Second Sunday of Easter

24th April 2022

Acts 5:27-32

When the temple police had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Psalm 118:14-29

14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.

15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:

16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”

17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.

18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”

21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvellous in our eyes.

24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! *
Lord, send us now success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

28 “You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you.”

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

Revelation 1:4-8

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The Gospel

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Reflection 

The story from John’s gospel takes place on the evening of the first day – that is the evening of the day of Jesus’s resurrection. Mary, the first to visit the tomb, finds it empty – body-less – and summons the help of the other disciples. Peter and the beloved disciples come and they too find the tomb empty apart from the grave clothes – they must realise something odd has happened, but what? They leave apparently not knowing what has happened to Jesus. Mary persists and is rewarded with sight and sound of Jesus: he is no longer a dead human but – not to be touched – what is he? A body brought back to life like Lazarus? A ghost with real presence? Something else, something more?

Come the evening, Jesus suddenly appears. The disciples are over joyed: this is their Lord. But do they understand who he is? Certainly when Thomas comes, they cannot sufficiently explain what has happened. Thomas seems to be asking if they have seen a ghost or human body that has come back to life. When Jesus does appear before him, it is instantly clear to Thomas that the answer is neither. The person who appears to him is Lord and God! For Thomas  Jesus is now recognisably both, the human figure he has spent the few last years with, and, God! We might then read today’s psalm (which yes we did have last week too!) as the long version of Thomas’s response.

The disciples’ understanding of Jesus has been completely transformed – turned upside down. Jesus, the man they knew had come from God, they now realise is God – the ‘God’ who uniquely had come to them as a human. I wonder which was harder to believe or understand, that Jesus, a human, had risen from the dead, or that Jesus, a human, was God?

The Book of Revelation describes what it is that John sees in his vision on Mount Patmos and which he records as a message for the Christian communities of the Near East. (NB this is not the John of the gospel). For this John, it is clear that Jesus is human (the first born of the dead) and is God, and that because of this, Christians have a particular role as citizens of the – God’s –  kingdom and as priests serving God.

Throughout the larger part of the Gospels, the disciples have been responding to human authority. Indeed even when they were following Jesus’s instructions during his ministry, it was in response to him as a human, their leader.  But now, in the story we hear from the Book of Acts, things have changed. Now the disciples are only responsive to God’s authority. They express now with certainty what they seem to have been grappling with in John’s gospel. They now understand the role, the task,  they have been given and they are not to be diverted from it, either by their own uncertainty  nor by human intervention. They believe and, because of their belief, they have Life! 

We need to be reminded that we too are God’s citizens, bound ultimately by God’s authority. We should be willing to think and question human rules and directives even when they come from governments. Is what we are being asked to do, is what we are being asked to accept, is what we are being asked to ignore, in line with God’s wishes, God’s will? 

In God’s kingdom, do people go hungry because their pay is inadequate? In God’s kingdom are those seeking asylum sent away? In God’s kingdom, do people make profits from the misfortune of others? In God’s kingdom are companies encouraged to produce even more life destroying carbon emissions?

Sunday next before Lent

27th February 2022

Exodus 34:29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm 99

1 The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.

2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.

9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Reflection

Ascending Mount Sinai, Moses draws close to God. It is a transformative experience: God’s glory shines through him. But is is not just Moses’ appearance that has changed; so too has his understanding of God and what God desires. Moses comes back down from the mountain with a new teaching, a new way of living that is in accordance with God’s will. Moses presents this to the Israelites through the medium of the Law.

The psalmist presents God as king. A king is one who reigns, one who determines how people will live within the  bounds of his kingdom.  God’s kingdom, God’s rule, says the psalmist, is characterised, by justice, equity and righteousness. 

I think Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is being a bit harsh in its condemnation of the the Jews. But then we too can equally be blinkered especially if we do not expect to see or hear a different interpretation – and that is as true of what we may hear on the news as of what we hear from scripture. We need to question are assumptions and to be enquiring. 

What Paul does want to say is that when we see and hear through the medium of our relationship with Jesus, our understanding will be completely transformed. It will be a route to freedom, a route that will see us being daily transformed by the glory of God. 

As with Moses’ experience, so for the disciples. When they are in such close proximity to God’s presence, they are overwhelmed by God’s glory. When Moses came back down from the mountain, he brought with him the Law, enscribed on tablets of stone. When the disciples came down from the mountain, they return with Jesus. Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s will for humankind. In Jesus’s example and teaching, we learn what is God’s will for the world. And as God says, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

Today’s readings are about hearing and seeing differently – hearing and seeing as God, and not the world, would have us hear and see. If we did, we would experience the world as a place where justice and equity and righteousness flourish. 

Pause a moment. What would such a world be like? Would there be people going to bed hungry? Would there be people fearing the loss of freedom and citizenship? Would there be people exposed to bombs and bullets? Would there be widespread destruction of rain forests, the depletion of soils, the loss of habitat and extinction of plants and animals? Would there be extreme weather patterns caused by human exploitation? Would there be a super rich 1% and an impoverished 90%? Would there be families dependent on food banks,  people with no stable income, young people unable to afford  homes, old people unable to afford care? 

If we know Jesus Christ, if we have faith in his teachings, if we were to follow his example, then through us God’s Spirit would be transforming the world. We can see it happening in small ways.

A couple of week’s ago at Christ Church we heard about the work of Partners for Change transforming the lives of Ethiopian communities. This fortnight we are marking the work of the Fairtrade Foundation, seeing both how it transforms the lives of others and protects and enhances the natural environment, and are being reminded how we can actively participate in that change. In our intercessions today we will be praying for the work of Christians Against Poverty which provides support and life skills and encouragement for people whose lives have been eroded by debt. 

We can use the time and discipline Lent gives us to hear anew what Jesus teaches, to reshape our lives to express his love for the people we meet day by day, to care for the natural world in which we live, and to support the work that is bringing justice and equity and righteousness to prevail. Let God’s kingdom come on earth!