On Sunday April 3rd our minister Trevor Dixon led worship. He began worship by saying, ‘The Lord is risen’ and we responded ‘He is risen indeed, Alleluia! We repeated the refrain three times until we were responding with gusto! It was a lovely way to begin an Easter service. We then sang the joyful Easter hymn, ‘This joyful Eastertide.’ Trevor led the prayers from the Communion service for the Easter season, so we could respond to the prayers of praise and the confession and the collect. We heard a reading from Acts 5.27-32 and Revelations 1.4-8 before we sang, ‘When Easter to the dark world came’. Trevor read the gospel reading from John 20.19-31.
Trevor opened his sermon by saying that we were not to ask him about the how of the resurrection, as he could not describe it or what it meant; he had no explanation. He had the realisation, assurance and experience of resurrection through his faith. He said that Christopher Columbus sailed towards the west and felt convinced that he would find new lands if he went far enough, although people believed at that time that if you went too far you would reach the end of the earth and might fall off; the world was seen as flat! Columbus shaped his life by going on; something beyond his horizon kept him going. Belief and faith are challenged and strengthened by doubt. Thomas had faith and doubt; his seeing Jesus confirmed his original faith and transformed him from a fringe follower, about whom we knew nothing into a travelling missionary. He was said to have travelled the farthest of any disciple to India.
Trevor said that the core issue was not the record of the resurrection itself but the experiences of those whose faith was strengthened by the reality of the resurrection in their lives. Those experiences were hugely varied, but what mattered for faith is the relationship with God shown in the resurrection appearances. Nowadays fresh doubts about the reality of the resurrection are constantly voiced in the media; television, radio and even archivists. Yet rational physicists say there must be a God. The resurrection is expressed by life beyond physical death. It is faith and ‘unfaith’ not fact and fiction. Thomas was challenged to move from rational faith, through doubt to the relevance of his faith in a spiritual risen Christ. ‘Unfaith’ is the refusal to recognise an event as a true actuality; it diminishes the event. Faith recognises and lives by the event and sees God in it. Not even the resurrection was enough for the disciples to commit themselves to Jesus as the life giving spirit. One man’s life was changed when Thomas had his faith in Jesus affirmed and he greeted Jesus as ‘My Lord and my love’ and he journeyed in faith to convince others.
Trevor reminded us about Easter Day’s reading, when Peter and John had seen the empty tomb, as Mary had, but only Mary had experienced the Lord. The women had seen the open tomb. They all tried to explain the significance of what they experienced. Thomas would not believe because it seemed to be impossible to him. He doubted as he could not rationalise it; he saw the death of Jesus as final. Who could blame him? He spoke from his experience as he saw it. Thomas’ ‘unfaith’ was challenging the faith of the other disciples. Thomas was adamant in his denial; there was no answer he had heard that he could accept. In a week Thomas had his answer, when Jesus made another appearance to the disciples this time with Thomas present. Jesus challenged Thomas to put his hands in his hands and in his side, but there was no need, actually to reach out and touch Jesus, as once he saw him, he believed. All he needed to believe was the spiritual appearance of Jesus. His reason alone was insufficient to comprehend the resurrection, but the spiritually real presence of Jesus was enough for Thomas to affirm Jesus, as ‘my Lord and my God’.
The resurrection experience is not guaranteed to everyone; it is illusive, hard to define and impossible to predict; you have to have faith. Jesus acknowledged that Thomas had believed because he had seen him; but said blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe. Trevor describes three stages;
- Awareness of the Spiritual presence of Jesus
- Acceptance of the inner compulsion to tell others
- It is not a temporary experience but stays for life and strengthens faith.
We can experience the resurrection for ourselves now as they did then. He described how his son felt he just made babies cry and did not think he would cope if he had his own. Now having just had his third baby he was managing to calm her down! Trevor told us that doubts are nothing new, but those doubts can be erased by the words and presence of Jesus. Trevor is content to believe as he has experienced the risen Jesus. May we recognise and serve our risen Lord. I too believe, as I have had an experience of meeting with our risen Lord.
Following the sermon we sang Christ is alive let Christians sing. Trevor led the prayers of intercession from the service book so we could respond and then we shared the peace. As we sang, ‘I come with joy, a child of God’ I went and joined Trevor at the front to assist with the distribution of the wine. We then gave the bread and the wine to each other and Trevor said a prayer of dismissal. I found it special and was glad I was able to help. Worship concluded when we sang ‘We have a gospel to proclaim’.