Scripture Readings: Acts 2:42–47 | Psalm 23 | 1 Peter 2:19–25 | John 10:1–10
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)
As some of you know, when I was growing up my family had a bit of a hobby farm: over the years we had chickens, rabbits, ducks, as well as some sheep and goats, and as a youth, part of my chores were to help take care of them. I wouldn’t say this was my favourite job in the world… in fact, it was often pretty frustrating. Especially when they would get themselves or each other into trouble. But now, many years later, whenever I think of shepherds, I feel like I have at least a bit more empathy, and insight into how hard is must be to devote one’s days to making sure your sheep have what they need to keep the whole flock healthy, and safe from harm.
One thing that stands out when I think about the challenges of caring for sheep and goats would be their basic selfishness. They would tend to fight over their food, pushing each other, even their own kids, out of the way to get at their manger, even though there was plenty of food for all… driven by the desire to fill their own stomachs, or maybe the fear of missing out on the meal, and not getting what they needed.
Now normally, these tendencies would not be too much of a concern. Eventually, every sheep or goat would get their share, and that would be that. But there was one time when this drive to take whatever they could get led to tragedy. Our first pair of sheep had a lamb when the weather was still wintery, and so we moved the mother and lamb to an alternate, and warmer place in the barn, separate from the ram. Unfortunately, the mother sheep then got into some grain, and gorged herself on it… overeating to the point of making herself sick, and dying a short time later… leaving the lamb alone.
Thankfully, we were able to care for the lamb, and it grew up to live for many years. But this memory has always stuck with me as a sad reminder that what seems good in the moment might actually lead to death… and leave others to suffer.
Now I don’t blame those sheep for acting the way they did. They were just doing what came naturally to them, living by their instincts, and trying to make the most out of life. But it’s clear to me now that to survive and thrive, they would need a lot of help.
In so many ways, sheep need their shepherd to lead them into life. And if we think about it, we aren’t all that different, are we?
Left to ourselves, we too can be easily driven by our own desires, or by our fears, in ways that end up hurting, not only those around us, but ourselves too.
Often our instincts are to just fend for ourselves, or those closest to us… to grasp and go after what we need, not knowing when to stop.
In the Holy Scriptures, God often speaks of His chosen people as sheep… as a flock that is under His special protection and care… but which also frequently forgets the One who is with them, wandering away, and falling prey to their fears and to their selfish desires. But these same Scriptures teach us to turn and look to to God in hope, trusting that He will be faithful to His wayward flock, and give us the guidance and care that we all really need.
As you may know, this Sunday is often called Good Shepherd Sunday, and our readings today call us to reflect a bit more on this image and what it means for us: how Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, our Good Shepherd, has come to lead you and I… to lead us all into abundant life.
Our Gospel reading today from John chapter 10 has Jesus evoking this image: likening Himself and His mission to that of a shepherd, leading His flock by their trust in His familiar voice. John 10:1-5,
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
This image drives home the point that the shepherd is trusted by the sheep, and is trustworthy, seeking to keep the sheep safe, unlike all the others that seek to sneak in and selfishly steal them away.
Christ is here calling God’s people to trust Him, to listen to His voice, comparing His care and concern for them… for us, with others claiming to be faithful guides, yet who were far from God’s heart.
Sadly, we know that there are many today… even inside of the Church… who also claim to be trustworthy guides… able to provide the guidance and care that we all need, and yet they’re just bandits and thieves… selfishly using the people who trust them, to get what they want: influence, power, money… whatever. And when we consider how many conflicting voices we are confronted with every day… each promising us security, fulfilment, peace, if we’ll just follow after them, it’s clear Christ’s warning is just as relevant today as when it was first spoken two thousand years ago.
So how do we avoid being led astray? We have to do everything we can to get to know Jesus our Shepherd’s voice!
