Second Sunday of Easter

23 apr 2017

9am and Choral Eucharist

Preacher: Canon Wendy Robins,
Honorary Canon & Assistant Priest

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20: 19-31


As you came to church today I have no doubt that you will have been aware of the preparations which have been made to accommodate the London Marathon.  You might even have seen some of the many people who are running, as always, for charity or to give thanks for something.  Each year thousands of people spend months preparing for this one event and they often, I think, set off more in faith and hope than in the certainty that they will finish.  It seems to me that even if they have run a great many marathons before they cannot be absolutely certain that something will not go wrong. You only have to think of Paula Radcliffe, that most wonderful of athletes, who, although the world record holder, had to drop out of the 2004 Olympic marathon to know that’s true.

Life can be and is full of the unexpected.  Only this last week, somewhat to people’s surprise, the Prime Minister called a General Election and thrust the country into seven weeks of electioneering.  We never quite know what will happen next.

Having listened to the passages that we have heard today I can’t help but feel that Jesus’ disciples must have been feeling a bit as if they too did not know what was going to happen next.   Here in the Gospel reading we have Jesus’ second and third appearances following his death and resurrection.  There is the one to the disciples, without poor old Thomas and then the one where Thomas is also there.  It might be that by the second of these appearances the disciples were getting a little more used to surprises but even so Jesus who had died and was risen re-appearing must have been quite something to experience.  Then, as if that were not enough they are told that they were to receive the Holy Spirit and this must have been a bit of a shock too.  What could that possibly mean? What did it mean to be able to forgive and retain sins?   Everything was so new.

It is clear in the passage from Acts too that life remains a bit confusing and surprising at times.  Here Peter has begun to come into his own a bit.   Gone are the jittery statements of Holy Week when he tries to pretend that he does not know Jesus and here he is to be found standing with the eleven – for they have already replaced Judas with Matthias – speaking to the believers in Judea who had lived through the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Peter appeals to the history of the Israelites and gives them proofs; reminding them of all that Jesus’ coming to earth means for them and for all humanity.  He is seeking to help this new community to understand what is happening around them and to grow in belief.

Today, in the Church's year, the Sunday after Easter is now known as the Second Sunday of Easter and the end of the Easter Octave is often known colloquially as 'Low' Sunday.    It is known as this because today is in contrast to the ‘high festival’ and great celebration of the previous week and secondly because it is often the case that attendance at this service is low – and I think that might be even more so the case this year as it is the Marathon.

Whatever the reason for its name it is one of two Sundays in the year when, after a big event, the church has wound down a bit; the clergy are often on their post Easter break; the Cathedral Choir is often on holiday and one way or another you often get to listen to me preach!

For me, I have to confess, there is another reason why this is something of a ‘low’ Sunday: after the contemplation of Holy Week and the joy and celebration of Easter when we have been in church quite a lot and given thanks to God, I – like most people in the country – have simply gone back
to work as I have paid full-time employment as something other than a priest. And this year I think has been especially hard for many families because Easter fell so late and many schools went back on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Easter. Indeed, I went with my eldest back to university on Monday.  All too quickly life is back to normal and there is no time for many of us to recover from the rigours of Holy Week and Easter before we are back at work and simply carrying on in our usual routine.

Frankly after the jubilation of Easter Day going straight back into everyday life can be a bit disorienting and it is sometimes hard to continue to live remembering the excitement and joy of Easter Day.

In a way, I think, that is something of the situation which the three readings that we have heard today seek to address.   Thomas doubts – it is that for which he is most famous - and Peter feels the need to explain things both in the book of the Acts of the Apostles and in his letter to the churches named in the first verse of Chapter 1. He wants these new churches and new Christians to know more about what God has done for them in Jesus Christ and to encourage them to rejoice in this especially because they, unlike Thomas, believe without having seen the Risen Lord in the way that Thomas did.

How do we then in this post Easter period – those who have experienced the joy of the resurrection following the pain of the wait of Holy Week - continue, as did those who lived nearer to the time that Jesus lived. Those who have both seen and not seen.   It was not always easy for the early followers and the churches to which they belonged and they were much nearer to the events which we read about today than we are now. 

Keeping going is not always for us either.   Or maybe that is just me and it is not at all difficult for you.   Sometimes I think it must be a bit like running a marathon – not you will understand that I have every done one – sometimes the life of an Easter person – for that is what we are – is not very exciting or full of joy but just life to be lived every day. 

We go back to work after Easter and live as we always do.  How do we know in our everyday lives that Christ is risen and the difference that makes day by day. 

How do we live in the knowledge of the risen Christ day by day?  I suspect that that is different for each of us but when the Easter eggs have been eaten and when we have all returned to our normal lives it is so important to hold on day by day to the joy of Easter morning.  We need to keep in the forefront of our minds the words that Jesus said to Thomas on the day that he was in the room when Jesus appeared. He said,  ‘Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.’  We believe and we have not seen and this is the crux of our lives.  We believe and because we believe, no matter how ordinary and mundane our daily lives might sometimes appear we have within us the Spirit which Jesus gave to the disciples when he appeared to them for the second time in the locked room. 

Today amongst the marathon runners are ten runners who were part of a programme called Mind over Marathon.   It aired on Thursday and featured the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.  They want to encourage people to be more open about their mental health and the ten runners will help with this.  They will undoubtedly, like many others, hit a brick wall during the run.  Yet they will try to go on and on and make those miles because it is important to them to finish what they have started.  Dogged persistent will keep them going.  It must be the same for us; when the times are not as high as they should be, like the followers of Jesus in early Christian times, we need to hold onto the joy of Easter, the certainty of sins forgiven and new life so that we may share the joy and certainty with others that they too maybe be Easter people throughout the year.