Acts 5.27-42; John20.19-31
I wonder if you’ve ever been to see a brilliant film or had an amazing meal at a restaurant or simply been bowled over by a magnificent view. Then you’ve told a friend about it saying, you really must see this or go there? And you’ve been surprised by the less than enthusiastic reception you’ve received; not because they didn’t believe you, but because they weren’t there to experience it for themselves.
Well, this is partly what’s happening in our gospel reading today. The disciples in the house haven’t yet experienced the presence of the risen Jesus among them. Mary Magdalene has come back from the tomb full of her early morning encounter with Jesus. This doesn’t seem to make any difference to the way the rest of them are feeling at that time. They are unable to share her excitement simply because they weren’t there.
Now it’s evening and they are locked in the house ‘for fear of the Jews’. A word about this: the disciples themselves were all Jewish so this can’t possibly be referring to the whole nation. It’s far more likely to be referring to those who were involved in the plot to remove Jesus. The disciples were afraid of being arrested because of their association with Jesus. ‘
Suddenly Jesus is there with them and greeting them with the words ‘peace be with you’, that shalom, that deeper peace which only God can bring. He also breathes on them and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit, with the words ‘if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.’ Many commentators have attempted to interpret these words. I’ve always found them difficult. Sandra Schneiders, a religious sister and an American theologian, points out that in the Greek, the word for ‘sins’ is not repeated in the second half. She offers a different reading. ‘Of whomever you forgive the sins, they (the sins) are forgiven them; whomever you hold fast (in the sense of embrace) they are held fast. So the persons are held fast, not the sins. That seems to make much more sense.
Jesus provides what they need and there is no more talk of fear.
Thomas is not present on this occasion, so when he hears the others have seen Jesus, he like the others earlier, is not convinced. He has not yet had the experience they had had. A week later he is with them. Once again Jesus appears among them and greets them and invites Thomas to put his hand in his side. There is no condemnation, Jesus simply offers him what he needs. And Thomas responds with a statement of faith.
Thinking about the disciples gathered in that house, how might they have been feeling, what might they have been experiencing?
First, perhaps they were immobilised by their fear of being arrested; maybe also they were afraid because most of them had failed Jesus when he needed them most. They were torn apart with grief; they were in despair – he wasn’t the Messiah after all; they had committed themselves wholeheartedly to Jesus and his teaching, given up everything to be with him and he’d let them down. They could see no future ahead of them.
So what changed for them? Certainly not Mary Magdalene bringing news of her encounter with Jesus. No, it was the presence of Jesus.
But what about us today and the situation in the world? If we think about what is happening around us at the moment: so much destruction in Ukraine, so many people grieving, so many stories of families who followed the rules and therefore couldn’t be with their loved ones as they lay dying of covid during the lockdowns; not even able to say their final goodbyes at a funeral service; stories of significant events being postponed because of restrictions; recent increases in the cost of living, with people having to choose between eating and heating. We have heard or read of so many people telling their stories of loss. There is an enormous amount of grief at the moment – just as the disciples were experiencing.
However, we do not live in those times. But we do have the Holy Spirit to bring us that sense of God’s presence and the scriptures to bring us the hope of new life, especially in this easter season. The light of Christ cannot be extinguished.
Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples gathered in that house and commissioned them to go out and tell the world that he had conquered death. Our reading this morning ends with the writer of the gospel, telling the disciples, and us, that his purpose in relating the stories, or signs as he refers to them, was so that all might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing this would bring them life. There are three words for life in Greek whereas we only have one in English – here the word used is ‘zoe’ which means eternal life. He’s talking about something greater than simply living and breathing which is the meaning of the other two words.
Let us pray that we too may be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate priest
Reference: Luke 24:1-12
Introduction: From the earliest days of the church the six weeks leading up to Holy Week and Easter Day were weeks of preparation, through learning from the Scriptures, through abstinence and prayer, - preparation for holy baptism for a new birth into the Christian Faith; for a new start in life with new hope and its associated joy and peace. For those already baptised, it was a season of intentionally drawing back to God once again, for we do so easily drift away; and hence we learn to be God’s people once again.
