Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord: give us such knowledge of his presence with us, that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life and serve you continually in righteousness and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Risen Christ, you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope: strengthen us to proclaim your risen life and fill us with your peace, to the glory of God the Father.
Living God, your Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in all his redeeming work; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
Reading from Acts
When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness;
you set me at liberty when I was in trouble;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2 How long will you nobles dishonour my glory;
how long will you love vain things and seek after falsehood?
3 But know that the Lord has shown me his marvellous kindness;
when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.
4 Stand in awe, and sin not;
commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness
and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There are many that say, ‘Who will show us any good?’
Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us.
7 You have put gladness in my heart,
more than when their corn and wine and oil increase.
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for it is you Lord, only, who make me dwell in safety.
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
I John 3.1-7
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’
Sermon on Sunday, Easter 3
It was after the crucifixion when “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified …” Why??? Why were the disciples startled and terrified? They must have thought, ‘There is a ghost standing among us!’ But was it really a ghost amongst them? No, it was Jesus himself there. The disciples could not understand it. So naturally, they must have been startled and terrified. They saw their Rabbi, their Lord, in their midst, even though just a few days before they saw him hoisted up on a cross, pierced and taken down from that device of torture. Their Master’s body had been placed in the tomb and it had been guarded by soldiers. He had breathed his last. They knew he had died. His body was put away. They never expected to see Jesus Christ among them again. But there he was, standing in front of them all!
It is no wonder that they were startled – it makes sense to us that they were terrified. After all, Jesus standing there would never have been anticipated by us or any of these people who had followed Jesus in his ministry, those who stood by at the crucifixion and wept at his entombment.
Jesus “said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.…’” Naturally fear and trembling were what the disciples felt. Jesus understood that, but what must have disturbed him was the doubt – their un-faith – arising in their hearts. Why did they doubt the resurrection of their Lord? Why did they doubt when he was in their midst inviting them to touch his hands and his side? — Un-faith – that is the real enemy. Naturally, we should fear in the presence of the Lord, but we should be faithful. To doubt any faithfulness – that is not acceptable when the Lord stands in front of us. However, that certainty of juridical evidence, which we understand as proof, is possible only for the disciples. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus said to Thomas who wanted to probe the risen body of Jesus with his fingers? Isn’t that what we take to be the case today? Don’t we want to probe the resurrected body so that we can say we have the evidence which will stand up in any court of the land? Evidence which will convince any sceptic or cynic, any one of our contemporaries.
The perception of faith, however – the seeing of
the evidence of faith
– is what Jesus is demanding from us. He understands the doubting of modern humanity, with all its distractions and inhumanity towards one another. Who would not doubt, especially when lockdown has just ended and we can go to all those non-essential shops to continue to distract ourselves from the fundamental fear we should have in the face of the holy?
That fundamental fear is not the “fright” which the disciples had when Jesus stood in their midst. This profound fear we experience is an existential state of mind. That fear and trembling gives rise to life in all its fullness. The presence of Jesus in our midst should give rise to this religious fear. This fear opens us to the world around us in awe – that is, in faith. In such a state of mind, we have joy in the whole of life.
Peter asks a penetrating question at the miracle wrought at Jerusalem after the resurrection appearances, “Why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us?” Peter is asking us to fear the might of God in our lives, when we see something we cannot prove as Perry Mason does in the courtroom. Peter compels us to consider the power of Jesus here and now to render us whole, in spite of our broken nature, in spite of the fact that we wish to have an unproven miracle in our lives. We must open our eyes to the miraculous all around us in order to benefit from that moment of conversion, when we step from a wholly profane life to a sacred existence in which we can experience the profound joy which loving God and our neighbour delivers. Love is at the heart live in all its fullness, of faith – that open and that “naive” attitude which accepts all as they are.
Loving faithfulness has been at the front of our minds lately, hasn’t it? The death of the Duke of Edinburgh has highlighted how loving faithfulness can be expressed in life. His story has been told on all the media, so I need not say more. I just want to remember Prince Philip as he stood in his loyal faithfulness for almost a century, standing a step behind our head of state and leader of the Anglican Church. I hope we all can do the same – that we will be loyal and faithful to the end with family, friends and neighbours, standing with them in every circumstance of life.