‘The Blessed who have not Seen and yet Believe’ – 24th April 2022 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

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22 04 24 Second Sunday of Easter Eucharist

The Readings

Acts 5.27-32

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’


John 20.19-end

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By The Revd Dr Alan Billings

Last week my wife and I attended a funeral service at a crematorium in Cambridgeshire. It was non-religious, conducted by someone from the Humanist Society. He did it sensitively, therapeutically.

But I realised again how confused our society now is about death and faith and that can affect any of us.

We think we are a secular society. And in many respects we are. Religion does not play the role in most people’s lives that it once did. This funeral service was secular – and the celebrant made that clear in his opening remarks.

Death, he told us, ended all life and in that respect human beings were no different from the flowers and the animals which come into being, have their day, and die. We have one life and we should make the most of it.

So the secular funeral can only do one thing: look back. Look back at a life lived and give thanks. It can’t look forward because there is no forward to look forward to. This person has ceased to be. They no longer exist. This world is all there is.

Now there is much in that secular account that Christians would agree with. We do believe, to quote the scriptures, that we are taken from the dust and to the dust we shall return.

In that secular service, as there could be no future reference, most of it was taken up with looking back at the person’s life – editing and recalling it, playing music and reading poems that summed it up.

But then as we came towards the end the celebrant said something which jarred. He said, We are now going to say farewell to our friend. And he addressed her by name, as if she was still present with us. And he invited us all to do the same. Yet he had begun by saying death had ended her life. She was not here. She was not anywhere. She had ceased to be.

It seemed like an admission that despite everything he had said at the start of the service, we don’t actually think the death of a human being is of no more significance than the death of a flower or an insect. And we often have strong presentiments that our loved ones are not lost for ever. So we struggle to make sense of what we experience. What can we say about death?

Over these weeks of Easter, in our gospel readings, we find the disciples having to do something similar. Believing that Jesus had not been swallowed up in death but somehow was with them again did not come easily to them.

The male disciples, we learnt last week, did not accept what the women had told them about the tomb being empty. Their words seemed like an idle tale. Just wishful thinking.

But now, in today’s gospel, the men themselves come face to face with the Risen Lord. He greets them and shows them his wounded hands and side. This is no apparition. It really is him.

Then they are glad.

But one of the Twelve, Thomas, is not with them and won’t just take their word for it. He must see for himself. More than that. For him, seeing is not believing. Seeing is not enough. He must feel the wounds in the hands of the Risen Lord – if he is to believe.

Perhaps none of this is surprising. This was something completely outside their experience, outside anyone’s experience. They were not expecting it. They didn’t understand what was happening. They didn’t have words to describe it. And when they did try to describe it, their words reflect the strangeness of what is happening.

But gradually they build a picture. Jesus, who was dead is alive. Substantial. He can be touched, as Thomas found. But not clung to, as Mary found. But he’s not alive in the same way that he was before – subject to the laws of physics which say you can’t appear and disappear.

So this is no miracle because miracles just restore things to how they were before. The sick are made better, but they will get sick again. The deaf hear and the blind see, but any of them might lose hearing or sight again.

Jesus is not restored to the human life he knew before. He lives and is available for all people at all times and in all places. No one has experienced this before. So it is no wonder that they can’t easily find the words, and it is no wonder that in the end, all they can do is tell us, as best they can, what happened, strange though it is.

When we come to think about the death of those we have loved and lost, that is part of our context. Yes, we will have experiences that we will struggle to put into words. We will certainly react strongly against any suggestion that death is anything other than disaster: we will feel the truth and the force of those words: ‘dust to dust’. But as Christians we will also feel the truth and the force of the presence with us of the Risen Lord, who has gone before.

We are the blessed who have not seen and yet believe.

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, Let us pray to the Father.

Oh Lord, as we continue to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we pray for our world, that reconciliation between warring nations and factions may be achieved, and that all your peoples may live in peace and harmony. We especially pray for Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and all places suffering war and oppression. May those inflicting that suffering realise what they are doing is wrong, and not in accordance with whichever religion they claim to follow.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the church worldwide, especially for the Orthodox Church celebrating Easter this weekend. We ask that all Christians may come together, whatever their different ways of worship, to work for peace and harmony throughout the world, and to show your love to all humankind.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for our community of Walkley as it prepares for its Festival after a three year break. We give thanks for all the individuals and organisations who work so hard to put on events for the enjoyment of all, and all our local businesses that they may be renewed by the Festival. We pray also for our schools as they return for the summer term at the end of three very difficult and disrupted academic years, that staff and children may catch up on time lost, and enjoy being together for learning and fun once more.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, whether with Covid or other illnesses, many of whom have had to wait a long time for treatment. We remember in a moment of silence all those known to us who are suffering in mind or body at this time…………..
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember before you all those who have passed on to your nearer presence, especially those dear to us, whether relations, members of this congregation or friends and colleagues…….. grant us with them a share in your eternal kingdom.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, John, Mark and all your saints, we commend ourselves to your unfailing love.
Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.