Sunday, 12 April 2015

Faith and Belief part 2

Easter 2 at Great Brickhill – 12 April 2015

Invitation to Confession

Jesus said: Before you offer your gift, go and be reconciled. As brothers and sisters in God’s family, we come together to ask our Father for forgiveness.


Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father.

Reading Exodus 14: 21 – 31

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed[b] the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.’27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing towards[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Reading Acts 4: 32 – 35

The believers share their possessions

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia. I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore. All Alleluia

Gospel John 20: 19 – 31

Jesus appears to his disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’

Jesus appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

28 Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

29 Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

The purpose of John’s gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Two part sermon — this is part 2. They’re about belief and faith — resurrection and empty tomb. Part 1 can be found at

Resurrection appearances in 4th gospel include 4 distinct events that focus on 3 people — Mary Magdalene (twice), Peter and Thomas. In between is a cameo with the other disciples when Jesus breathes into them and bestows on them the Holy Spirit, in preparation for his ascension.

John the Evangelist could have told his story very differently. Could have described atmosphere, crowds, drama, mystery. Instead he focuses on reactions and acts of certain individuals. Quite brief. Just description of what happened as they reported.

1. Mary Magdalene
Jesus makes first appearance to Mary. A woman. A disciple, but not from inner circle. She finds at the tomb the “stone rolled away.”

Does not say she looks into tomb. Goes to Peter — complains “they have taken the Lord away; do not know where they have laid him.”

Why does she assume body of Jesus missing? Why does she not just report stone rolled away? We don’t know.

2. Peter and unnamed disciple. John?
Peter runs to tomb, but is overtaken by ‘other disciple.’ Disciple hangs back, but Peter goes straight in. Sees body cloths. Sees rolled up head cloth separate from others. Sees tomb is empty. “Sees and believes.” What does he believe?

Both disciples just go home. Do not report to others. Too early? Dispersed? Dangerous? Peter believes, but may not understand truth behind what he has seen.

3. Mary (again)
Encounter in garden. Mary could not rest. Went back to tomb — woman invisible posing no political threat to authorities. Had vision of angels. Sees someone she assumes to be gardener. Post resurrection, Jesus’ appearance was different than it had been before.

4. Thomas and Other Disciples
Thomas is forever branded ‘doubting’ even though we may feel we would have wanted the same level of proof as he demanded, and his confession “My Lord and my God” is perhaps the single most bold and insightful in the whole of Scripture. Let’s call him Faithful Thomas for once.

Thomas is never criticised for his doubts. He is not told “Do not doubt” by Jesus, but “Do not be αφίστος — ‘unbelieving.’” Belief is not just a state of mind, but a relationship. To believe in the resurrection demanded more faith than Thomas initially possessed, but when his belief turned into a relationship with Jesus, and ultimately with the Father, then Thomas can be said to have suspended his unbelief and entered a relationship with God for all time.

That was the purpose of the writer of John’s gospel: ‘that you may believe, and may have life in his name.’

What are we to believe in? The Lent and Easter seasons are opportunities to reflect, and think about just what it is we believe when we encounter the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Thomas disbelieved when Jesus appeared to the other disciples, and an account of what happened was handed down to him later on. We are in the same boat, except all our post resurrection appearances are handed down to us through the ages, and we never had a real personal experience that Thomas and the other disciples had.

Not just empty tomb. Not just Jesus come back to life again. Empty tomb means more than all these. It’s the bedrock of our faith. The Empty Tomb, without which our faith is meaningless.

And the Empty Tomb means resurrection to new life, not only for Jesus himself but us in Jesus and through his name. This is what I mean when I say the Empty Tomb is the bedrock of our faith, because without it, our faith is no different from so many other forms of religion, which make less demands and are more readily believable.

For Jesus himself conquered sin and death through his incarnation and sacrifice, and each and every Easter reminds us afresh of what all this means for our salvation. He continues to bear the scars of the crucifixion, even in his resurrected body.

Nothing could be more important. Nothing could be more critical. Our response, each and every year, is to emulate Peter and Thomas who “...saw and believed.”

But unlike Peter, Thomas, Mary and the other disciples, 2,000 years of interpretation and revelation have passed. What we are called on to believe, as Peter found in the days and weeks to come, is so much more than he believed at the start. This is the message of this and every Easter season. ‘Blessed are those who have seen and believed. Blessed are we, who have not seen, and yet have believed.’ Amen.

Introduction to the Peace

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. Alleluia.

Presentation of Gifts

Generous God, creator, redeemer, sustainer, at your table we present this money, symbol of the work you have given us to do; use it, use us, in the service of your world to the glory of your name.

Preparation of Table

Wise and gracious God, you spread a table before us; nourish your people with the word of life and the bread of heaven.

Short Preface

But chiefly are we bound to praise you because you raised him gloriously from the dead. For he is the true paschal lamb who was offered for us, and has taken away the sin of the world. By his death he has destroyed death, and by his rising to life again he has restored to us everlasting life.

Extended Preface for A, B and E

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, always and everywhere to give you thanks, almighty and eternal Father, and in these days of Easter to celebrate with joyful hearts the memory of your wonderful works. For by the mystery of his passion Jesus Christ, your risen Son, has conquered the powers of death and hell and restored in men and women the image of your glory. He has placed them once more in paradise and opened to them the gate of life eternal. And so, in the joy of this Passover, earth and heaven resound with gladness, while angels and archangels and the powers of all creation sing forever the hymn of your glory:

Post Communion

Lord God our Father,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him:
deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in your love,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.


The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight; and the blessing …

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