7th Sunday of Easter 2020

Brian Reader

Last Thursday was the feast of the Ascension; the day on which the Church celebrates Jesus’ Ascension up to heaven.

I used to enjoy the Ascension Day service as we always had the anthem ‘God is gone up’ by Gerald Finzi. We would sing, “God is gone up with a triumphant shout: The Lord with sounding Trumpets’ melodies:” and I found a fine example of the anthem on You Tube.

But the reading from Acts says nothing about trumpets sounding, just the reverse. The disciples seemed somewhat surprised as initially they just stared into heaven. Surely as Jesus was taken up from earth, his disciples must have felt a tinge of sadness. How would they cope without Jesus’ presence? Surely they would miss him?

When the apostles had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Acts 1:6-14

So in our Gospel reading we hear the Farewell Prayer of Jesus which he made sometime before the crucifixion. Jesus had accomplished all he set out to do during his lifetime. He had made God known and fulfilled prophesies from the Bible. He had passed God’s message on. Now there remains only his death for the sins of the world, and beyond it the glory of the resurrection and ascension. But Jesus knows that his followers will be in a hostile world and will miss Him. So he prays that God will protect them; that their lives may be shaped by the truth of God’s word; that they may display such unity among themselves and that the world will be shaken out of its disbelief; and that they may, in the end, go to be with him and see his glory for themselves.

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.! have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
John 17:1-11

So, after time, these same disciples came to realise that Jesus’ ascension was very much to their benefit. They came to realise that whilst Jesus might not have been physically present with them, once his spirit had been given to them at Pentecost, it would always be with them. And so we read in Acts that they went back to Jerusalem and they all gave themselves to prayer. They also came to understand that in heaven Jesus himself was praying to the Father for them, as in St Paul’s letter to the Romans he writes: “Christ Jesus, who died … was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us.” And it was surely this presence of Jesus by His Spirit and his prayers for them that encouraged and empowered them in those first difficult days of the Church’s life.

Jesus prayed, and so should we. Even Jesus’ disciples knew that their prayers were not all that they could be, and so they took the very sensible step of asking Jesus for help. And as we know, Jesus was only too happy to oblige. And so it was that Jesus taught them the prayer that we all know so well; the prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer.

I would hope that you would use the Lord’s Prayer as part of your prayer life every day. And yet, many of us feel that we would like to pray more, or to have more depth to our prayers. Well, those of us who feel like that are in good company. Whilst, on the one hand, prayer is the simplest thing in all the world: we just talk to God, we need to practice it; to make it a habit.

So perhaps like me you have a desire to learn and grow and experience more in your prayer life. You too might like to join me in praying, “Lord, teach me to pray.” But well we might ask ourselves, why bother? Indeed, why pray at all? Doesn’t God know everything already, and won’t he do what he wants regardless of whatever we might say to him?

Archbishop William Temple famously said, “When I pray coincidences happen. When I don’t pray, they don’t.”

I’ve found that to be true.

Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive”. The Bible seems clear, that for His love for us God has determined that he will listen to and answer our prayers, and so from the comfort of our own sitting rooms or indeed anywhere – even in the car, we can change the world. As we pray for people and situations, God acts.

The truth is, that we can sometime change to become like the people we spend time with. And by spending time with God in prayer, we mysteriously become more like God’s Son, Jesus.

Over the past three and a half years more and more worshipping communities have dedicated the eleven days between Ascension and Pentecost to pray ‘Come Holy Spirit’. We are praying that the Spirit will inspire and equip us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our friends and families, our communities and networks. It has been amazing how many varied ways there have been in which people from every tradition have taken up this challenge. The effects have been remarkable.

It is our prayer that those who have not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ and his love for the world will hear it for themselves, and respond and follow Him.

Each and every Christian across the country is invited to pray that God’s Spirit might work in the lives of 5 friends who have not responded with their ‘Yes’ to God’s call.

Whether you have joined in ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ before or not, you are invited to take part this year – along with churches from over 65 different denominations in 178 countries around the world. Archbishop Justin Welby has said that “In praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ we all commit to playing our part in the renewal of the nations and the transformation of communities.” So during the 11 days of Thy Kingdom Come, it is hoped that everyone who takes part will:
• Deepen their own relationship with Jesus Christ,
• Pray for 5 friends or family to come to faith in Jesus,
• Pray for the empowerment of the Spirit that we would be effective in our witness.

