07 April 2013

In a world of cynicism and suffering, it can be tempting to see celebration as something flippant, irrelevant and heartless. However, in the light of the resurrection, and in witness to Christ, celebration takes on a prophetic character. This week as we continue to remember the resurrection of Christ and the life it brings, we are also called to the prophetic work of celebration.

May our worship be celebrative and our celebration be prophetic as we gather this week.

READINGS:
Acts 5:27-32: The apostles, who were previously arrested and were freed from prison by an angel, are arrested again for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus, and when challenged declare that they must obey God rather than human beings.

Psalm 150: The closing song of the Psalter calling God’s people – and all creatures – to praise with everything they have, and to express this praise through all kinds of musical instruments.

Revelation 1:4-8: John’s introduction to the Revelation, praises Jesus as the resurrected witness, the one who has given us life, and who is God eternal.

John 20:19-31: Thomas, who is not present at the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples, is confronted with the Risen Christ, and invited to put his doubts to rest. He responds by affirming his faith in the Risen One.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
While this week’s Gospel reading naturally draws us to reflect on doubt and faith, the other readings encourage a slightly different approach, which focuses instead on the proclamation of praise and celebration. It may be that we make far more of Thomas’s doubt than Jesus does. The point of the story, after all, is Thomas’ shift to faith – not his doubt. If we choose to focus on praise and celebration, however, the readings for this week are both inspiring and deeply challenging, in terms of our witness for Christ. In the Acts passage, it is the faith and determination of the disciples to worship Jesus, that makes them so bold in the face of the threats from the religious leaders. It is the worship of the Psalmist – and of the people and creatures that respond to the call to praise – that provides the celebration at the end of the Psalter, bringing all of the lament, grief, pain and suffering of the Psalms into a moment of final celebration. In the Revelation, it is John’s worship of Jesus, and his faith in the Risen One, that moves him to write about his vision of hope and grace in the final consummation of Jesus’ saving work. And, in the Gospel, Thomas’ journey into faith becomes an example for the Gospel’s readers to follow, and invites people of faith into a life of celebration and of witness to the resurrection. In the light of this, the call of the Lectionary for this week is for us to respond to God’s saving work in Christ, and in his resurrection, with celebration which then inspires and strengthens us to witness to Christ and Christ’s way, even when we face persecution and suffering for Christ’s sake.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: The opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear, cynicism and despair. It is these negative forces that constantly lead our world into violence. It is these negative forces that so often lead to oppression, exploitation and abuse of those we fear. To commit to hope and justice and life, then, is a subversive and confrontational act – as the disciples discovered. The challenge, of the resurrection, is to be people who refuse to co-operate with the forces of fear, cynicism and despair, and who work constantly to bring faith, hope, life and worship into places of fear and pain. And to do this, we must be people of praise and celebration. In addition, when, as the Psalm suggests, we invite all people (or even all creatures) to join the celebration, our worship becomes a uniting and healing activity, which also proclaims God’s reconciliation to the world. It is not just our prophetic confrontations with injustice and evil that proclaim God’s Reign, and that bring transformation to the world. It is also our united celebration in the face of the division, conflict and hatred of the world that expresses a prophetic challenge to the world. Perhaps in this Easter season we can reach out across the boundaries that divide us and share together in moments of celebration that can proclaim our witness to the world in song and action.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Every day we are faced with a challenging choice as Resurrection People: Will our lives be defined and directed by our faith, and the hopeful celebration that flows from it, or by our fear and cynicism, and the self-protection and conflict that arises from it? In every community, every home and every relationship, our clearest witness to Christ’s resurrection is not the words we speak, but the extent to which our lives reflect the trust, joy and welcome of Christ. In the same way that the disciples were inspired by their faith in the resurrection to preach in the face of threats, so we can be inspired to befriend strangers and outcasts, to include the marginalised, and to celebrate in the face of war, violence, crime, poverty, dread disease and climate change – not in flippant denialism, but in defiance of pessimism and death, and in faith that God’s life cannot be quenched by the forces of injustice, inequality and evil. In the end, if our lives express the same fear, cynicism, negativity and hostility that we see in the world around us, nothing we say about Christ’s resurrection will be heard or believed. It is our capacity to love and celebrate in the midst of life’s crises that really witnesses to Christ.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Defiant Praise
We Choose Not
The Healing Power of Celebration
Responding to Life

Hymn Suggestions:
Hallelujah! What A Saviour
How Can We Sinners Know
To God Be The Glory
Blessed Assurance
I Cannot Tell Why He Whom Angels Worship
Jesus Messiah (Link to YouTube video)
Hallelujah! What A Saviour (Link to YouTube video – the actual song starts at about 3:50)
Grace Like Rain (Link to YouTube video)
A Tomb So Cold
Glorious (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet
A Liturgy for Easter Sunday

Video Suggestions:
Doubting Thomas

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