doubt see the elements of our service which we celebrate each week. As we gather together, we ask God's forgiveness for what we have done amiss and that which we have not done. We hear the story of God's purpose and God's activity in the world in our readings from the Old Testament just as the Stranger on the road to Emmaus explained the meaning of the Scriptures to the two on the road. The culmination is, as the hymn puts it, when "Bread is blessed and broken; wine is blessed and poured." The pair suddenly recognised that they were in the presence of the Lord. They had to go and tell others.
As we share together (in 'normal' times) Sunday by Sunday, do we feel the presence of the Lord? Moreover, do we feel compelled to go and tell others? "Mission" means being sent – not always to some far off place but much more often – as with the two who had journeyed to Emmaus – back to the place and to the people whom they had left behind. They felt compelled to go straightaway to tell others that it is true – really – the Lord is Risen. The breaking of bread opened their eyes to the truth. Life would never be the same again. May we know that truth and may we be motivated to share this Good News with others.
A prayer set for today is:
"Living God, your Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in all his redeeming work; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever."
May our eyes be open to see our Risen Lord and may we tell others that, "The Lord is Risen: He is Risen indeed – Alleluia!"
With every blessing to you all.
The Second Sunday of Easter - 19th April
Our Gospel Reading for today is John, chapter 20, verses 19-31.
We read at the beginning of our passage from John's Gospel that in the evening of the first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors because of "fear of the Judeans." Presumably they were afraid that they might be next in line to be arrested. Suddenly, Jesus was there in their midst. His first words to them were, "Peace to you." Seeing the Lord, the Disciples rejoiced. Today, we continue to remain indoors but now because of an unseen enemy.
The appearance of Jesus to the disciples gathered behind those locked doors depicts the birth of the church and its reason for existing. The varying responses to the risen Jesus by John, Mary, the other disciples and Thomas focus on the relationship between seeing and believing, culminating in Jesus saying (in verse 29) that blessed are the ones who "have not seen and yet believe." The word used means "happy" or "blessed." It takes us back to the same word which Jesus spoke many times in what we call the 'Sermon on the Mount' recorded at the beginning of Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 5. Please do have a look at that Chapter. Can we now see a link between what Jesus was saying then at the beginning of his ministry here on earth and these words spoken before his final appearance?
We may need to read the whole of John, Chapter 20 to remind ourselves of the experiences of Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and John which prepared the way for the appearance of Jesus to the rest of the disciples and then to Thomas. The mention by Jesus three times of the scars he bears becomes confirming evidence not only to the disciples and to Thomas but also to us as we read the Gospel, that the Jesus who is risen is indeed the same one who was crucified. Perhaps in some way these three repetitions also link with the three times that Peter denied Jesus. The mysterious event of the resurrection has not erased the marks of rejection and death nor transformed Jesus into someone other than who he has been throughout his ministry. The stress on continuity is marked.
Jesus is bringing peace to frightened followers and telling them to be bearers to others of the same peace. Perhaps even more importantly, the appearances do more than simply prove that Jesus is risen; they produce a transformation among the disciples. Something absolutely new and unheard-of has happened - not only resurrection, but also empowerment for the future.
The locked doors emphasise the trauma the disciples have suffered and indeed their fear that they may be the next victims. In the midst of their fear enters Jesus and his presence was transforming. The presence of Jesus in our lives continues to be transforming. More than that, there comes the gift of the Spirit. John in his Gospel has no need to wait until Pentecost, as do Luke and Acts. Rather, on the first Easter evening, the Church receives the promised gift of the Spirit. In the brief space of five verses the Gospel describes the beginning of the Church, authorised by the risen Jesus to declare the Good News of peace and forgiveness and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The disciples will encounter various responses to the message they proclaim - hardly surprising bearing in mind their own responses. John sees the empty tomb and the burial wrappings to one side and believes Mary's report, in contrast to Peter, who views the same evidence and apparently remains sceptical. Mary Magdalene sees the stone rolled away from the tomb but continues in her grief until the unrecognised Jesus calls her name. She then declares to the others, "I have seen the Lord." Thomas is really no different from the other disciples but he seems to become the celebrated case of one who remains unconvinced until he sees. In each case, faith comes from sight, though what is seen may vary from discarded grave clothes to Jesus himself.
Later generations, of course, cannot have exactly the same evidence as did these first followers of Jesus - no empty tomb, no voice speaking, no presence of Jesus with visible wounds. The voice that says, "Oh, I wish that I could have been there" is answered by the words of Jesus. "Blessed – happy - are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe".
In these times which continue to be difficult in this Country and in the wider world, we continue to pray that we may know the presence of the risen Lord Jesus speaking words of peace and comfort; supporting and sustaining us both now and always.
I pray that you may be kept safe and well until we can meet to proclaim in faith, "The Lord is Risen: He is risen indeed – Alleluia!"
With every blessing to you all.