Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 11 April 2021.
• First Reading: Acts 4: 32-35 (Life of the early church)
• Psalm 133
• Epistle: 1 John 1.1 – 2.2 (Fellowship with God is to walk in the light. If anyone sins we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous)
• Gospel: John 20: 19-31 (Jesus appeared to His disciples, Thomas’ doubts and their resolution)
One thing that perhaps not many of us will be doing over the summer is going on holiday. Yet we still remember our holiday planning of the past and the series of decisions we had to make:
Where to go and when? What accommodation? What things to see and do? And ever as we set off, the first thing after leaving home was to point ourselves in the general direction of our destination – even if this was only the airport or the road out the city.
Then there would be the journey, arrival at the destination, looking at the accommodation and enjoying that first drink and meal away from home.
This is a crude way of looking at our lessons today. Last Sunday the theme was all about the resurrection of Jesus, but today it is about the church and its response to Jesus. It had to respond to both the life of Jesus and then His death and resurrection.
After that there was the matter of how the church was going to live: what to believe, how to live, how to relate to one another, how to continue in that personal faith and recollection of what Jesus had said and done.
In this sense it begins with the gospel and the reactions of the disciples to Jesus’ resurrection. The utter delight and exuberance of the 10 since Thomas was not there that first Easter evening. And even then it was only after Jesus had said to them ‘Peace be with you’. This was perhaps the moment that the disciples gelled as a body of people who believed and rejoiced in the person of Jesus.
This was the moment when a new kind of intimacy grew up between the disciples and Jesus and with one another. Now there was something special about coming together as they started to live with a new kind of air to breathe and a new kind of electricity as they met together.
Jesus was not only alive but He had an authority to commission the disciples into their own areas of Christian service and witness. This was a turning point in the history of the world, even if the disciples did not know it.
And one of their first tasks was to gather Thomas back into their fellowship and to respond to his hesitations and perhaps disappointment at not being with them that first Sunday.
But then the times moved on. After the Day of Pentecost there was a mass conversion and the apostles had to start looking after the new believers.
The business of meeting and worshipping together, of caring for one another, of telling an unruly and boisterous, even violent Jerusalem what had happened to Jesus and what it meant, and then of managing the effects of all this novelty all had to find its place, somehow.
This was the church setting out on the mission given to it by Jesus that first day of Easter, even before Thomas was fully on board.
Now the stories of Jesus were being told and re-told. An oral tradition was already growing as each of the original disciples added his own reminiscences, each with their own perspectives and points of interest or even urgency. Eventually they would be written down but the tradition of the stories of Jesus’ ministry was being formed the moment He was back in circulation.
And the tasks of speaking out about Jesus and looking after the needs of the church went side by side. Each was part of the other, and each was an expression of the other.
Then John would set down his own memories and meditations. Jesus of Nazareth was no part of the mythology of gods and goddesses, spirits and demons and the rich tapestry of greed and murder, jealousy and anger, all projected onto the Greek and Roman deities.
No, Jesus was wholly and utterly different. For a start, He had been seen, heard and touched. He had spoken to them directly and personally, both during His ministry and more importantly, after His resurrection.
Jesus was no myth floating around the sky, invoked piously by the ignorant and despised by the intelligentsia.
No, He was wholly a man but also wholly God. His words were the Word of Life. To know Jesus was to know God and to live in Jesus was to live in God, and nothing less.
Now the life and being of Jesus were to be central to the life of every believer, decades and centuries after His resurrection. He was certainly not going to be the kind of wandering preacher who would be forgotten a few years after His death and His words collected as an interesting post-doctoral project by an academic.
In all this our perspective has moved from the glory of the resurrection of Jesus to its effects on the immediate disciples and then on the life of the church as a whole.
Perhaps for us the need is to return to the reality of the life and resurrection of Jesus in our own lives. He cannot be locked away in some sort of institutional and theological safe, away from prying eyes and inquiring hearts.
Far more is that command on the first day of a new kind of week: ‘As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you’. Nothing less.