A few years back, before COVID, our Diocese encouraged us all to read a book called Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost. It’s a great book with lots of important things for us to put into practice both as individuals and as a community of believers. But one of the things Frost challenges his readers to do is to “Learn Jesus”… to regularly set aside time to devote ourselves to being steeped in Christ’s story… what He has said, what He has done… so that we become so familiar with Him that His story shapes our own.
If we want to know how to recognize Christ’s voice, and follow Him instead of all the imposters out there, the first step is to draw near to Jesus… to pray to Him, to read and re-read the Gospels, to study His story together… making it a priority in our lives to hear and follow the voice of our Good Shepherd… who alone leads us to life.
John 10:7-10, “So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus our Good Shepherd came to lead us to abundant life. But He knew from the start how hard this would be, and all that saving us would require. In John 10:11, Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Which is of course exactly what He did for us all at the cross. As St. Peter said in our second reading:
“ ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’
When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. [That is, God.] He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:22-25)
Christ Jesus laid down His life to give God’s life to us… to bring us forgiveness, and freedom, and to transform our old selfish selves into His image, learning to live like Him.
Reflecting on Christ’s suffering for our sake, St. Peter could see that this was now our calling too: that Jesus had given us a clear example to follow… that we too might have to endure suffering, mistreatment, and hardships, and that like Jesus, we should do so by not lashing out and at those who hurt us, but peacefully, in the confidence that the Living God has got our back. That the Lord will guide and protect us, and that, even if we must suffer like Jesus and lay down our lives, God is still with us, and will uphold us, and raise us up to share in His life, which is something no human cruelty, injustice, or even death can ever take away.
What this means is that by laying down His life for us, Jesus was not really sparing us from having to face suffering. Jesus was bearing our suffering for us on the cross out of God’s own self-giving love, and making it possible for us to have this same longsuffering, self-giving love begin to shape us too. Filling us. Forming us. Guiding us. Making us more and more like Him.
As Jesus Himself will say later on in St. John’s Gospel: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13).
God’s holy love is what guided Jesus every step of the way. And this same love is what Jesus laid down His life to give to us… poured into our hearts by His Holy Spirit. This self-giving love now at work in those who trust and follow Him is the heart of the abundant life that Christ died to bring to us, and to the world. Drawing together His scattered people to share this love with one another.
This is what we see going on in our first reading today from Acts Chapter 2: the new community of Christians learning to live together by God’s holy love.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47).
What do we see here? Not some new social program, or idealistic dream, but a whole new community putting God’s holy love into practice together. Everyone had what they needed because, rather than being driven by fear or selfishness, they were led by God’s self-giving love… laying down their own lives for one another in practical ways… and finding themselves filled up with joy and generosity.
And where did this self-giving love come from? Not from their old ways of life… but from their connection to Christ’s life… to Christ’s story… and Christ’s Spirit at work in them.
We’re told after St. Peter’s sermon on that first Pentecost thousands of people responded to the Gospel, and that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” about Jesus, helping them to learn to hear His voice… and they were devoted to “fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).
Learning the story of Jesus, prayer, fellowship, breaking of bread… these practices have been at the core of the Christian faith since the very beginning, drawing us near, and helping us stay near to our great Shepherd and to each other.
But we’re not simply being given a technique to follow, or a set of practices to pick up, as important as they may be. This passage shows us that the abundant life that Jesus our Good Shepherd laid down His life to lead us into starts here and now in the lives of His people, being transformed together by God’s love.
The Gospel of Jesus calls us to live differently. To love differently. To not simply keep wandering through life, chasing after our desires, or running away from our fears… but to be drawn together by our Good Shepherd and learn together from Him how to truly live. And with His Spirit at work in us, putting it into practice.
What do we think it looks like to follow Jesus into God’s abundant life here in Gondola Point? What might it look like for us to put His self-giving love into practice?
How would it change our time together?
How would it change how we interact with our neighbours?
How might the self-giving love of God at work in us change everything?
It’s easy for us to turn back to our old ways of doing things. To let ourselves be led away from the things that scare us… or towards the things that excite and entice us… even if they only end up leading us to tragedy.
