Third Sunday of Easter

1st May 2022

Acts 9:1-6

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 

Psalm 30

1 I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

2 O Lord my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.

3 You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

4 Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

5 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favour for a lifetime.

6 Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.

7 While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed. *
You, Lord, with your favour, made me as strong as the mountains.”

8 Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.

9 I cried to you, O Lord; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; *
O Lord, be my helper.”

12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Revelation 5:11-14

I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honour and glory and blessing!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

John 21:1-19

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Reflection

The short passage from the Book of Acts introduces us to Paul’s Damascus Road experience (although here he is still known by his Jewish name of Saul). From being an ardent antagonist of the followers of Christ, Paul swerves, U-turns, to become the most ardent evangelist. Why? Because he encounters the risen Jesus head on. Last week, in John’s gospel, we heard how various disciples met the risen Jesus and how in different ways they began to understand what was happening and who it was – and in what nature – they were encountering, when they met Jesus. The risen Jesus was not a human brought back to life, but the  God-who-had-become-human-and-had-ascended-once-more-to-the-God-head. It is his encounter with this Jesus that confounds Paul’s previous understanding of Jesus and his followers, and brings to new life in him an understanding of and relationship with the Christ. Indeed brings him new Life.

Thereafter Paul went on to transform other people’s understanding of Jesus, to nurture in them new Life, and did so with zeal, raising the profile of the  Way of Christ to new heights. 

Today’s Psalm too tells of the way of salvation as a process of transformation that echos both Paul’s experience and that of Paul’s ministry. The mission of Paul and his contemporaries, gave rise to the exponential growth of the Christian community – from its roots as a group of believers perhaps measured in hundreds, to a faith movement that, by the third century, becomes the state religion of the whole empire. Perhaps it is this that we are seeing in the extract from the Book of Revelation: the Lamb, once a creature to be sacrificed, becomes one to be credited all ‘power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing’ for ever and ever!

The gospel passage today comes from the end of John’s gospel. It is quite likely a later addition: in John’s account this is the first time we hear that Peter is a fisherman – the call of Peter away from his fishing career comes from the synoptic gospel. Without this information, there is not the sense  that Peter and his comrades are returning to where their old lives had broken off. Nevertheless this is the story that we are presented with as the final story of John’s gospel.

There is still confusion amongst Jesus’s disciples. They still do not instantly or completely recognise the figure they see as Jesus. This is not just the human Jesus who has been resuscitated. This is someone who is more. Yet even so this Jesus still understands what it is to be human, what it is that humans need – whether that is success in their work, food to satisfy their hunger, comfort, or indeed reassurance that past failures have been forgiven. And not just forgiven: Jesus assures Peter of his confidence that he, Peter, can fulfil the task which Jesus is giving him. 

I am sure many of us have felt the sense of inadequacy that Peter felt, that we are not up to the task, that we are going to fail and will let other people down. And often it is that very feeling of inadequacy that leads us to fail. In the Principles of the Franciscan Third Order, that for day 24 concerning humility, says “Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which they feel unworthy or incapable they do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness”. This has often puzzled me, but I think it is reminding us that we should not rely on our own sense of ability but rather trust to the ability that comes from God. That was certainly Peter’s experience and Paul’s too. It should give us the confidence to continue with those tasks which we know to be right even if we can’t see how they might be successful. Success will come in God’s way and God’s time. 

I find it hard to believe that we humans will get our act together such that we can forestall the worst of the climate crisis, yet I am confident that God does not desire or will the destruction of creation. Somehow God’s will will prevail. 

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?

Easter Day

17th April 2022

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

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

2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”

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.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Reflection

‘I have seen the Lord!’ 

‘I have seen the Lord!’ says Mary Magdalene. To have been one of those first disciples and heard those words, indeed to have been Mary and seen what she saw, must have been amazing, thrilling, sensational, out of this world! To see alive the one you thought was dead, the one you thought had been disfigured, mutilated and  cruelly killed, must have been so overwhelming, so joyous, so unbelievable. 