Today’s great celebration of New Birth: So today, Easter Day, is the great celebration of new birth into our Christian Faith, into becoming members of a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a holy people belonging to God; called and set apart to be witnesses in the world to God’s love and his saving work through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection from the dead. This is your calling and mine and will be that of those being baptised today. We are a holy people with an extraordinary and wonderful purpose in the world. Whatever we are doing at work or at leisure we are called to be a people who make Christ known in both deed and word. As it is true that once one is ordained in the church as a priest, one remains a priest ‘till death, so also it is true that once one is baptised into the Christian Faith, once we have responded to God’s call to follow Christ, we are his forever – a holy people, set apart. Yes, it requires the sacrifice of other purposes in life, but it’s rewards are unfathomable, both in this world and in the next. All the riches of heaven become ours in Christ Jesus.
The joy and fruit of the Resurrection life: So, on this Resurrection morning, we recall our new birth, our death and resurrection into a new life as a Christian – there is no higher purpose on earth. And this new birth is enabled by our turning away from all sin – dying to those aspects of our life that hinder our calling and mar our soul. And then we turn to Christ, to the way that brings life in all its fulness – a life with its struggles, yes; but also a life full of hope and assurance, with its accompanying joy and peace.
It’s a life in which we discover, time and time again, God’s faithfulness and goodness in both good times and bad. We discover the authority given to us in our prayers, for the prayers of a faithful person has great power in their effect. When filled with the divine presence of God’s Holy Spirit, that gift offered to all who believe in Christ, then we do make a significant difference in the world. We become a blessing to our communities, a bringer of hope, a healer of the sick, a supporter of the sufferer, a welcomer to the stranger and a carer of the poor. And more than that, we become signposts to the one who saves us from the power and fruit of our sins; to him who brings hope from despair and ultimately brings life out of death. This holiest of days we celebrate the risen all-powerful Jesus, King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace, who will come again as Judge of the living and the dead, bringing at last, peace and justice to all the earth. In him we place our trust and hope. And we will not be disappointed at the end! Hallelujah!
Conclusion: So, let’s not hesitate to enter again, wholeheartedly, the faith into which we were baptised that we may know again the joy of our salvation. May Easter joy fill your soul today!
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector
Exodus 12.1-4, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17,31b-35
Do you know what I have done to you, Jesus asked the disciples. Well, the short answer is no; the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus had done. That’s clear from Peter’s reaction, and he was probably only saying what the others were thinking.
So Jesus he began to explain to them. We should remember that washing the dusty feet of guests who’d been invited to a meal was usually the task of the servants. It was a dirty job. It was part of the tradition of hospitality. It indicated to those arriving that they were welcome guests. In that sense it was not only necessary, but symbolic. By undertaking the task of a lowly servant, Jesus has turned this action on its head. He has set them an example. He has transformed this necessary action into an act of love and told them to do the same. And then asked them ‘do you get it?’
This wasn’t the only tradition that Jesus turned upside down on that evening. We heard about the first Passover meal in our first reading. The people were told : this day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. Obviously the way it was observed had already changed and developed by Jesus’ time.
Our second reading reminds us of the meal Jesus had shared before he washed the disciples’ feet. He gave the Passover meal a new meaning as he broke the loaf of bread and told them to do it in remembrance of him. Taking the cup of wine he told them remember him whenever they shared the cup, saying ‘ as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.’ This passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church predates the gospel accounts of the Last Supper. These are the words we hear in the Eucharistic prayer and when the priest breaks the bread.
As we re-enact this symbolic action, and later share in bread and wine at the Lord’s table, in what ways might we show Jesus’ love to one another? I wonder what needs turning on its head in our own time if we intend to take seriously Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as he loved them. John tells us something of the extent of Jesus’ love at the beginning of our gospel reading.