But our Saviour Jesus, our Good Shepherd is calling us to draw closer to Him and to one another… to share in His abundant life.
Let us then listen closely to His voice… letting His faithful, self-giving love take shape in our lives… and in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us put it into practice… first of all with our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters… our fellow sheep… so that together we can welcome others into Christ’s flock, and to draw near with them to the One Good Shepherd: our Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. Amen.
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36–41 | Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19 | 1 Peter 1:17–23 | Luke 24:13–35
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21).
“We had hoped…”
What was it that we had hoped for… and that has not come to pass?
I know it’s the season of Easter. A season of wonder and unexpected joy… of celebrating the world-changing news that Jesus Christ is alive!
There is so much for us to be thankful for. There are so many reasons for us to rejoice. God has been incredibly gracious to us, both as a church, and as his children.
But our readings today from the Scriptures, especially our reading from the Gospel of Luke, don’t jump straight to joy and celebration. Instead, they deal with the turning point… the transitions… the moments when the way forward doesn’t seem so clear… when the dawn is just beginning to break, but we can’t yet see the light.
Such times call for hope. For the conviction that the new day is on it’s way. But no one waits eagerly for the dawn after the sun is risen. To understand hope we have to acknowledge the times that seem darkest of all.
The story of Scripture give us plenty of examples of times when people have needed to sit with their disappointment for a while… to recognize their pain, their fears, their frustration… to not just rush past the darkness, but face these things head on… and face them together. After all, it’s good to have company when we are struggling to make sense of where we have been, and of what comes next.
Our Gospel reading today gives us a good example of this: two confused and grieving disciples, were on the way to the village of Emmaus together. But their story is a gift to us in other ways as well. Beyond simply sharing the burden of those dark times together, these two disciples serve as signs of how the Living God is at work in our lives too… showing up and sharing hope even when we cannot seem Him.
“We had hoped…”
Can you feel the heartbreak behind these words? So much of their lives had been tied up with the trust they’d placed in Jesus of Nazareth… in what He would do, not just for them but for their people… and for their world. But now, they didn’t know what to believe, or who they could trust anymore.
They both knew quite well what had happened on Good Friday. They knew there was no hope for those who are lifted up on a cross. They knew that, whatever they had hoped for, was now gone for good. And yet… reports had reached them that Jesus’ grave was empty. Rumours of angels, and claims of resurrection had started to shake up even what they knew about life and death.
Would it have been it too much to hope for to get a clear sense of closure to this sad story? A definite end, even if it had to end in disaster? What should they do now when their whole world had just been pulled out from under their feet?
We’re not told why these disciples were headed to Emmaus, but maybe they just felt they needed to get away for a while. Maybe they wanted to step back and sort out what comes next with a bit of breathing room.
There are times, of course, in our lives when it seems like the right thing to do is to walk away. To get some distance from the confusing and painful parts of our stories, and search for peace elsewhere. Sometimes that can be and important part of the healing we need. Sometimes we’re trying to run from the darkness… and outrun our despair.
Whatever the reason for their journey, and despite the distance they planned to put between them and the heartbreaking confusion back in Jerusalem, the Living God had other plans.
“And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’” (Luke 24:17)
He would not leave His grieving children simply to wander off alone. The Lord was right there with them, even in their doubts and despair, even when they could not see Him.
The risen Jesus, the very one they had placed all their hopes in, was right there beside them… inviting them to share with Him everything that was on their hearts, and troubling their minds.
We might have wanted Him to just walk up and say: “Hey guys, cheer up, it’s Me!” But no, He comes gently, quietly, even secretly to them in the midst of their grief, and He makes space for them to share their sad story… He makes time to listen to them… even though He knew all along that their sorrow would soon turn to joy.
Together, they tell Jesus the tragedy of His own demise. How they had been convinced that Jesus was God’s Chosen One, their rescuer… but how their own people had handed their Messiah over to be crucified.
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21). The story of Jesus had not turned out at all the way they had hoped it would.
