St Bride's: Sermons

Easter Joy

John 20: 19-end

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19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

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This second Sunday of Easter is sometimes referred to as 'low Sunday' in contrast with Easter Day - the high point of the Christian year that we celebrated last week.  We spend a good deal of time in anticipation of Holy Week and Easter, as indeed we do in the run up to Christmas.  It's only natural that after the great festivals there is something of a descent. 

Last year I read the story of a man in Wiltshire who is apparently so attached to Christmas that he claims to have celebrated it every day since July 1993.  He estimates that he's got through 30 artificial trees and 10,000 meters of tinsel.  He's eaten 4,380 turkeys, 26,280 roast potatoes, 135,000 brussel sprouts, 107,000 mince pies, 4,380 bottles of champagne, the same number of bottles of sherry, and 5,000 bottles of wine.  He normally dines alone.  Well that's no surprise!  Some suggest that his claims are exaggerated and I very much hope they're right because clearly whilst his story may be amusing it's also rather sad. 

I've not yet come across any stories of comparable attachment to chocolate egg hunts so I'd like to contrast that attachment to 'how' we celebrate Christmas with a healthy maintenance of Easter joy.  Many people don't realise that we celebrate the Easter season for 50 days through to Pentecost but beyond that, every week is a holy week and every Sunday, indeed every day, may be a little Easter, a celebration of our Lord's victory.  Archbishop Justin, in his Easter Day sermon, noted that it is the calling of the church to testify to the resurrection as the event of history, the second big bang, because it's an event that changes everything.  Through it a new world is emerging where sin and death are overcome.  "Everything we are and own and see is to be lived, and held and understood, through the resurrection" he said.

Now I must admit that in many ways my spiritual experience often resonates rather more strongly with Lent, with recognition of what's broken in the world, rather than with the joy of Easter.  I'm from South Wales after all!  I often have to purposely remind myself of Christ's instruction against fear.

One of George Herbert's poems includes a line that has proved at once both a useful warning and inspiration to me.  It says:

"Christ's resurrection thine may be:
Do not by hanging down break from the hand,
Which as it riseth, raiseth thee".

It's not that we are to ignore suffering in the world of course.  Rather we face it but trust in redemption in Christ, so that we may be filled with - "the joy and hope of believing" as Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans.  It's right that we should remind ourselves of the nature of this Easter joy.  I think it's also useful to remind ourselves of the disciple's experience at that first Easter which was one of wonder and confusion.  In many ways that's also very healthy because it requires an attitude of openness that allows new life to emerge.

It took the early church hundreds of years to work through its understanding of the implications of Christ's death and resurrection and that job isn't completed, it continues in our own time and our own lives in our individual and collective discernment of God's will.  It's very easy to turn away from that that task, to instead become attached to our particular ways of seeing things and to pay attention to the world in very particular, and limited, ways. 

In today's Gospel we see an example of attachment to a particular way of understanding the world.  We heard how the disciples were in fear until Jesus appeared amongst them and said "peace be unto you".  Thomas though, was elsewhere at the time, and despite his friends' excitement he couldn't be convinced.  Thomas had a need for material evidence of the Lord's resurrection- "except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" he says.  It's another eight days before he is able to accept the news when Christ appears and invites Thomas to touch the wounds.

My secular discipline, public health, has a very strict understanding of standards of evidence.  One of the common weaknesses of many public health practitioners, which is sometimes caricatured by colleagues, is that we often appeal to the need for 'more evidence' when we're asked for our opinions.  In public health though, and elsewhere in the secular workplace, the need for leaders to be open to new ways of seeing the world is very much recognised because many of our public services can't be maintained as they are.  We have to find new ways of doing things.    This requires that we are able to put aside our assumptions that we may be open to inspiration to allow new possibilities to emerge.  For me there is much that the Christian tradition offers in helping us to be open to new possibilities, to new ways of living in the world.  Our tradition values very highly periods of silence, contemplation and prayerful discernment which may lead us to "that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God".

When we look to Thomas we might see our own inclinations reflected - "except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe".   But the material body of our risen Lord isn't available to us.  We look to meet him in the Eucharist, in our participation in the body of Christ, his church, in service of our brothers and sisters in need and in contemplation and prayer.  These are the places where Christ bridges the great divide between humanity and divinity.   These are the places where we are fed in "the joy and hope of believing" in our Lord's Victory.

May we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

Amen.

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