Today is the second Sunday of Easter. As I hadn’t preached on Easter Day this was, in effect, my Easter sermon for this year. I took the service at the church where we livestream and record the services. It went well. Indeed someone commented that I was ‘on fire’. I preached from the following script but went off it a little here and there to elaborate (but not much). I was looking forward to clipping my sermon out of the service recording to post here. Unfortunately a technical error meant the recording wasn’t usable. I was not amused.
I have added to my Holy Week and Easter picture – still a work in progress, but nearly finished. It reflects some of my thinking here.
There is LOADS in today’s gospel reading. We have it every year, and I already have several sermons on it. So, why, when I have been busy and to be honest quite tired, haven’t I pulled out an old one? Why did I spend time reflecting on it and praying about it on Thursday and Saturday, plus a bit this morning?
The bible is God’s Living Word – Jesus is here with us in our midst, so we need to ask what is the message for us, here and now, today?
Despite the locked doors, Jesus comes and stands in their midst. Jesus is both a physical body but also transformed in some way so that he can come and go unconstrained by the physical world. Jesus said to his disciples, Peace be with you. At the last supper he had said he would leave them his peace – and that they would need it because there would be trouble ahead.
And it had arrived. Big time! After Jesus’ death and the extraordinary news, the women brought on the Sunday morning, the disciples were fearful. The news of Jesus not being in the tomb would not have properly sunk in. What did it mean? Where was his body? And, as followers of the new movement, considered dangerous by the religious authorities, they would probably be the next in line for the chop.
They were right to be fearful, as we heard in our first reading from Acts. Once they were out and about preaching the good news of the resurrection, not everyone greeted the news with an alleluia!
The aspect of this story that grabbed me and wouldn’t go away is the fact that John draws attention to the wound in Jesus’ side. Jesus says look at my hands and side. And when Thomas is given the news, he says that unless he can see the wounds and even put his hand in Jesus’ side he will not believe.
And when Jesus does meet him the following week, again saying Peace be with you, he tells Thomas to put his hand in his side.
I think the wound in Jesus’ side is significant for physical and theological reasons. I have also had a phrase from a hymn on my mind: “Where steams of living waters flow, my ransomed soul he leadeath” from ‘the king of love my shepherd is’. The living waters flow from Jesus. It is by his wounds that we are healed. It is those wounds that will bring the peace he offers.
Jesus died on the cross and to be certain the Roman soldier thrust a spear in his side. Both blood and fluid poured out because of the amount of blood Jesus lost in the beatings, and the fluid collected around lungs and heart as a result. The person who saw it testified so that people would believe that Jesus really had died. Jesus was 100% human, not a god in disguise and playing at being a man.
The piercing is also a fulfilment of a prophecy in the Old Testament that they would look on the one they pierced. But there is a deeper and more wonderful meaning to this that is relevant to us today. So bear with me.
In John’s gospel, when Jesus drives out the money lenders from the temple, he gets into a discussion with the religious leaders who ask him for a sign that he has the authority to do it. Jesus replies “Destroy this temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up”. He clearly didn’t mean the stones but was referring to himself and his resurrection. He claims to be the temple – the place where we meet with God.
The prophet Ezekiel had a vision and prophecy of the temple being renewed and, in that vision, there were springs of living water flowing from the temple, gradually getting wider and deeper until it was a huge river with trees containing leaves for the healing of the nations.
The climax of the Old Testament names for God and the new Jerusalem is Jehovah Shammah, which means ‘The Lord is there.’
The new name reflects the identification of the place with the person and permanent presence of the Prince of Peace: The Messiah. Jesus is the true temple and the fulfilment of this prophecy.
When Jesus was at the temple for a festival one year, 37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Meeting his disciples, three times he said Peace be with you. He also sent his disciples, and sends us, to share the good news of peace and forgiveness. He enables us to do this by giving us the Holy Spirit.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
all: He is risen indeed, alleluia! (this is the traditional Easter greeting in church)
How do you know? Why do you believe? We can sound so certain of this. Why do some people not believe?
