On Sunday April 24th our ministers shared leading worship. As Christine Gillespie had little voice, Trevor Dixon led most of the worship. We began by singing ‘O worship, the king, all glorious above’, before Trevor led the opening prayers of praise, confession and thanksgiving. We sang ‘God has spoken by his prophets’ before the offering was taken up. We read Psalm 46 responsively, led by Trevor, with the left side of the chapel reading the words in lighter print and we on the right responded with the words in darker print. That worked well as praise seemed to echo through the church. We heard Acts 12.1-19 which described the death of James, the brother of John and the imprisonment of Peter during the festival of Passover. We sang ‘Listening God you hear us when we cannot speak’, before Christine preached.
A long time ago Christine had told a class of children the story of the release of Peter from prison. One pupil wanted to know if Christine had made the story up, as she thought it was funny when Rhoda did not let Peter in, as she was so excited to see him; she wondered if it had really happened! The pupil also wanted to see it in the Bible, so Christine showed her that it was really in the Bible. It is funny and so often we miss the amusing things in the Bible, as we don’t notice them. It seems funny to us that the group of Christians who were praying for Peter’s release in John Mark’s house, but can’t believe Peter had been released! They were celebrating the festival of Passover, when they were remembering the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt by God’s mighty power; it was a miraculous time to look back on, and yet although they had been praying for Peter’s release, they could not believe Rhoda’s words. They should have remembered the miraculous rescue from Egypt and also the resurrection of Jesus and not been shocked that their prayers had been answered. They thought it couldn’t be Peter; it must be his spirit.
The story is funny and heartening and shows its authenticity. Many people had been with Jesus, witnesses of his crucifixion and resurrection and the Baptism of power at Pentecost. Believers had been through sorrow and hope; fear and joy; they were real Christian people who struggled. They had seen Stephen stoned to death and John’s brother James had been killed by Herod, who realised his action had pleased the Jews, so arrested Peter to curry favour with the Jews. They were mature Christians who realised that not all prayers were answered as they prayed; they knew bad things happened. After the death of James the Christians knew that Peter would be in real danger and the importance of prayer, as they knew his fate could be the same as James.
Do we understand why those things happened? The persecution of Christians meant that the church spread, as they fled from persecution. Peter’s release brought good things for the leadership of the church. Luke did not make up the story; he did not edit out the funny bits; he was happy to describe the mistakes made, when Peter came and knocked to be let in and the general astonishment and excitement prevented him from being let in. They help us to recognise ourselves in the story. Do we fail? Yes we are a mixture of experiences; we have times of faith and times of doubt and struggles with our faith. We need to share the struggles and needs we have whenever we meet; and also we need to share the good news. There are times we have to continue to trust and even hang on in difficult times. God who cares can change things, calls us and loves us and sends us out equipped.
We sang ‘Holy Spirit, come confirm us’ before Trevor led the prayers of intercession and the Lord’s Prayer. Worship concluded when we sang ‘O thou who camest from above.’
Following the service we had a buffet lunch provided, as it was the General Church meeting, so we enjoyed a variety of sandwiches from M&S, provided by Trevor with sweets provided by our stewards. I tucked in to the buffet as we had no kitchen and brought some food home to my beloved after the meeting, as there was surplus food left. My beloved enjoyed the sandwiches and sweets I brought back. We had a relaxing evening together, when we felt glad that there had been no work going on in the extension.