United in prayer, we hope and trust that we will be changed to became just a bit more like Jesus, and we hope and pray that through our prayers for our community, nation and world, God will change the world for the better. Perhaps you might like, in your own way, in your own situation, to join in this movement for change – so pray for the world, for those around you, and don’t forget to include yourself.

While watching an Ascension Service on line I was reminded of the famous saying of Saint Teresa of Avila which reminds us that Jesus is relying on us –

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

3rd Sunday of Easter 2020

Brian Reader

The road to Emmaus

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “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.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 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. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Luke 24:13-35

Many living today have never before experienced the difficult times that we are now facing. One of the things that Christians feel deeply is that we cannot attend Church and we miss the comfort which may be found in the Service of Holy Communion. However, it is not the first time that the Church has been in such a position. Throughout Christian history some Christian people have found themselves isolated from the sacramental life of the Church for all sorts of reasons, and particularly in times of plague, famine and warfare.

At such times the Church has encouraged people to make what is called a spiritual communion. It is a way of uniting yourself with Jesus and entering into communion with him even though you are not able to receive the sacrament itself. I hope that many of you partake in services at home, reading prepared words or joining in with a service on the radio, TV or online.

Today’s Gospel reading tells the story of two of Jesus’ followers on their way to Emmaus. One of the things that sometimes upsets people in the story of the resurrection, is that Jesus’ friends failed to recognise him. Why did this happen, and is this something that should concern us?

Despite the fact that Jesus had told them that he would return from the dead, his disciples did not understand this, and they had no idea what he would look like. In a similar way, it is not unusual, for us to ignore friends or simply fail to recognise them, especially if our thoughts are elsewhere. Let me give you an example. I was in Tesco’s the other week during the ‘lockdown’, when someone I knew by sight said ‘Hallo, how is your father keeping?’ This took me by surprise as had my father still been alive, he would have been 118 years old. So my reply was a feeble one: I just said, ‘I have no father’. 

Today’s gospel reading is my favourite resurrection story. No, it’s much more than a story, it is an account of what actually happened to two people as they walked along the road from Jerusalem. Nowhere does the Easter story speak to us as clearly as in Luke’s account of this walk to Emmaus. Imagine the scene. The bottom has dropped out of their world. They are wrapped up in their own thoughts, their friend and teacher Jesus, had been crucified like a common criminal. They couldn’t understand it. They were very dejected. And someone joined them – as the Good News Bible says, “they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him.”

Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about” And they answered, “Where have you been? Haven’t you heard about Jesus the prophet who they crucified? And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free! And now some of our friends have said that they have been told by angels that he is alive!” They were trying to make sense out of what had happened, but Jesus had the answer. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

We are lucky, we also have the New Testament to help us, but Jesus was able to give them a Bible study on their journey using just the Old Testament. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Jesus used scriptures to make sense out of what had happened, and we too today can use the Bible to help us when we are disheartened and worried, and the Holy Spirit will guide and help us. But Jesus will only come into our lives if we are ready and willing to accept him.

As they approached the village, Jesus acted as if he were going further, but they invited him to stay. So he went in to stay with them, and he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him.

Jesus, from the time of the Last Supper, has left us a positive and practical act that we can follow. It has come down to us for almost 2000 years and, although today we cannot join with other Christians in the act which we do in ‘remembrance of Him’, we can join in simply as we pray, so that we can come near to Him, recognise Him as our risen Lord and Saviour; and in that way Jesus can feed and sustain us in the days ahead.

The Gospel tells us that the disciples got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. For them despondency and mourning are now things of the past. Let’s imagine what would have happened if it had been us… We would just have finished a seven-mile hike from Jerusalem. It was evening, the sun would have set, and we haven’t finished our meal yet. Yes, we would have been pleased and overjoyed. But to go back to Jerusalem tonight? No, let’s get some rest, and go tomorrow when it’s light. Not so his true disciples, they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened on the way and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.

