Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Prayer after communion
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd, and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again: keep us always under his protection,and give us grace to follow in his steps; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning towards the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; •
therefore can I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures •
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He shall refresh my soul •
and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; •
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me; •
you have anointed my head with oil
and my cup shall be full.
6 Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life, •
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing round the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The time came for the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered round him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.“
Sermon on Sunday – Easter 4
“How long will you keep us in suspense?” That is the question on everyone’s lips nowadays, isn’t it? We have been asking our politicians this question for over two years, and still there is no answer. But the politicians don’t speak to the big questions which Jesus addresses, do they? They are the little things – it is about a comfortable life that we are usually asking them about. We don’t ask Teresa May whether she is the Messiah, God’s anointed here on earth. We certainly don’t wonder whether David Drew will lead us out of our confusion. Do we ever wonder about the Messiah in these times of doubt and uncertainty?
“How long will you keep us in suspense?” Who is the last person you asked this question? The last person I asked that was my girlfriend when I proposed to her – and I felt at that moment that a new way of life was about to be mine. I really wanted her answer, because all of life hinged on that one answer, or so it seemed.
But my wife is not the Messiah. She did not offer universal salvation with her answer, though it was very much a personal redemption for me.
I am sure you, like me, have an incident which made sense of the whole of life. That is what these moments of clarity do, don’t they? But these little moments are not the epiphany of the saving God. The Messiah does not settle the little things for us, does he (or she)? The Messiah is on the universal stage, from here to the ends of the galaxy. The state of humankind is what is addressed by the Messiah, leading each one of us from sin to righteousness. As we have prayed in our Collect. “Raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above.”
The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church has always tried to guide us to those things above, to the spiritual life, that life in which righteousness blossoms and sin is no more. The Church guides us into the life of the flock of Christ. The image of the Shepherd and his sheep in the gospel points us to what we are – followers of that Messiah whose epiphany has enlightened creation, whose resurrection gives hope to all. We follow our shepherd in his path to those higher things, don’t we?
However, there are times when we ask our God like those Jews of the reading, “How long will you keep us in suspense?”
This question is similar to that statement of Thomas, “Unless I touch the wounds of Christ …” We are in suspense awaiting the second coming – or at least we should be in some way – and we wonder “When?” This question is natural for us, because we are oriented toward the future. We are always looking forward in our lives. Either we are looking for a new future, or we are hoping that the golden age of the past will be established again in our future.
“How long will you keep us in suspense?” Everyone wonders about the future and that suspense is where we live. We are on tenterhooks awaiting what is to happen. Just what we do during this time is what defines us. So we return to those things above – we ask ourselves: are we pursuing the things that make for righteousness? I think everyone would admit righteousness is well beyond and above our ordinary activity. After all, who pursues the Good through the whole of their life? I know that I have failed. However many times I fail, there are other times when I seek that seemingly impossible goal of the Good, to achieve a righteous act which will bring a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. At that point my suspense has been ended – for a moment in the twinkling of an eye when I glimpse.
Contrary to popular opinion and what appears to be the considered verdict of the world, I am sure that it is possible to do what is right. I think this is all related to this notion of being in suspense. So many do not hope, they do not suspend their seeking of the immediate pleasure for the sake of something finer, something grander, something further away than immediate gratification. The philosopher talks about the Good as an end in itself. The Good is its own reward. He tells us that we are to do the Good because it is precisely that – Good. It should take no subordinate position in life.
“How long will you keep us in suspense?” We ask this all the time, don’t we? The Good suspends us in time as we anticipate the future right here and now. We are, as some see it, stuck nowhere, without the pleasures of the world and without the ultimate reward of that Good. This is true suspense, isn’t it? We are never sure that what we have chosen is that ultimate Good. We are always in suspense and it is intolerable for most people. We want certainty. We want the answer right now. This suspense is fine for philosophers and saints, but not for the mass of humanity, those sinners of Adam’s line whom Christ came to save. We want to grasp things here and now, don’t we?
The political suspense in which we hang is a perfect example. We are looking for an immediate return rather than a good for all, or that ultimate Good – well, that is what it looks like to me.
“How long will you keep us in suspense?” Is the suspense we experience anything like the suspense of the Jews who were expecting the Messiah? We are awaiting the coming of the Christ in glory at the end of time, aren’t we? We even confess that in our creeds.
However, the question Paul asks in his letters and many of the branches of christianity pursue is whether we are ready for that second coming, that Parousia of the theologians.
So we have to confront the question about the suspense in which we live. Is it a visceral and present Angst? – something more fundamental to existence than our anxiety about whatever immediate concern you like, for Angst is about those higher things to which the Church universal has always directed us.
So let’s look to those things which cause righteousness and salvation. We need to live in suspense – awaiting that ultimate experience of grace. We need to live in suspense as we work for the Kingdom to come. We need to expect that the Good can be reached and teach those whose bellies control their lives that there is something greater than the pursuit of the earthly. Those higher things call us to greater action and force us to suspend everything while we enact those things that serve for righteousness.