What are we hoping for Jesus to do in our stories? In our communities? In our world?
Are we hoping for freedom from the things that bind us? From fear, pain, heartbreak?
Are we hoping for forgiveness? For a new start? For a return to the familiar? A place to find some peace? For someone who will welcome us in?
How do we respond when it seems like the hope we have placed in Jesus has let us down? What do we do when we don’t see Him, and only the darkness?
So many today are walking away from their faith in God, and from His family, the Church. There’s too much pain there… too much confusion… to many things we’re called to believe that just seem too good to be true. At times, for some it can all just seem simpler to walk away.
And those of us who have not walked away are still left to struggle with wounds, with fears, with uncertainty, and disappointments that we don’t always know what to do with. Sometimes we’re told to just ignore all this stuff, and to focus on the bright side. So sometimes we turn a blind eye to our burdens, until they’re too heavy to bear.
But maybe instead we need to learn to just be honest with God… even about how our hopes have been dashed… about how we feel let down, and don’t know how to turn things around again.
Maybe we can take a moment right now to do just that: to tell God, right now, what you had hoped He would bring about… but that has not happened.
[You are invited to take as long as you need right now to share what’s on your heart with the Lord today.]
Do we believe that God hears these prayers too? Do we believe that He is listening to our hurting hearts?
Jesus shows us that God listens to even our prayers of discouragement and despair… and He took the time to listen to those two disciples, on their journey away from Jerusalem.
But as important as it may be to listen to us in our pain, God does not simply leave us in our sadness… no, He shows us where to look for hope.
Imagine Jesus responding to His disciples, His friends with a grin and a shake of his head: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27).
Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, points them to the Old Testament Scriptures to understand the meaning of their own story, and which turn out to have been pointing right back to Him all along. From Moses and the Pentateuch, to the Prophets, the story of God redeeming Israel had always been about their Messiah being rejected by them… suffering for their sins, dying to atone for all the evil that they have done, and so to bring them life! Setting them free, not simply to fulfill their expectations, or to accomplish their plans, but to share in the hope of God’s New Creation together with Him their crucified and risen Lord forever.
But as they talked on the road to Emmaus, Jesus was doing more than revealing information to them, He was revealing a new way forward for them as well. This whole turn of events is not just another event in the history of the world… it calls for us all to respond… and to have our lives turned around by it for good.
That’s what happened in our first reading today from Acts Chapter 2, as St. Peter proclaimed to those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost, that the Messiah, the one they had all been hoping for, had already come, and that they had rejected Him. Acts 2:36-37,
“‘Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’”
Good question. What would any of us do if we were to suddenly realize that our own choices have actually destroyed all that we had hoped for?
Thankfully, St. Peter doesn’t leave them hanging. Acts 2:38-39,
“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Turn around, he tells them, and receive the New Life of Jesus… dying and rising again with Him in baptism… receive from Him forgiveness of sins… and God’s Holy Spirit. A gift not just meant for you… but for your families… for “all who are far away… everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Even after they had taken part in the betrayal and brutal death of the Messiah, their own Saviour, St. Peter tells them that there’s still hope for them all, because Jesus Himself is our hope! And Jesus lives!
The Risen Lord, God’s chosen Messiah, has faced and conquered death forever, and He is the source of all our confidence, all our security and strength. It is Jesus Himself that we need, and with Him, we have everything… far beyond what we could ever possibly hope for alone.
We forget this all the time. We constantly fail to see the hope that He gives us. But even so, the risen Lord remains right there… right here with us… ready to reveal what He knows our hearts are burning to receive.