And that same Jesus relates to us in the world today. So let us take four lessons from the reading:

  1. Sometimes we fail to recognise Christ as he works in the world today. We ask, “Why does God allow this to happen?” We fail to realise that it has doubtless been a consequence of our own poor choices and selfishness and carelessness collectively as human beings that has brought this world to the state it is today, but Jesus has not given up on the world.
  2. We have the scriptures to help us to understand and by reading the Bible, the Holy Spirit is able to teach and direct us.
  3. Jesus left us a ceremony where usually we can join together as his disciples did at the last Supper. Today, alone or with others we can join in a spiritual communion. This can be a special time when we not only remember, but we are able to recognise and become part of Christ here on earth.
  4. We are Christ’s hands and feet on earth today and we should be ready to do his bidding whenever he calls us and to be always looking for opportunities to spread the Gospel, the good news, of his glorious resurrection.

O Lord Jesus, we know that you are alive today. Help us to look for you and recognize you in the world about us.
Help us to read and appreciate our Bibles more, and send your Holy Spirit to guide us in the way of all truth.
Be with us as we make our spiritual communion today and help us to make coming to your table a regular habit.
Lord, show us what you would have us do in the way of sharing the good news of your love and salvation for all.
And please, Lord, help us to act when your time is right and not put off till tomorrow what we should be doing today.

Amen.

Easter 2020

Painting by Oliver Ward, April 2020

An Easter Day prayer, written by the Revd Paul Nicolson (1933 -2020), who addresses Jesus as “Brother” because in Revd Paul’s own words: “Jesus is a brother to men, women and children, and to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, other faiths, and to many for whom any kind of faith is difficult”:

Jesus our Brother, lead us out of illusion, out of injustice, out of oppression, out of suffering, out of poverty, out of darkness into the light, the light of hope, of peace, of love, of understanding, into the wonder, into the mystery
Amen.

And here is yet another of the Webmaster’s favourite Victorian hymns,
this one by Revd Sabine Baring-Gould with a tune by Samuel Sebastian Wesley…

On the Resurrection morning soul and body meet again;
No more sorrow, no more weeping, no more pain!

Here awhile they must be parted, and the flesh its Sabbath keep,
Waiting in a holy stillness, wrapt in sleep.

For a while the tired body lies with feet toward the morn:
Till the last and brightest Easter day be born.

But the soul in contemplation utters earnest prayer and strong,
Bursting at the Resurrection into song.

Soul and body re-united thenceforth nothing shall divide,
Waking up in Christ’s own likeness satisfied.

Oh! the beauty, Oh! the gladness of that Resurrection day,
Which shall not through endless ages pass away.

On that happy Easter morning all the graves their dead restore;
Father, sister, child and mother meet once more.

To that brightest of all meetings bring us, JESUS CHRIST, at last;
By Thy Cross, through death and judgment, holding fast.

(requested for the Webmaster’s funeral!)

Easter Vigil

Veronica sings the Exultet – the Easter Proclamation – at dusk. The only light in the church is provided by the Easter candle.

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O mother Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you! Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

My dearest friends, standing with me in this holy light, join me in asking God for mercy, that he may give his unworthy minister grace to sing his Easter praises.

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father, and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood, and paid for us the price of Adam’s sin to our eternal Father.


This is our Passover feast, when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain, whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night when first you saved our ancestors: you freed the people of Israel from their slavery, and led them dry-shod feet through the sea.

This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.

The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth, and we are reconciled to God!

Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night, receive our sacrifice of praise, your Church’s solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honour of God.

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star, which never sets, find this flame still burning.

Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all humankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Amen.

2nd Sunday of Easter 2019

Brian Reader

Acts 5:27-32 / Ps: 150/ Rev 1:4-8 / John 20:19-31 /

Today is sometimes known as Low Sunday, after all the excitement of Easter Sunday. It is also a time when Cathedral choirs are away on holiday. This is good, because it allows good parish choirs to fulfil the role of relief choir in a cathedral setting, and I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to sing with relief choirs at Bury St. Edmund’s, Gloucester Cathedral, and twice at St. David’s.

So what impact did this Easter have on you? For me it surprised me in a number of different ways; ways I did not expect and ways I did not choose.

