As a community separated by a virus but drawn together by faith, we worship today:
- Many of us are praying at 10am every Sunday
- We are joining with worship from all over the country watching BBC1 at 10:15am for Sunday Worship, or 1:15pm for Songs of Praise
- Revd Graeme Holdsworth takes Holy Communion on behalf of everyone in our parishes at 6pm
I continue to experiment with different ways of sharing worship and today I’m offering an audio recording of the Gospel Reading, the Collect (prayer for today) and a Sermon. The Sermon has been divided into four tracks to accommodate the upload limit of SoundCloud. Two advantages of audio files is that they are less distracting – you can listen with your eyes shut – and they take less bandwidth to play over the internet so that a slow internet connection isn’t a barrier to listening.
This is a sermon about the unexpected: about reality being turned upside down by the resurrection and how we might cope with that knowledge…
A good friend of mine who likes to find creative way to share the Good News has given me permission to re-use some of her craft activities. These two activities might be helpful in growing our understanding of the knowledge and love of God revealed in Jesus Christ:
Sermon notes for those who have hearing difficulties
This is not a direct transcript of my sermon: these are the notes I’ve preached from. I don’t write with the intention of them being read, I write with the intention of them being heard. I publishing my notes not for dissection and review, but to help those with hearing difficulties for whom the audio recordings are a problem. If you read this – please try to read it as it might be said rather than as it looks in black and white. Bless you.
May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, Jesus, our strength and our salvation.
This is a sermon about the unexpected. About reality being turned upside down by the Resurrection and how we might cope with that knowledge… because when Jesus appeared to his friends and followers in the locked room after the Resurrection, his first recorded words were, “Peace be with you”.
Given the shock that his appearance may bring, it seems a gentle way for him to say hello.
Compare that with the trick of jumping out of a cupboard to surprise someone and how easy it is to frighten people. If you’ve been on the receiving end of a joke like this – then you may understand the shock of the unexpected; the racing heart, the breathlessness, the time it takes to recover. Also the embarrassment, and possibly the anger at being caught out and made to feel afraid.
I find Jesus first words to his disciples show a compassion for their fear: Jesus’ seeks to comfort his friends and to sooth them.
His friends, his followers, they are hiding away because of the very real threat of violence and death that awaits them for being his disciples. This is their reality. They’ve experienced the torture and death of a friend up close and personal. Jesus died, in a public and painful way and being a friend or follower of Jesus was not safe. It is easy for them to predict what will happen to them if they are discovered. Hence the locked room.
The fear they were feeling was based on a very predictable reality. But something else was happening that was less easy to predict. The unexpected stories of Jesus’ Resurrection. The room must have been heady with both fear and confusion.
We humans rely on the predictable nature of the world.
“Cause and effect” is what helps us to predict the future: like the surfer in the Guinness advert of the 90s waiting for the perfect wave… tick follows tock follows tick follows tock follows tick… Like the juggler’s hands, knowing the right place to be in order to catch and throw a ball that will follow a predictable path… like the scientist making an effective vaccine…
Newton’s third law came from the observation that every action has an equal and opposite reaction – do something… something happens. What Newton observed was predictable and we can see it everywhere: when fish swim through water or birds fly through the air. I put one foot in front of the other and walk, without the predictability of cause and effect – action and reaction… I couldn’t function.
Wouldn’t we all struggle to function in this life if we could not predict the future based on the past?
So, Jesus’ friends are in a room. Crucifixion has happened. Jesus has died. They are afraid for their own lives. Cause and effect – they are trying to understand what will happen next… and yet….? Uncertainty. Asking each other the questions, Jesus alive, are you sure? Could it be the tears in your eyes? Did you make a mistake? And the replies… The tomb was empty! He called my name and I recognised him! He was the same, but different.
In the middle of this confusion, Jesus says to them. Peace be with you.
Sometimes it makes me chuckle as I think of Jesus jumping out of a cupboard to surprise his friends – but I know that isn’t what happened. “Peace be with you” is not the same as a suprise “Boo!”
Sometimes I chuckled because the fact that the room is locked, as though mere Resurrection is not enough – but the locked room isn’t about Jesus being able to get in, the locked room is a visceral reminder of the fear his disciples were under.
Perhaps it is just my black sense of humour that makes me chuckle, or maybe I’m focussing on something insignificant because the significance of the Resurrection is overwhelming. Jesus died. And now Jesus is alive.
The world is not following the rules that we know and understand… Resurrection: Jesus, clearly and evidentially dead – now alive. Physically present – hands and feet bearing the wounds of death… and yet alive, talking, eating. Saying ‘peace be with you’ to friends who are afraid.
It is incomprehensible. It is a fundamental contradiction of everything I know to be true. Cause and effect. The predictability of the world. No wonder Thomas wanted evidence.
Just because I’m a Christian, it doesn’t mean I automatically understand everything about Jesus, or have all the answers about God. It is also true that just because I’m a scientist, I don’t automatically understand the world and everything in it. I recognise the limitations of my scientific understanding and I recognise the limits of my theological understanding. It is this lack of understanding that gives me the joy and enthusiasm to keep on asking questions and exploring. Faith seeking understanding applies to my head and my heart.
With Jesus’ Resurrection comes an interruption to my confidence in the reality I see around me. That is disturbing. It is the implications that there is more to the world than I can scientifically understand, no matter how hard I try. That ultimately, even with all the information in the Universe, and a full understanding of how everything works… that I will still be surprised by something unexpected. That God may act, as God has acted in the Resurrection of Jesus, and that everything I know and understand is just a veil over my eyes.
It ought to be frightening. But Jesus says, “Peace be with you. There is more to Creation than you will ever understand – but don’t be afraid.”
Thomas had the ability to observe Jesus – but this did not help him come to a rational understanding of Jesus as Lord and God. There was nothing rational about Jesus’ Resurrection. Despite the inexplicable, the breaking of everything we understand about the way the world works, despite this Thomas was able to recognise Jesus differently.
Here I find myself alongside Thomas. Reality has changed.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Blessed because, perhaps, the insight that the world is not as simple as clockwork brings a genuine liberation. We are not doomed to a predetermined life because God has shown that cause and effect are not the final answer. If God frees us from a predetermined future, then we are liberated to live life fully. Joyfully. If God is for us, who then can be against us?
Now before I go and make myself a cup of coffee; relying on the biology of coffee beans, the chemistry of water and the physics of thermodynamics – now perhaps is the time to pray with peace and joy for a world in which more people may be liberated by God’s love… to be free from the fear of death and to live life to the full.
And I invite you to pray too: for the world and those you love. Pray for that God’s unexpected love, peace, wisdom and joy will burst forth in unexpected ways and in unexpected lives. As my Dad used to say to me: expect the unexpected… but this time it isn’t someone jumping out and shouting Boo! Instead, it is the surprise of the peace and love of God.