Our Gospel reading goes on…
After the still unrecognized Jesus unpacks the story of hope through God’s suffering Messiah, found throughout the Old Testament, the three travelers finally arrive at the village of Emmaus just as it was getting dark. The two disciples knew the importance of shelter, and just how dangerous it can be for those who are left outside and alone, and so when this stranger seems about ready to leave them and carry on down the road, they strongly urge Him to stay with them instead. They welcome Him in, and set food before Him, offering whatever hospitality they could. And in return, they receive another surprising revelation. Luke 24:30-31,
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
Just a few nights earlier, their last time together with their Rabbi before His crucifixion, Jesus had blessed and broken bread with them in the upper room… sharing a sacred meal, which for centuries had kept alive the hope-filled story of God’s miraculous redemption of Israel from slavery… and which now Jesus said was taking on a whole new meaning: the bread and the wine were His own life… His own broken body and blood, shed for them.
Now in Emmaus, it all comes rushing back. And in this simple act of receiving this blessed and broken bread, they recognized that Jesus was right there with them.
Then in an instant, He vanishes. And they are left with a choice: What do they do now? Do they just carry on with life as usual? Or do they let this experience of Jesus, which they still struggle to understand, turn their lives around?
Despite their tired legs and feet, despite the time of night… despite their questions and doubts… these disciples get up and run straight back to Jerusalem… to gather with those who knew Jesus, and share with them the hope that they just received.
This is a wonderful story of how Jesus shows up for His disciples on that first Easter, turning their sorrows to joy, and turning their lives around by His risen life right there with them.
But this story is also a gift for us too: it shows us where we are to look for the risen Lord’s presence in our lives… where He shares His hope with us… especially when we cannot see Him:
His hope finds us when we draw near to fellow believers… sharing each other’s burdens, wrestling with our confusion and questions together, seeking to find the way forward, walking side by side.
His hope finds us when we share our hearts with God… when we pour ourselves out to Him in prayer, knowing that He is listening patiently to our words, and eager to turn our sorrows into joy.
His hope finds us as we listen to His words to us in the Holy Scriptures, drawing us into the story of God’s Good News, which weaves all of history into the rescuing work of Jesus.
His hope finds us as we extend hospitality to those we meet along the way… welcoming those outside into our lives, as Christ Jesus welcomed us… without prejudice or pride, but in humility, compassion, and love.
His hope finds us as we draw near to His table… as we share the blessed food that Jesus gives to us: His own body, broken… His own blood shed… His life, freely given to save sinners like us… so that we too can be filled with His new life, and share in its blessings together.
And His hope finds us when we choose to turn around, and seek out the rest of our brothers and sisters in God’s family… when we come together in wonder, mystery, and joy to worship our risen Saviour… to retell the stories of what He has done… to comfort, forgive, and encourage one another.
Jesus is risen. Jesus is right here with us. And He is everything we had hoped for and more.
May the Holy Spirit of God continue to open our eyes and hearts to see His New Life at work… and may He keep turning our lives around as we share in this hope, with one another… with our communities, and with our world. Amen.
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Jesus Is Risen! Believe, Even When You Don't See - Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 16, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22–32 | Psalm 16 | 1 Peter 1:3–9 | John 20:19–31
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29).
Jesus is risen!
It’s hard to imagine three words that have had a more profound and lasting impact on our world… transforming a few humble fishermen, tax-collectors, and other misfits into bold heralds proclaiming to all the world the Good News that God’s Chosen King has conquered death… and that His good Kingdom is here to stay.
Jesus is risen!
These three words are at the heart of everything. Our understanding of the past. Our present practices. Our anticipation of what’s to come. Believing the Good News that Jesus is risen brings it all to life.
Can you imagine just how exciting it must have been for the disciples on that first Easter day all those years ago? To be among the first to see that Jesus really is risen?
Can you imagine missing out on that moment???
Can you imagine seeing your friends so excited… and hearing them tell you news far too good to be true? Telling you that what had seemed like the end of the world had been turned upside down to a brand new beginning… but you have to take their word for it.
Imagine you don’t get to see with your own eyes.
How hard would it be to believe? How many of us might have responded like Thomas: “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.” (John 20:25).
Many today still struggle to believe. Not only in the resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning, but in God’s whole intention and ability to bring His good Kingdom to life.
