From Bishop Rachel

Readings: Acts 3: 12-19;  Luke 24: 36b - 48

. . . . . Over these past few days we have watched anxiously as the situation in Syria has sparked new tensions and interventions across the world. And as we look across our world there is much to potentially cause us anxiety or fear...

And as you journey into Eastertide many people here will be carrying their own anxieties. Perhaps about your family or friends or a personal situation, past, present or future.

And perhaps some of you are feeling anxious or even a little fearful about the benefice e.g.  this time without an incumbent or how the appointment process will work and will you get the right next incumbent?

And in all of this I wonder what sort of week you have lived.

That’s always an important question when we gather together for worship  - because what we’re doing here is not simply a Sunday activity  - It  is about being gathered in as followers of Christ from the weeks we have each lived  - coming together now in our worship of God as the Body of Christ. And at the end of the service we will be sent back out to the people and places of our daily lives. On page 11 of the service booklets it says ‘we are sent on our way’, and the final words will be about going out into the world...


So carrying all those thoughts in our hearts and minds, let us come and stand alongside the disciples that first Easter...

They had gathered together but more in a place of fear and confusion...

The followers of Christ that first Good Friday would not have called it good. From where they were standing it was looking as if it had all gone disastrously wrong - and of course the reality is that many of them did not even stand at the foot of the cross - They had long since run away.

And then three days later the women go to the tomb and encounter angels who tell them that Christ has risen and they run to tell the men, and Peter comes and looks in the tomb for himself. And Luke then tells us about that beautiful encounter on the road to Emmaus when Jesus friends don’t recognise that it is Jesus walking with them. It is only when Jesus comes in to eat with them and breaks the bread that they recognise him and they immediately get up and go back to Jerusalem to tell the  disciples that Christ is risen,

And now here in our gospel reading today we encounter Jesus again coming among them even as they talk about what some of them have seen and heard. And what does Jesus say? ‘Peace be with you’. PEACE.

The disciples are experiencing anything other than peace. So many different thoughts and emotions - confusion, fear, disbelief, excitement...

Perhaps you recognise that in yourself. And into it all, Christ says ‘peace be with you.’

I would suggest that one of the problems for those first followers of Christ is that they are feeling out of control - nothing is as they expected. They hadn’t actually expected Jesus to be crucified. They had had views and opinions on how Jesus was going to become King - take up his authority. They hadn’t all agreed with one another, but they had believed that they were following the Messiah - the one who was going to rescue them - sent by God to be their king and ensure that all would be changed. That justice and peace would be established.

So when Jesus had been killed – crucified - it wasn’t what they had expected …

And now their world is being turned upside down yet again because just as they are allowing themselves to express their grief and disappointment, here is Jesus, risen from the dead. How can this be? It doesn’t fit their framework of understanding. It has shattered the boundaries of their expectation. What is unknown has just grown even larger - and the one thing they don’t feel is peace.

All has changed and they can’t control it and they can’t grasp it.

The temptation of course is to try and control it by clinging onto the possibility that everything will go back to how it was... But that’s not the way with God.

God is a God of creation and new life - and that’s not simply about the beginning of time - it’s about God constantly creating and making all things new - it’s about transformation...

When it comes to a life-long adventure with God, peace and security is not about clinging on to what we know or hoping things will go back to a time we once knew...

And we see that here – reflected in the risen Christ: He is back once more but it’s not how it used to be. He has changed. He’s not a ghost (Luke ensures we know that by pointing out that Jesus asks for food). The risen Christ has a body and he eats - and yet he has changed. He’s not a ghost but he mysteriously appears and disappears … His body is somehow the same but different...

So in the risen Christ we encounter something familiar (the friend and leader the disciples knew before crucifixion) - and yet he is changed. The risen Christ is the same yet different.

.. And it’s not that the past has been wiped out - all the pain of crucifixion has not been erased - because here is Christ who still bears the wounds of crucifixion in his hands and feet. The wounds of the past are still there - although they are not defining who Christ is now. He is risen with a life stronger than death.

