16 April 2023

Easter is not over! While we celebrated Easter Sunday last week, the fifty day Easter Season continues until Pentecost Sunday. During this time, the Lectionary invites us to dig deep into the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. This season flows out of Holy Week as a kind of mirror of Lent which led us into it – Lent being a preparation for the powerful and challenging journey of Holy Week, and Easter being an outworking of the Holy Week experience. This week the gift of the Lectionary is the gift of assurance – a confidence that our faith is not just a fantasy, or a distant dream, but is something real and transforming that we can experience and live each day.

May the power of resurrection life fill our souls as we worship this week, and throughout the Easter Season.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32: Peter, preaching on the Day of Pentecost, proclaims that Jesus is risen and quotes from David’s Psalm (16) as a prophecy of the resurrection of Christ.

Psalm 16: A psalm of David, expressing trust in God, commitment to faithful worship, and assurance of God’s promise of resurrection – which in the New Testament is taken as a promise of Jesus’ resurrection.

1 Peter 1:3-9: Peter encourages the believers as they endure trials, reminding them of the life they have in the Risen Christ and of the joy that they will experience when their faith, having been strengthened by their suffering, leads them into fullness of life.

John 20:19-31: The resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples and breathes the Holy Spirit on them, then he appears to Thomas, who had doubted the witness of the other disciples, and shows Thomas his wounds, leading Thomas to faith and worship. After telling this story, John explains the purpose of his Gospel, to show who Jesus is and to lead his readers to faith.

The resurrection may be an interesting historical fact, but if that’s all it is, it has little value for us today. This week’s Lectionary readings make it clear, however, that the resurrection of Jesus is way more than just an event of the past. Every reading offers the assurance that God’s life is available to us now in Christ. In both Peter’s preaching and his letter he affirms that Christ’s resurrection is real and is a promise that God’s life is available to all. The Psalm, which Peter quotes in his Pentecost sermon, expresses the Psalmist’s assurance of God’s care and life, and is taken by Peter as a prophecy of Christ’s resurrection. Finally, in the Gospel reading, John demonstrates how Christ’s resurrection inspires and empowers his disciples, and how Thomas is dramatically drawn into faith. Put together, these readings give us a basis for confidence as we face the challenges – the ‘little deaths’ – of each day, and they invite us to experience Christ’s resurrection life now, not just after we have died. So, resurrection is not just an amazing thing that happened long ago. It can be our lived experience every moment.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: In a world where nothing is certain, where agreements and treaties and commitments are so often broken, the word ‘assurance’ can seem like a ridiculous ideal. Expediency would seem to be a far higher value, and those who want to keep up had better get comfortable with it fast. Yet, assurance is an important word in the realm of faith. Without assurance, faith becomes either a fantasy or a white-knuckle clinging to vain hope. It’s not that we need proof of what we believe – as if faith was about verifiable fact. Rather, it’s that faith needs to be something we live, that drives us and moves us and defines us. Lived faith requires a confidence which is an experience of the thing in which we believe. Like the small wins that an athlete uses to boost their confidence on the way to Olympic gold, assurance confirms for us that what we have given our lives for has substance and reality to it. To speak of the resurrection with no experience of ‘little resurrections’ to give us this assurance, this confidence, leaves us in a limbo state of always waiting for something better – “pie in the sky”. But, as we work for justice, peace, simplicity and community in this world, we draw strength from our daily experiences of God’s resurrection life – in the laughter of a poor child who still remembers how to play; in the commitment to peace among those who suffer abuse from dictatorial leaders; in the mindfulness of those who choose what they eat and buy according to principles of justice and conservation of the planet; in the resilience of those who continue to hope and dream and work for a bright future, even after losing everything in natural disasters. It is when we open our hearts and minds to these signs of resurrection that we find the assurance to keep faith, and to hold on to our integrity, compassion and commitment to ethical living. It is this daily experience of resurrection that empowers us to believe in Christ and the way of God’s reign, and, like Thomas, to turn our lives into an act of worship and service.

LOCAL APPLICATION:  In every life there are daily ‘little deaths’ – job losses, sickness, broken relationships, bereavements. At times, faith in Christ and in the resurrection has been portrayed as an escape from these realities of the human condition, and Christians have tried to pretend that we are immune from life’s pain and failures. However, when we do this, we do not help ourselves or our communities, and we do not honour Jesus’ death or resurrection. Also, when we make the resurrection simply a historical fact to assent to intellectually, we lose the power it offers for daily living and service. Thomas refused to believe as an intellectual exercise just because “everyone else” did. He insisted on discovering the resurrection for himself, even though it meant admitting his doubts and allowing himself to be proved wrong. He needed an assurance of life, but once he had received it, he was a changed and healed person. What life and healing we could offer our neighbourhoods and our people if, in the Church, we welcomed doubt and recognised that failure and brokenness are universal. What transformation could be experienced if we accepted people as they are – whatever that might mean – and invited them to seek in earnest after an assurance – an experience of ‘little resurrections’ – in the midst of their pain and struggle. How different our impact on our communities might be if, instead of giving our energy to judgement and criticism and defensiveness, we embraced all people with the confidence of God’s life, God’s love and God’s compassion. How differently we might be perceived as Christians if our faith in resurrection was less an idea which we held in our heads, and more a quality that we lived with every part of our lives. And when we’ve experienced the assurance that comes from God’s life in this way, we discover that we cannot help but be agents of resurrection in every moment, every place and every relationship we may find ourselves.

We Choose Not
Responding to Life

Hymn Suggestions:
At The Name Of Jesus
Blessed Assurance
How Can We Sinners Know
Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus
Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All
Hallelujah, What A Saviour (Link to YouTube video – song starts at 3:34)
Jesus Messiah (Link to YouTube video)
Grace Like Rain (Link to YouTube video)
I Will Rise
Here I Am To Worship
On The Third Day

A Liturgy for Easter Sunday (Can still be used this Sunday if the sacrament is shared because of the resurrection theme)

Video Suggestions
Doubting Thomas