‘Death and Resurrection’ – 11th April 2021 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

The Readings

Acts 4.32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

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.


The Sermon
By Reverend Alan Billings

What is the Easter faith that will sustain the head of our church, the Queen, this Sunday?

What Easter does, or should do, is make us think first about what comes before Christ's resurrection, namely his death. Not so much the manner of his death, which was horrible, but the fact of it. Christ died.

We live at a time when the society around us has largely lost its hold on Christian faith. It is secular. We don't always appreciate what that means. But one thing it means is that people now struggle to give death any kind of positive meaning.

For the secular person, the death of a human being is no different from the death of any other living thing – whether a flower, a bird, an animal. Or for that matter, a virus.

Human death is about annihilation. Everlasting unconsciousness and an end of all that we thought important for our life, especially our relationships and the love between us. The love between us and our partner, our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our God. Death sweeps it all away.

This is hard to think about; and most of the time we don't, until we have to. Even then we find ways of not doing it.

So those diagnosed with a terminal illness will often put themselves through every kind of medical intervention possible, however grim, in order to prolong life by a little more and put off thinking about the inevitable end of all our lives.

And those who arrange non-religious funerals will avoid drawing attention to the awful truth that the one we love and the relationship we had with them is no more. They do that by only looking back over the life – because there can be no looking forward – and trying to make the mood of mourners as upbeat as possible.

I went to such a funeral a few years ago. We were told not to wear black but vibrant colours. It was to be a celebration of the person's life. So we looked back. There were a few serious moments but mainly a lot of amusing stories. We almost forgot there was a coffin in the room.

Some one did say that this person will live on in our memories – another evasion. But as Woody Allen said, ‘I don’t want to live on in your memory. I want to live on in my apartment.’

In funerals of that kind it's almost impossible to express the kind of deep sorrow and sadness, the pain, the loneliness, some may be feeling. Sadness is almost out of place.

At no point did anyone break the spell by saying – as the principal mourner does in the film 4 weddings and a funeral:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone...*

The last place for any profound thinking about death is the modern secular funeral. And that is serious because it leaves us unprepared for our own death.

This is not to say we shouldn't be able to remember good times and funny moments at a funeral. But it shouldn't become a complete substitute for thinking about the reality – that this person is gone from our life for ever.

Unless, that is, there is more to be said.

At Eastertide the church says, there is more to be said. And the gospel passages we hear read Sunday by Sunday tell us about that more, taking us gently through the experiences of the first followers of Jesus as they slowly, slowly come to change their perspective and realise that although Christ died there can be a looking forward as well as a looking back.

God did not leave Jesus in death but brought him through it – which is what we mean by resurrection.

The promise for us is that as we, or our loved ones, come to die we do not just look back, we can look forward, even if we cannot know or hardly begin to imagine, what that resurrection life might be like.

In the light of the resurrection of Jesus, we think about death and respond to it differently. We can acknowledge those deep feelings of loss and loneliness. We don't have to pretend that death is anything other than a disaster, a time when we lose one another. But we can also light a candle and say a prayer. For a human death is not the equivalent of the death of a flower or a bird.

For Christ has been raised and we shall be raised. In God's nearer presence we shall know ourselves again and we shall know one another. Christ is risen. Death has no more dominion over him. Or us.

This is the Easter faith we share with The Queen.


*The full quotation from the WH Auden poem used in the film has been omitted here for copyright reasons

The Prayers
Prepared by David C, Lay Reader

We pray to Jesus who is present with us to eternity.

Most merciful God,
whose wisdom is beyond our understanding,
surround the Queen and the Royal Family with your love,
that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss,
but have confidence in your goodness,
and strength to meet the days to come.
Jesus, Lord of life,
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, light of the world,
bring the light and peace of your gospel to the nations
Jesus, Lord of life,
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, bread of life,
give food to the hungry
and nourish us all with your word.
Jesus, Lord of life,
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, our way, our truth, our life,
be with us and all who follow you in the way
Deepen our appreciation of your truth
and fill us with your life.
Jesus, Lord of life,
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, Good Shepherd who gave your life for the sheep,
recover the straggler,
bind up the injured,
strengthen the sick
and lead the healthy and strong to new pastures.
Jesus, Lord of life,
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, the resurrection and the life,
we give you thanks for all who have lived and believed in you
We remember your servant Philip
who has gone before us with the sign of faith
and now rests in the sleep of peace.
According to your promises,
grant to him and to all who rest in Christ,
refreshment, light and peace;
through the same Christ our Lord.
Jesus, Lord of life,
in your mercy, hear us,
accept our prayers, and be with us always.