There’s lots of confusion, discouragement, and even despair in our world… both inside and outside the Church… people longing for hope they can really believe in, and not just empty promises. People asking: ‘If God is still showing up in our world today, why can’t we be the ones to see it? Why can’t we see God’s good Kingdom at work? All we see is the world falling apart.’
From the very start, the story of Easter has been meant for people asking those very questions. It’s an invitation for all of us who struggle with doubts to still choose to believe that even when we cannot see the New Life of God’s good Kingdom at work, we can still trust Him to bring it about.
Easter invites us to trust that the Living God will never abandoned us, or His world… to trust that Jesus the Risen Lord will not leave you and I behind.
To hear this invitation, I think it’s important for us to look at how the first Apostles understood and spoke about the hope of Easter: which involved looking back at how the Living God had been at work in the story of their ancestors all along.
Our reading today from the Book of Acts tells the story of St. Peter addressing a crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost, after receiving the Holy Spirit. In this first public announcement of the resurrection of Jesus, St. Peter turns to the Holy Scriptures, and connects what had happened to Jesus with God’s promises in the past, especially the hope given to God’s people that a King from David’s line would reign forever.
Long ago, when the Israelite tribes had been united in a single nation, God had made a covenant… a sacred bond with King David: the Lord would establish an everlasting Kingdom for one of David’s descendants. Psalm 132 articulates the hope this gave, not just David and his heirs, but their whole nation. Psalm 132:11-18:
“The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
‘One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, forevermore,
shall sit on your throne.’
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
‘This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.
Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.”
Such a promise of security and prosperity filled God’s people with great confidence. But in the centuries after King David, their Kingdom was in complete jeopardy.
The Northern half of the Kingdom had already been overrun, and its people scattered among the Gentile world. And Zion, the city of Jerusalem, was now besieged by Babylon, with its people struggling to find hope.
Many people claiming to speak for God sought to reassure those living in Jerusalem that things would turn out for the best. That they would be spared the horrors of Exile because of their status as God’s chosen ones. They had the Holy Temple. Theirs was the city where God Himself chose to dwell.
But one prophet, a man named Jeremiah, had been entrusted with a very different… and difficult message for God’s people: that unlike times gone by, the armies of Babylon would not be turned away… that they would be instruments used by God to bring about justice upon His people, who had time and again betrayed Him, and broken their covenant to be His people in the world.
According to Jeremiah, faithfulness to God in this crucial moment meant surrendering to the Babylonians… it meant accepting this humiliating defeat, and in repentance trusting in God to be merciful… believing that somehow the Lord would not abandon them to destruction, despite their unfaithfulness.
Unsurprisingly, Judah’s King and leadership did not listen to the warning from Jeremiah, and they refused to humble themselves and accept defeat… which ended up leading to the complete devastation of Jerusalem. The people were slaughtered, scattered, and enslaved. The Holy Temple was torn down. They saw the entire world they had believed in die before their eyes.
It's hard to imagine the kind of heartbreak and despair they would have faced.
But again, along with the warning, God had entrusted to Jeremiah a word of hope, even before all this devastation took place. A word calling for God’s people to trust in His divine mercy and everlasting love, no matter what may come… to believe that even despite all their unfaithfulness and humiliating defeat, the Lord would never abandon them. Jeremiah 33:19-21, 24-26,
“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne…
Have you not observed how these people say, ‘The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,’ and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.”
And God did have mercy on His people. Despite their devastating journey into Exile, God did not abandon them. Instead, God went with them… in their suffering, confusion, humiliation, and despair, God was with His children through it all. And at the right time, He brought them back out of Babylon… back to their own land. True, things were never the same as they were before, but they had a renewed sense of hope that the Living God could be trusted to stay true to His word… that one day King David’s descendant would reign again, and their future would be secure.
No matter how bad things might get, now they could believe that God’s good Kingdom would one day be raised up, even from the ashes of despair, and that it would endure forever.
Centuries after the Exiles returned from Babylon, our story picks up again in Jerusalem: with St. Peter telling the crowds at Pentecost that their King has finally come. Telling them that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised One, crucified by His own unfaithful people, but never abandoned by God… who raised Him to life again against all expectations and beyond all hope.