Seeing is believing. Witnesses are important. The bible contains many eyewitness accounts. We rely on them, and the testimony of others who claim to have met the risen Lord. John’s gospel was written, not as a historical account of Jesus’ life, but in order that people would come to believe in Jesus as the way to God and the way to have life in all its fulness.
So what moved you from unbelief to belief? Or are you still not sure? If so that’s okay.
What evidence is there for Jesus being risen from the dead? Well we can’t time travel back 2000 years so let’s discount that one. I haven’t seen the physical Jesus, neither have you.
Coming to believe took time. I’m going to give you a little bit of my testimony. It’s only one aspect. There were several pieces of evidence that built up to me coming to believe. I started to believe when I could see for myself the difference that it makes.
It isn’t enough to just tell people about Jesus. We need to show them in our lives that believing in him makes a difference. And that will only come as and when believing in Jesus DOES make a difference, when the Holy Spirit working within us changes us from the inside. It isn’t something you can put on as an act.
When I first started going to church many moons ago with my children one of them was about five years old the other one two and a half, we went to toddlers’ church. Auntie Brenda looked after the children while they played and us mums and the deaconess would have a little bit of a discussion. Then we’d all go into the Lady Chapel for a story for the children and a craft activity of some sort connected with that story.
As we went through from the hall to the Chapel we’d often sing ‘Sing Hosanna’ – give me joy in my heart, keep me praising et cetera. I was struck by the fact that I could see in the way that the other moms sang that they actually meant it; that it was true, that they had a joy that was real. Also I could tell as I attended church more often and got to know these Christians that they had a peace that I didn’t have and that’s what I wanted. I thought I want some of that. I want some of that peace, some of that joy. That was the evidence for me: I could see that the Christian faith made a difference.
So what brought you to believe? I’d be interested to hear your story. What brought Thomas to believe? Let’s get back to the gospel for today. Why did Thomas doubt? Poor old Thomas I feel sorry for him. He missed out. How do you think he felt when he was told “we’ve seen the Lord yeah and what’s more, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on us – wow” I think that he would have felt a bit miffed to say the least. It’s not fair. He would have been disappointed. ‘Why didn’t I go aagh?’ He would have felt angry.
For many people it isn’t a lack of logical evidence that prevents them from believing. It’s the anger and hurt from life’s knocks that gets in the way. Some people say to me, well if there is a God why have I suffered?
And that is understandable, especially if they think the only proof of there being a God is that nothing bad or painful in life happens. But I’m not going to go down that side road: that’s not today’s sermon.
But how do we feel when others have wonderful experiences, and we don’t?
There were times in the 1990s when there was the Toronto blessing and all sorts of wonderful charismatic things happening in churches – every church except the church I was in seemed to be having wonderful experiences of God and the Holy Spirit. And if I went to one of these places where it was supposed to be wonderful worship and God turning up and stuff happening, nothing happened to me.
That’s the problem with looking for the spectacular and amazing experiences. Quite often Jesus comes to us in our quiet times, in our times of grief and pain. He comes when we meet with others. There only needs to be two or three gathered in his name, and there he is with us. Whether it is loud, lively modern worship or quiet, slow traditional hymns. It’s our hearts and desires that are important. When we come to worship either in church or at home, are we opening up our hearts and our lives to meet with Jesus?
The Lord is Here – His spirit is with us….
Lift up your hearts – we lift them to the Lord.
(These two lines are from the beginning of the communion prayers of consecrating the bread and wine)
Thomas wanted to see Jesus, so much. That’s why he was stroppy and said he wouldn’t believe. It wasn’t doubt – it was anger and feeling left out. Jesus knew and Jesus saw to it that Thomas got what he wanted.
Do you want to know Jesus with you? Let’s pray that you get what you want.
I believe in Jesus, I believe he is the son of God and I believe that he is here now, in our midst, to bring healing and forgiveness. That is as true today as it was in that upper room 2000 years ago. As our creed today we will sing: I believe in Jesus.