1 John 1:1 – 2:2
My first reaction to the Bible readings today was ‘What a lovely trio of readings!’ That’s not always the case when you check Bible passages when due to preach. Sometimes an initial reaction to them is ‘How on earth can I say something helpful and hopeful with these readings?’ I am sure other preachers would agree. However, God is in charge and prayer is part of preaching. Sometimes, with difficult passages it is a very big part. Gradually, with God’s help, even the toughest readings impart some thoughts, some sense, some hope and some peace for the preacher and their patient spouse or partner if they have one! Our readings are long today so I cannot cover everything in a 10-minute sermon. Here are some highlights for me.
What do I like about these readings today? I love the sharing of personal possessions and money in our Acts reading so that no-one is in need and I love the fact that the early Christian believers were ‘of one heart and soul’- oh if only both things could happen now, worldwide, nationwide, locally. There is so much need in the world and such an uneven distribution if wealth and resources. There are many differences of opinion on all sorts of subjects, even within this church and that is exactly as it should be but isn’t it wonderful when our differences are put aside at a bring and share lunch, when the Holy Spirit makes us one in heart and soul during a service or a hymn or over coffee or when receiving communion or singing hymns or helping one another in various ways? Nothing compares with that feeling of oneness and fellowship when we help another in need and when we enjoy fellowship. There is much more that unites us than divides us.
I could not give away all my possessions or persuade my husband, Steve that we must sell our home and give the proceeds away to those in need. I know I am not that generous even though I think I am quite generous. Do we give testimony with great power about the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ so that great grace comes upon us? I guess this sermon is an attempt to do that on my part, but I need also to take that powerful testimony outside the church walls. I try. I think we all try in our own different ways to do that. This Acts reading gives me such a boost though and an encouragement to keep trying to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope it does the same for you and that maybe, like me, when Christian Aid week comes up soon in May we will remember to help and give as generously as we can.
I have too little time to unpack the reading from the first letter of John. However, we are assured that the testimony about Jesus Christ has come from real people who saw and heard Jesus, The Light of the World, preach and teach and who felt his healing touch. We are assured that Jesus will surely lighten our darkness.
In our Gospel reading, it’s Sunday evening that first Easter Sunday, Jesus has risen from the dead, appearing to either just Mary Magdalene or to several women (depending on which Gospel account you are reading). The message has been passed to the other disciples that the Lord had risen from the dead but many may have thought the women hysterical in their grief- it is a normal part of grief to believe you hear or see a loved one who has died- and, anyway, a woman’s testimony in those days was, sadly, not worth a great deal.
Our Gospel passage today describes not 1 but 2 resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. Before I go on I would like to give a little plug here for some art evenings coming up soon at St. Mark’s on 10th (this Tuesday), 17th and 24th April 2018 at 7.30pm about the Stations of the Resurrection, the appearances of the Risen Christ. Do try to get along to St. Mark’s for them.
In our reading today, Jesus has appeared once to the disciples when Thomas was absent and once, a week later, when Thomas is present. On both occasions the Risen Christ somehow gets through a locked door, nothing being impossible for the Son of God. This is the part of Scripture from which we get The Peace part of our Communion service. A bit later in this service after Pamela has prayed our prayers of intercession, John will say to us the words Jesus said that evening to his amazed disciples ‘Peace be with you’.
I like Thomas. I have doubts at times, we all have doubts, if we are honest. Thomas is honest and courageous enough to express his doubts. We human beings are a sensory bunch. We are much more inclined to believe something we have seen with our own eyes or touched with our own hands or felt inwardly with our hearts and souls, especially something quite this miraculous. A dead man coming back to life as had happened to Jesus.
There is a painting by Caravaggio from the start of the 17th Century called The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. It is not for the faint hearted in some ways. Jesus’ left hand holds Thomas’ right hand at the wrist and guides and controls Thomas’ right hand as Thomas’ index finger enters the wound on Jesus’ chest. I was a lawyer, but I am a frustrated medical doctor- I love medicine and anatomy and find the human body fascinating. I am not squeamish, and I love that painting despite its slight gruesomeness. What it says to me is that Jesus is telling us, as he told Thomas, that it is OK to doubt, and it is OK to believe. It is OK to do possibly painful explorations on our journey of faith. Jesus guides and controls our faith, our doubt and our explorations as he controlled Thomas’ hand. Doubt, as I have found on my own journey of faith, can make belief all the sweeter when the darkness lightens. I think Jesus is saying something else also. Whilst we should not share publicly about our own wounds when they are still too sore and in need of healing, Jesus encourages us to share our healed wounds with others in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about healing in others in God’s power and timing.
Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, reassures us that we who have not, with our own eyes, seen his wounded risen body here in Hale today are still blessed by our belief in Christ as we touch and taste the holy sacrament of his body and his blood.
May we who are so blessed at the Holy Table today feel just a tiny sliver of the knock out grace felt by Saint Thomas when he said, ‘My Lord and My God!’ Amen.