Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; I John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Listening to the gospel being read just then and hearing again the story of Thomas, I couldn’t help but to give thanks that Thomas is one of those figures that I find a real affinity with. Thomas receives a fair bit of critical press from the orthodox church as a sort of slow learner, someone who took a while to catch up with the disciples, and yet you listen again, and I really do give thanks that Thomas speaks of a journey of real truth. Thomas didn’t just believe, like many in the Church just believe, Thomas doubted first, he doubted first, he then sought, desperately, to see and to touch the risen Christ, and then believed. I think that’s a much more powerful journey than some of those who just believe; it’s a journey of struggle and it’s perhaps a journey that’s more real and more closely aligned with the journeys that many of us will follow, because surely we come from a world of doubt. And it’s good to get in touch with that first - get in touch with it, bathe ourselves in it, and say, ‘From here, where do I wish to go, where am I drawn and where am I called?’

Looking across the readings that support the gospel reading today, what we’re going to find is, post-Easter, we’re given an opportunity to be with the early church, to listen to some of the stories of how the time post-Easter was dealt with - what happened, what occurred, where did it go? And it’s an opportunity for us to also stay with Easter and see for ourselves where we go with it.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles - I just pulled out two very short phrases. The first one in verse 32 - ‘held in common’ - three words that somehow create a picture of community and also three words that capture life for the post-resurrection disciples and followers of Jesus; three words that are stunningly at odds with our modern self-sufficient, self-seeking society. ‘Held in the common’ - pop down to Garden City and see how many specials have got that as the small print. As we experience life post-Easter at St Paul’s, we have the opportunity to make choices as to how to live, how we live, what directions we will choose, how we want our lives to unfold. If we don’t pause, and accept, and embrace the idea of choice, then things will continue until next Easter, and we’ll find ourselves sitting here with the same opportunity again. Death, dying, life, resurrection – that’s where we are, that’s the movement of the liturgical year and we are sitting just on the resurrection side. Where will we go from here? Will we ignore, will we avoid, will we deny or will we actually get that every moment is the moment of opportunity to find fullness of life - become aware of that which we seek.

The other three words that I pulled out of the Acts reading are in the next verse, and it’s ‘with great power’. And I think again, those short three words, they provide us with some indication of resurrection-residue - the fallout from Easter. The rising to new life, the awareness that all and everything that dies provides a womb of birth - if we can again get that within our own lives, then perhaps we do tap into the great power that comes from it.

So again as we come together, fewer in number - many were frightened away by last Sunday, because it suggested that their lives may change. So they run home and they will wait, probably till Christmas, and then they’ll come out again and poke their heads in and say, ‘Is it OK to listen again, sing those carols?’ And then they’ll realise that the same message is being spoken and then off to their homes, never, ever to touch the great power that Easter speaks of. For us, will we touch that, will we find it?

Well, the next reading is beautifully chosen, for this short reading from Acts - the Acts of the Apostles equals ‘the life of the early church’ - and then we get this reading from John and I think it’s helpful because it’s an opportunity for us to unpack some of the theology that grew out of the Acts of the Apostles, what the early church did with those small phrases like ‘held in the common’ and ‘with great power’. What we find in the reading from John - the last line: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’. I think it’s so important that we do grapple with this; we’ve grappled with it before.

If we look through the whole reading that brings us down to that phrase, what we find is, there is some understanding given about Easter. And it’s quite natural for us to ask, like the Church has asked throughout history, what happened at Easter? What was achieved by Christ dying on the cross and then rising? Based on the last line of that reading from 1 John, we can, we could, we have, developed a theology of atonement: he died to save me, to save us and that has been achieved. Now I think you get to that point by asking the wrong question. Rather than ask what happened or what was achieved by Easter, perhaps the more relevant question - and that’s where the illustration of Thomas is helpful - is to ask, ‘what was revealed by Easter and what can I, and what can we, see from Easter?’ And just by asking that question we move from Easter being an historic event to an event in the present, for our engagement.

And if we look back through that reading from 1 John, we find that Easter was concerning the word of life. In verse 2: ‘this life was revealed’; in verse 5: ‘God is light and in him there is no darkness at all’. We begin to see that Easter is not an event done to us or done for us, but rather it is a revelation of life that we can engage with. Verse 7: ‘if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sins’. If we walk in the light, if we walk as He himself walks - there is absolutely no notion in there that the Easter event did something to us, for us, on our behalf. It is a revelation that leaves us with an ‘if’: if we walk in the light, if we walk as he himself walks, then we have fellowship with one another - interesting, we come back to that ‘held in the common’ – and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sins. We ourselves become engaged in the process. Rather than being the recipients of the event, we become engaged in the process of atonement, the making of all things one, the bringing together of humanity and divinity as one, as Christ, in Christ - we get drawn in, we’re part of the process.

And we come to the gospel reading – we hear the revelation of the post-Resurrection Christ. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ was breathed on them - and I wonder again whether this comes back to that ‘held in the common’. It’s quite a modern notion to think of being saved yourself - the only way I think an individual could be saved is if they were deposited in a bank. Being saved is something that must and can only occur in the common, which is why ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ was breathed on them. ‘Peace be with you’ - perhaps this is the word of life that was referred to earlier, and perhaps it’s the result of what will occur when we, when we realise ourselves ‘with great power’.

In the secular world, great power leads to the opposite of peace: great power leads to the building of warships, to stunningly clever bombs that can find their way anywhere at any time regardless of who’s there. Christ came to change that, to turn it round, to turn it upside down. ‘We too are given great power’ - for what purpose we ask, this gift? Peace – ‘peace be with you’.

Jesus did not die for us, he has not atoned for our sins, he is not sacrificed that we might live, at least not in the conventional sense. For Easter to have any relevance at all we must encounter it as a process. The gospel makes this so clear: ‘if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them’. Now I thought, someone told me in Sunday School once that Jesus did that; I remember a little old wizened Sunday School teacher saying, ‘Jesus forgives all your sins’, and yet here I read in the gospel that it says, ‘if you’ – this is Jesus telling us – ‘if we forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them’. Maybe it indicates that we are called by the resurrected Christ to continue the Christ-ening of life. He has not died for our sins, otherwise why would we be called to forgive each other’s sins?

His death reveals our dying and our rising. Like Thomas, let us look for the wounds of Christ, let us look for the wounds of Christ that we hold in our own hands, and then look for the wounds of Christ in the hands that we hold, for there we will find life revealed.

The Lord be with you

Peter Humphris

Textweek Easter 2