This is the moment that has been eagerly anticipated throughout John’s Gospel. “I am the resurrection and the Life” Jesus had promised, and it was – and is – so. And Mary Magdalene is the first witness. 

Those who witness the resurrection, are, Peter says, commanded by God to preach to the world and testify to what Jesus Christ has brought about. 

What is the resurrection about? It is not simply ‘coming back from the dead’ – it is not resuscitation. That was what Lazarus and the widow of Nain’s son experienced. Resurrection is about the Life, which is more than just the mortal life we live now. It is certainly a life that continues into the ‘next world’ but equally importantly it is Life experienced in this world. Otherwise it would , as Paul says, leaves us more to be pitied than ever. The resurrection is a reality to be experienced in this life. 

I think that what John’s gospel tells us is that to experience the resurrection and to experience the kingdom of God – to experience God’s reign –  are one and the same. Jesus came to announce the kingdom of God (or in Peter’s words, to preach God’s peace) to inaugurate the reign of God and establish God’s kingdom on earth. To experience God’s reign is to do God’s will – just as Jesus did,  repeatedly declaring that he did what the Father did. When that happens things change, life is transformed – life becomes Life!  The vine’s branches flourish and are abundantly fruitful, the blind see, bread is multiplied and wine jars  overflow.  Those who are open to God – in Peter’s words, those who fear God – can experience this.  

The inauguration of God’s reign – resurrection  – is an ongoing process that will be completed when, as Paul writes, Jesus has destroyed -ie overcome, supplanted – every ruler and every authority and power.  It is that rule, that reign, that kingdom, which is being built upon the cornerstone rejected by we would-be human builders. 

Resurrection is real, it is a reality – but maybe it is something we have to be open to see. In John’s gospel there are many instances of people who do not see or understand what is happening around them. They are blinkered, they are looking the wrong way, they are avoiding walking in the light. Peter and the beloved disciple don’t understand what they see when they find the tomb empty and the grave clothes folded. Mary Magdalene struggles. She doesn’t see at first, and confuses Jesus with a gardener. If Jesus hadn’t spoken would she have left the garden in ignorance? 

So we need to be alert in looking for signs of the resurrection, for signs of the Life. We need to witness to these signs, to share the insights and to enable each other to see what is happening around us. We need to both seek and tell the good news. And we need to live the resurrection, to live The Life. That is not to live the uninformed ‘worldly life’ but to live The Life according to the way God desires, according to God’s rule, following the teaching and example of Jesus. To live that lifestyle of which Jesus is the corner stone. 

This is the only way I believe that we will cope with the climate crisis that we have created for ourselves.

 Counting on … day 155

17th April 2022

Christ is risen! Happy Easter! 

The resurrection is God’s promise of Life. 

Last night I had a lovely surprise – a little tap on the kitchen door and Heidi popped her head round. She had come home after three weeks protesting with Just Stop Oil. I wasn’t expecting her until maybe mid week. It was such a wonderful feeling of joy and love – a small taste of the feelings that the disciples must have felt when Jesus returned to them. 

When Adam and Eve went against God’s wishes in the Garden of Eden, God rather than confiscating their lives, allowed them to live but thereafter they had to live with the hardships that their actions had produced. The  resurrection is God’s assurance of the continuation of Life – it does not exempt us from having to live with the damage we have caused, but surely today of all days must give us the impetus to want to transform how we live, to heal the injuries we have caused, to live according to God’s will in loving harmony with all our fellow beings. 

The urgency of the climate crisis is such that globally we need to cut our emissions by about 50% over the next 8 (just EIGHT!) years and to zero by 2050. Halving emissions in 8 years is not compatible with expanding oil and gas production, is not compatible with policies that do not swop gas boilers for passive haus insulation levels,  petrol cars for enhanced public transport and active travel, industrial farming for regenerative agriculture. 

Do make changes in your lifestyle. Do press the government and businesses for systemic change. Do stand up for climate protestors and for the victims of the climate crisis.