Firstly there was the Lent group, movingly centred on the book ‘The Nail’, some portions of which Veronica used in the services leading up to Easter. It was a good Lent course as it made us realise that through our sins, we all had a responsibility for nailing Jesus to the cross. But it wasn’t nails that held him to the cross – it was His love for us. And then last Sunday we had our Easter services to celebrate Christ’s glorious resurrection, and we met the risen Lord at the communion table. In the past I can remember waking up on Easter morning to find snow covering the daffodils. But not this year; Easter was late and we had fine weather! The daffodils may have faded, but the bluebells were out and the trees had a good covering of new leaves. For those of you who made the early Easter service it was magical. The sky was clear with an almost full moon and a couple of pink contrails crossing the dark blue sky; with the dawn chorus in almost full throat. Even the weather was warm and we didn’t really need the blazing fire, as we filed into a dark church with our candles burning. If you have never been to one of Veronica’s early Easter services, I certainly recommend it, as it is an experience never to be forgotten. And the 10.30 service was also memorable. We had a double Christening, and multiple Christenings at Easter used to be a feature of the early Church.

Today’s reading, taken from St. John’s Gospel, is part of the continuing resurrection story. Jesus appears in a locked room to some, but not to all the disciples, and he commissions them. “Just as my Father sent me, I send you.” But Thomas, the twin, was not there, and when they told him that they had seen the Master, he said that he would not believe unless he too could see the marks of the crucifixion on His Lord. Poor Thomas, nicknamed ‘doubting’ for the rest of time.

Why did he doubt; why is this story recorded? Just imagine if this had been a communist story, or even the report of an event or a meeting by a modern political party, would they have written anything about anyone possibly having doubts? Most unlikely. This part of the story would receive spin, it would be glossed over, or edited out. But some doubting is normal, it is not improper, unless it is hidden and not faced and overcome. So why was this bit about doubting Thomas recorded, and why did Matthew also record that some doubted? Well the Gospel writers would not have made it up, so it can be regarded as true. And if the doubting is true, then all the other resurrection eye witness reports can also be taken as true.

Back in 2004 there was a lot of hoo-ha about the film – ‘The passion of the Christ’. I saw the film, with all the gore and violence, and I think it gave me a better understanding of Christ’s love and the suffering He endured for me, for you, and for the whole world. We know that Pilate was pressurised by the Jewish priests but as the Roman governor, he was very happy to use their false accusations to rid himself of a possible trouble maker. Christ who came teaching love and justice for all, was put to death unjustly because of the fear and hatred of a powerful few. One thing that the film ‘The Passion of the Christ’ forcibly recalled to mind, was the great trauma that the two Marys and all the disciples felt as events unfolded leading up to the flogging and terrible death of their beloved Master.

Would I have denied Christ like Peter? Probably. Why stick out and be another victim when all you have worked for and believed in is being swept aside, rejected, and nullified before your very eyes? They did not know that he was to return, to make all things new, to gladden the heart and stiffen the sinew. He tried to tell them, but they just didn’t understand. Yet return to life He did. Risen in a new body which they failed to recognised till he spoke their name, broke bread in thanksgiving, or said “Peace be with you.” He also taught them afresh about himself – as the Son of God, and of God His Father, and He spoke of the Holy Spirit, who would come to fire them up for their work in the days to come.

Tom Wright, who was the Bishop of Durham, has said that “there is little justification for being a Christian unless one accepts that the Resurrection is a matter of historical fact.” In his TV programme ‘Resurrection’, he took an historical journey to the places where Jesus lived and died, in an attempt to build up a picture of what really happened in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. He showed that the cross was not the end – NO, that was just the beginning.

The Resurrection that followed was an event of cataclysmic proportions which changed the way mankind viewed life and death for ever. The resurrection rejuvenated the grieving disciples. It galvanised the young Church which spread the Gospel through the eastern world like wildfire. It gave a faith in Jesus Christ by which, men and women were prepared to live their lives, and if – as was sometimes necessary – a faith to die for.

This is our faith, and yet we too sometimes doubt just like Thomas. He was able to see and feel the wounds inflicted on Jesus, and we can’t. We can’t prove there is a God in any scientific way, yet we can prove that Christ did live, that he was crucified unjustly for our sins, and that he did rise again. And Jesus tells us through his disciples and scriptures, that if we have seen Him, (or know Him as our personal saviour) then we have seen and know God the Father. And so we can believe with our minds and have faith, but we also need to trust with our hearts and reach out for His ever forgiving love.

He said, “Peace be with you.” So cast your doubts away, Jesus lives, Hallelujah!

Holy Week and Easter 2019

Maundy Thursday

The church was arranged in “café style” for our Agape meal of roast lamb with unleavened bread followed by baklava and fresh fruit.

The food was then cleared away in preparation for the more solemn meal of the Eucharist.

