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Choral Communion – Sunday 11th April 2021 – Easter 2.
Acts 4: 32-35; I John 1: 1- 2:2; John 20: 19-30.
Title: ‘We have seen the Lord.’
One of the great things about the post resurrection appearances of Jesus is that they happen in such varied locations. Mary meets the risen Jesus in a garden. The two friends meet him on the road as they travel back from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The disciples meet him both in a room behind locked doors then out in the open on the sea shore. The risen Jesus it seems can be encountered anywhere. I have a particular fondness for today’s gospel reading as, having been ordained priest at Petertide, the first time I celebrated at Mass/Holy Communion was on St. Thomas’s Day which unsurprisingly also has this gospel reading. Thomas refuses to believe others’ accounts of the risen Jesus unless he sees him and examines his crucified wounds for himself. This risen Jesus it seems can be encountered by anyone, by those who trustfully accept that he is risen and by those who need to carefully examine the facts for themselves.
Believing that Jesus has truly risen from the dead is not just something we can keep to ourselves. The early disciples couldn’t, neither should we. Whether we like it or not, it will have a transforming effect on the whole of our lives, in what we think, in what we say and in what we do. That was especially true for the early church. Our first lesson from Acts occurs just after John and Peter's release from prison because the very religious leaders who had bayed for Jesus’ blood could find no cogent reason to detain them, especially as the two disciples were clearly supported by the people. Despite having caused Jesus’ death, the powers that be were incapable it seems of killing his message.
The love those early believers felt for one another, and the fellowship that they felt with one another which gave voice to Jesus commandments to love God and love one another as themselves, led them to pool their material wealth and share it equitably. It was as though Jesus’ resurrection shone a light deep into the hearts of all people. Those who responded to his call could simply not bring themselves to be selfish in any way. The danger of course, is that with the passing of time, this message of selfless love, so effectively born witness to in the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, can become dulled in the witness of the Church in the world. For us 2,000 years later we need to be constantly interrogating ourselves about how we are using our material gifts. Are we getting the balance right between our own needs and the needs of others? If we are not, what message does that present to the world of the faith in which we believe? At worst, because it appears to make no heavenly difference it could be said to be of no earthly use. What a travesty that would be.
The importance of Christian fellowship in the light of our Lord’s resurrection is picked up in our second reading this morning. Here John stresses the fellowship that Christians share one with another is an outflowing of the fellowship that they have with God and mirrors the fellowship enjoyed between God the Father and his Son. It is a fellowship of joy, a joy which is rooted in the person of the risen Jesus Christ himself. John's message is given added credibility by the fact that he has lived alongside Jesus during his earthly ministry, has listened to his teaching and watched him perform miracles, plus he has heard, seen and touched the risen Jesus. John is able to locate the ministry of Jesus within its eternal context. Just as in his Gospel, he describes Jesus as the Word through whom the whole universe came into being; here he describes him as revealing God as light bursting afresh upon the world.
As followers of God’s Son, we too must walk in the light. What we say and what we do must be driven by, and bear witness to, this same light. If our words and actions do not, our beliefs, although initially full of good intentions, are shown to be a kind of whistling in the wind, empty rhetoric and a fantasy. Walking in the light does not imply that we have no sin lurking within us. The transforming power of the light of Christ, having revealed to us our wrong doing (or lack of right doing) so that we can acknowledge and sincerely confess our failings to our heavenly Father, assures us that, because of his taking them upon himself on the cross, they will be taken away from us utterly and completely, and we shall be set free of all that burdens us.
The qualities of fellowship, joy and light seem very far from what John is describing at the beginning of today’s gospel reading. Having been devastated by what they have witnessed on Good Friday, and being in fear for their very lives, this frightened group of disciples meet together behind closed doors, possibly in the same upper room where the twelve shared the Passover meal with their Lord before this nightmare unfolded. And then the light begins to break through when the risen Jesus utters those ordinary everyday Middle Eastern words of peace (now transformed into extraordinary, unique, divine words of eternal peace), as joy dawns and the broken body of Christ on earth rediscovers a new sense of fellowship with their Lord and with one another, as the Spirit of God the Father which was in his Son is poured afresh upon the Church as the disciples are commissioned to carry on their Lord’s ministry and mission to the world, beginning with Thomas. The fact that he is with the disciples on the Sunday evening one week later suggests that already there is a sense of the importance of celebrating Christ’s resurrection weekly, Sunday becoming the new Sabbath as the New covenant of God is affirmed.
I imagine many of us have a huge affinity with Thomas. Whether rightly or wrongly, Thomas has been given the soubriquet ‘doubting’ for questioning the disciples’ account that they had seen the risen Jesus. For many people, including myself, interrogating biblical truth about all kinds of things has played a huge part in their journey of faith. I wonder why that should surprise us as every generation has to set and dialogue received wisdom alongside our lived experience. I think that this might be because questioning and doubt is perceived as being the opposite of faith, whereas the reality is that they are the crucible in which our faith is honed. God might be in the light but we also have to understand that, because of the cross, God is alongside us in the darkness too. That is something we have to experience for ourselves and when we do that is when we are able to say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God”. That’s why I was so pleased to have this gospeI set for the first time I celebrated Mass/Holy Communion. Doubts can assail us at all stages of our Christian journey. When they do, or when any other troubles come calling, or even when they don’t, its vital that, as with those early disciples, each one of us are underpinned by that Christian fellowship that can lighten our lives and bring us a renewed sense of joy.
When the risen Jesus appears in that upper room, he is not just speaking to his immediate disciples but all Christian people down through the centuries who have lived, are living and who will ever live. Although we can’t physically touch our Lord’s crucified wounds, we can sense eventualy in our hearts whether Jesus’ resurrection is true or not. And in believing, we are gifted with the fellowship of eternal life..