Here is hope. Not some vague wishing that things might be different or better - This is not about whistling ‘always look on the bright side of life’ – No, here is hope –  The wounds and pain of the past have not been erased but here stands the risen Christ assuring us that death and darkness will not have the final word ...

And it is that resurrection hope and encounter with the risen Christ that has transformed Peter and the followers of Christ.

Remember Peter who was always getting it wrong? Peter who promised to stick by Jesus and never let him down, yet who fled when Jesus was arrested, and then denied even knowing Jesus? Peter who always thought he understood what was going on and what should happen, and yet so rarely truly saw and heard…?..

 Well, in our reading from Acts we encounter the transformed Peter after the resurrection. In fact after Jesus has ascended and gone back to be with God the Father; and after the Holy Spirit has then come upon Christ’s followers in great power at Pentecost.

If you go home and read what has happened just before the reading we heard – earlier on in Acts chapter 3 we encounter Peter and John, sometime after the resurrection of Jesus.  And they have just healed a man who every day sits begging in the temple courts.  

Unsurprisingly the people watching are surprised – shocked – And now it is the turn of these onlookers to try and get their hearts and minds round the unexpected - just as Peter and the other followers of Christ had had to do that first Easter day.

And Peter challenges the onlookers and asks them why they are surprised...

Here is Peter being confident in telling the story of who Christ is.

I wonder how confident we are in sharing who Christ is.

What will it be that you do and say in this coming week which will point to Jesus Christ and might well provoke someone to look at you strangely or dare to ask you a question…?

 It might be something as simple as you telling a friend in the shop or in the pub that you had a special time going to church on Sunday... Or perhaps telling someone at home or at work that you are praying for them… Or perhaps it will be daring to say how you are managing to cope with something difficult in your life because of your trust in Jesus Christ…

How might you encourage one another, across the worshipping communities of the benefice, to have confidence to share your stories in what you do and say among the people and places of your lives? Not trying to have a false or forced conversation but being authentically you as a follower of Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to bear witness, just as those early followers of Christ did - but only made possible once they had encountered the risen Christ and then been touched by the Holy Spirit.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to bear witness to love and hope of Christ. And in a moment I will invite you to declare your faith and if you join in you will state that you believe in ‘God the Son who lives in our hearts through faith and fills us with his love’. You will affirm that you believe in ‘God the Holy Spirit who strengthens us with power from on high’.

Declaring our faith is also about declaring it in how we live Sunday through to Saturday. It’s about bearing witness. It’s why in our Eucharistic prayer we will declare that the story of Jesus Christ is our story - the song we sing so that others might hear.

So today as you continue to journey through this period of vacancy and appointment of a new incumbent, I want to encourage you to encourage one another in how you grow as worshipping communities who bear witness to the love and hope of Christ.

I long for us to be those confident followers we encounter in Acts – To have excited and expectant hearts as we open our eyes and ears to the risen Christ.

In this coming weeks and months I want to encourage you to be open to the Holy Spirit in your places of fear or anxiety or uncertainty and open your eyes and ears to Christ who stands among you and says ‘peace be with you’. Not a peace which reassures us that nothing has changed or will change - but rather a peace as we open ourselves to the transforming power of the risen Christ - still bearing the wounds of the past - but opening the way to unexpected and life-giving change.

And the last thing I want to say is about that word ‘vacancy’. In many ways it’s not a very good word, although it’s better than the word we used to use: ‘interregnum’ which means ‘between reigns’ and gives all the wrong idea about the role of the vicar! But when we use the term ‘vacancy’, it’s simply noting that the post of Vicar stands vacant. It’s not about a vacuum, or pressing pause until someone new arrives. I guess it’s rather like the vacancy of the empty tomb. It stood vacant once Christ had risen - but that emptiness was all about hope, new life and new possibility.

May those resurrection gifts be hallmarks of your vacancy here.

As you are sent out from your worship week by week, may you indeed (as your final words of sending out say), ‘walk in God’s light, to rejoice in God’s love and reflect God’s glory’… in the communities where you live and work and play. Amen.