Ready for the Eucharist

After the meal there was a watch of prayer until midnight

Watch of prayer

Good Friday

In the morning there was a Children’s Workshop, following the story of Holy Week…

In the afternoon, members of our Lent Group shared reflections from the book “The Nail” by Bishop Stephen Cottrell. These were followed by the Liturgy of the Day.

Holy Saturday

Time for the flower arrangers to “spring” into action!

We listened to the final chapters from “The Nail” before saying Compline together.

Easter Day

We gathered outside the church before dawn. A fire was lit and blessed. The Paschal Candle was blessed and the “cruel nails” inserted. It was lit from the fire and carried into the church in a cloud of incense- “The Light of Christ”. The congregation followed, each carrying a votive candle. Canon Veronica sang the “Exsultet”, and then we listened to the biblical stories from creation through to the events of Holy Week, all read by candle light. Then following the Gospel reading, “Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed!”. The lights were switched on and everyone made “a joyful noise” on various instruments.

Following the First Eucharist of Easter, we enjoyed a shower of mini Easter Eggs and a glass of “Buck’s Fizz.”

At the 10.30am Family Communion Service we welcomed Megan and Maisie for their Christening and shared a special cake afterwards to celebrate the Vicar’s 25th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood.

2nd Sunday of Easter 2018

Canon Roy Arnold

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you’.


Bollington, we believe, came into being in Anglo-Saxon times, as did the small word “if” – a word that can convey many meanings, not least to do with doubt. As in “If it’s nice next Sunday we will go for a picnic” or “If I pick the winner of the Grand National I will take you out for a meal”.

But if we add the word “only” – as in “If only” – it changes from doubt to regret. So if only I hadn’t fallen down nine stone steps at the Bull’s Head in March 2017, I wouldn’t still be on crutches, and Hylda and I wouldn’t have experienced one of the worst years of our lives.

But accidents apart, the words “If only” can express other types of regret, as in “If only I hadn’t quarrelled with my brother” or “If only I had written that letter”. If you think about it, we might count those “If only” moments as sins – things done wrong or things not done right; things that can spoil our personal lives, or the life of the whole world.

Which is where Easter, and Jesus the Son of God enters through our locked doors, comes in and says “Peace be with you” as he said to the Apostles – Well, all but two of them – Judas and Thomas, the Thomas whose day we keep today. He had not been there when Jesus spoke those words of peace. Perhaps he had been experiencing one of those “If only” moments. If only it could be true about Jesus being raised from the dead. if only.

But then, so we are told, it really was true. Jesus had risen from the dead – as Thomas found out when he touched the wounds in the hands of Jesus. Then the doubts of Thomas disappeared – as they can for me and you if we can believe that Jesus does take away all our regretful “Ifs” and know ourselves to be forgiven through the love of God. And find ourselves in the middle of a Special Offer for Easter – two for one – not only our sins forgiven, but (as well) the hope of heaven, in the closer presence of God, and of those whom we have loved and lost a while.

Thomas was given the proof for which he craved when he met the risen Jesus. But for the time being, we must walk by the light of faith and with all our “Ifs” and “Buts” through our nights and days of doubt or joy. Onwards let us go, singing songs of expectation, marching to the promised land;
letting the love of Jesus fill us,
the joy of Jesus surprise us,
the peace of Jesus flood us,
the light of Jesus transform us,
the touch of Jesus warm us.

O Saviour Jesus, forgive us,
and in your wounds, heal us.
and in your risen life, take us with you,
to stay with us, and us with You.

Amen

Easter 2017

Before dawn, a small group gathered at the entrance to the Church.
The new fire of Easter was kindled in a brazier.
The Light of Christ was proclaimed as the lit Paschal Candle was brought into the dark Church.

The Exsultet was sung; a call to celebrate the transforming Easter event of 2000 years ago:

Rejoice, heavenly powers!
Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fill you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy.

By candlelight, we listened to familiar bible stories of Creation, of Noah, of Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea…

Finally in the light of dawn, the Gospel of St John was proclaimed.
Everyone was given a bell or other musical instrument to make a joyful noise accompanied by an organ fanfare echoing the mighty song of all God’s people:

Christ is risen – he is risen indeed! Alleluia

[After the Eucharist we enjoyed showers of chocolate eggs and a glass of Buck’s Fizz in a haze of incense!]