Jesus is risen! St. Peter told them. And the world has never been the same.
But for St. Peter, the resurrection of Jesus was far more than just a glorious victory for God’s Chosen King, a great thing for Christ alone… St. Peter sees what happened at Easter as the unexpected and undeserved triumph for all God’s people. The ultimate gift offered to all who place their trust in the Risen One.
In our New Testament reading today, we heard St. Peter say as much to his fellow believers. 1 Peter 1:3-5,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
St. Peter knew firsthand that God has not abandoned Jesus His Son to the grave, but has raised Him up, beyond all hope. And in His great mercy, God will not abandon those who cling to Christ in faith, but will raise us up with Him to share in His blessed life as well!
Because Jesus is risen, we too who trust in Him will rise!
Of course, this does not mean that the road ahead will be easy. In fact, St. Peter says quite the opposite! 1 Peter 1:6-7,
“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
St. Peter encourages his fellow Christians, including you and I today, that our sufferings and trials are not simply signs of defeat, or reasons for us to despair… imagining that somehow God has abandoned us to fend for ourselves, or that His mercy and grace are unable to see us through.
Rather, our times of suffering, are opportunities for us to exercise our faith… to practice trusting in God, and clinging to Jesus Christ our Saviour… to humbly look to Him always, especially when it’s hard to see Him at work. 1 Peter 1:8-9,
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
St. Peter offers us this encouragement, confident in God’s mercy and everlasting love made known to us in Jesus, the Risen Lord, who humbly surrendered His life over to death in order to bring life to His frequently unfaithful but yet still beloved people.
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate sign of the faithfulness of God… of His amazing mercy, which longs to embrace us all, even when we completely fail Him… to offer true hope to the hopeless… true love to the loveless… true faith to the faithless… turning us back to Him and raising us up with His Son, King Jesus, to share in His Kingdom forever.
One week after that first Easter, the disciples had gathered together again. It had been a week since the Lord had surprised them. Seven days since their world had been turned upside down. And despite all his doubts, Thomas was right there with them… which is, by the way, the perfect place for anyone who has doubts about the Risen Lord and His Kingdom... wrestling with these questions alongside brothers and sisters also seeking to understand.
And right there, Jesus again makes His presence known… and this time He comes straight for Thomas.
In mercy and love, the Risen Christ turns to His beloved but struggling student, and Jesus answers his prayer for a reason to truly believe: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (John 20:27). Believe.
In the blink of an eye, Thomas is convinced. Seeing Jesus alive again, he cries out: “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.” (John 20:28-29)
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
The whole of John’s Gospel has this intent: that we too who have not come face to face with the Risen Lord would come to see Jesus with the same eyes of faith as Thomas… that we too would come to believe the Good News that He truly is the Son of God… raised from the dead, even though our own eyes have not seen Him… yet.
John’s whole Gospel, leading us as it does to the wonderful news of Easter, is an ongoing invitation to trust that, just like He came to Thomas, the Risen Lord will not just leave you and I behind!
God has not abandoned Jesus His Son to the grave, but has raised Him up to reign forever.
God will not abandon those who cling to Christ in faith, but will raise us up too, to reign with Him.
And God knows sometimes we find it really hard to believe. He knows all the reasons we struggle. He understands and He shares in our sufferings… be they in body, mind, or spirit. And He longs for us to lean on His love, and to trust that He’s right here, unseen but always near.
Whether or not we are struggling with doubts about God’s mercy, or faithfulness, or resurrecting power, Jesus invites us all to place our trust in Him today: To continue to gather along with our brothers and sisters… to humbly seek His mercy, forgiveness, and grace… and extend it to each other too… to draw near together to His table and receive from Him the New Life of God’s good Kingdom… and to share the Good News that Jesus, the Saviour of the World is risen… and that He will raise us up to be with Him and share His reign forever. Amen.
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School