Our reading ends with this reiteration of this costly love. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
As we begin this Triduum, these great three days of continuous worship, let us pray that we may enter more deeply into the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord and continue to follow his example of unconditional love.
The Revd. Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
John 12:1-8 - Mary Anoints Jesus
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
Introduction: Since the earliest days of Temple worship in Jerusalem and within church worship olive oil has been used for anointing. It is an outward and visible sign of God’s actual anointing of a person, setting them apart (consecration) for ministry or Christian service. Furthermore, within the Church’s ministry it is used in Baptism, Confirmation, for healing and in preparation for death and burial. In short, it is an outward act signifying an intervention by God at significant moments in the spiritual journey of God’s people.
Gospel: Today’s Gospel extract marks the beginning of the last phase of Jesus’ life and ministry, just 6 days before the Feast of Passover at which Jesus was crucified. Passover, of course, was the annual reminder of the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt around 1200BC, under the leadership of Moses. In particular, it focussed on the passing over of the Hebrew dwellings by an angel of death so that they were spared the death of their first-born son. This was to be the last of the 10 plagues of Egypt and became the means by which the Hebrew slaves escaped. Poignantly, in order that the inhabitants of these dwellings were unharmed the blood of an unblemished lamb was to be daubed on the door lintels. Thus began the notion that the blood of an innocent lamb would save people from death. And hence, the words of our liturgy, ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.’
Also, poignantly, today’s Gospel account occurs at the home of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead after 4 days in a cave tomb. It’s the context in which Jesus had said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though they die, will live.”
You can imagine how grateful they were to Jesus for having restored Lazarus back to them from the grave. And Jesus loved this particular family, which is probably why he chose to stay with them for what he knew would be the last days of his life. Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet was likely to have been a sign of their own love for Jesus as well as their deep gratitude.
Mary used nard for this foot anointing, which was extremely expensive. It’s the sort of thing a family would have to save for some 30 years to buy, perhaps for an extravagant funeral. So, this was an act of extraordinary devotion and gratitude.
But Judas Iscariot objects as he held the funds for the disciples. “Couldn’t this perfume have been soled and the money given to the poor?” No doubt once he had taken his share.
But Jesus tells Judas to leave her alone as she was, in fact, doing something far more significant than Judas realised. Through his hardness of heart, Judas had become blind to the deeper things of God, and was, therefore, unmoved by Mary’s act of devotion. She was, in fact, anointing Jesus for his death and burial. For this purpose she had bought it. She had been responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, even if she had not grasped the gravity of what she was doing. She was following the divine movement within her, which Jesus immediately recognised.
Attentiveness to God’s activity: One aspect of our Christian calling is to be attentive to God’s activity in our midst. For this, our hearts need to be open to God with a spirit of humility. It is a spiritual act made possible by the divine activity of God’s Holy Spirit within us. It’s a good discipline, having repented of any sin of which we are aware, to ask to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit afresh. In so doing we become equipped to recognise God’s activity amongst us. As we learn the practice of being attentive, so we begin to notice what’s happening in the spirit – the deeper and hidden, though no less real, things.
The Ministry of Anointing with oil: Today, during the administration of Holy Communion, I will, with support of two others be available for anointing with oil; that is, oil which was consecrated by Bishop Steven last Maundy Thursday for the purpose of facilitating God’s healing. During this brief act of anointing, we will be attentive to the moving of God’s Spirit, who may direct our prayers and thoughts. In short it is an opportunity for you to come to God for healing or other spiritual work, the oil being the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual activity of God through this act.
Please, do come and allow God to meet you at your point of need. This ancient ministry, instituted by God, is there for your blessing.
Conclusion: On this Passion Sunday, as we journey with Christ through the last two weeks of his life, through the valley of the shadow of awful suffering and death, we can be assured that his act of sacrificial love, as the Lamb of God, saves us from the bitter pains of eternal death and leads us into the new resurrection life in all its glory and fulness. May God lead you on this journey and bring you to a joyful and renewed Easter morning.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector