Sermon St George’s Preshute, 26th May 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 16.9-15 & John14.23-29
The Easter season is drawing to an end, with Ascension Day this coming Thursday and Pentecost ten days later. Our readings this morning invite us to start moving our focus from the celebration of the Resurrection to the reality of living in the knowledge of that Resurrection; the reality of living the life of faith, both as individuals and as a Christian community. He, I would like to reflect on what this may look like for us today. As we do so, our focus will be on the unexpectedness of God’s gifts to us. As Jesus reminded his disciples: God does not give to us as the world gives.
We have already seen in our readings over the last few weeks from the Acts of the Apostles, that the life of the early Church was not always easy, but punctuated by moments of grace and hope, unexpected conversions of individuals, such as Lydia this morning, and unexpected moments of insight of what it means to be a body of believers, such as Peter’s vision to include the Gentiles last week.
The stories of the early Church have been accompanied by readings from John’s Gospel. In these last few weeks of the Easter season they have presented us with extracts from Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper. They are words of promise, advice and encouragement to help the disciples see what they will have to do after Jesus will have returned to his Father in heaven, and what their lives may look like. As disciples, followers of Christ ourselves, these words are true for us as much as they were for the disciples.
Jesus’ speech at the Last Supper, so to say, spans several chapters in John’s Gospel and is paralleled in the other Gospels by Jesus’ command to break the bread in remembrance of him: the words of institution, which in Churches throughout the world are still repeated every Sunday, as we are doing here this morning. So, one could say that what we do when we break the bread and drink the wine is remembering what Jesus gave us, his love and his peace, God’s Holy Spirit.
This morning we hear that Jesus reassures his disciples that the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send, will remind them of all that he has said to them. Here again we see the parallel with the breaking of the bread, in which we remember all that Jesus has done for us. It is that remembering that is often too easy to forget, particularly when we get caught up in the busyness of our own daily lives. Remembering and being thankful.
I myself was reminded of this when in the weeks before Easter, I went around the classes at Marlborough St Mary’s primary school to share with the pupils a service of Holy Communion. One of the new teaching requirements at Church of England schools is a ‘teaching of the Eucharist’, so we decided to do this in a ‘godly play’ type of way. In every class, we sat down together, probably not unlike the disciples will have done at the time, and the children were told the story of the Last Supper. As we came to the sharing of the bread and the wine, or actually Ribena, I asked the pupils to think of something Jesus had done for them. To say ‘thank you’ for something in their lives. Because, ultimately, this is what we do too when we celebrate the Eucharist, we give thanks for all that we have and all that we are.
It was a great to share this experience with so many pupils, and it really made a difference to them as well, as some parents and grandparents told me. One of the younger children told her mum: “We had the last dinner today at school with the twelve Jesuses”.
There is and inexplicable change in relationship with those with whom we share this experience, whether it’s those with whom we worship week after week in Church, or those whom we only meet once. God does not give to us as the world gives, but gives us in ways that we don’t expect.
There is another observation I would like to make about Jesus’ words to his disciples in our passage. That is, that what Jesus is saying is that he can only do what he does, and be what he is by being the Son of the Father. Jesus says to his disciples “I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I”. I don’t want to get into a dispute about the nature of the Trinity and the relationship between the Father and the Son, but I think that Jesus is modelling here the sense that whatever we do or whoever we are, we can only do this, or be this indeed, by God’s grace given to us.
I wonder what would happen if not only our conversations in Church, but also the conversations in our country would be more rooted in a sense of thankfulness and indeed humility than they seem to be at the moment? If our conversations acknowledged that we are part of something greater and that who we are is a gift, not something we have made or achieved for ourselves?
Would we realise that leadership, whether religious or political, is not only about the current incumbent, but more about the office itself? How would this transform the current conversations about our future Prime Minister, or indeed any leading position?This realisation that what we do may not be by our own power as much as we think, doesn’t take away from our individuality or responsibility, as some would suggest. On the contrary, as soon as we realise that we are part of something greater, that we are part of something beyond ourselves and even our current generation, we will feel more rather than less responsibility, I suspect.
However great that responsibility, for each of us in our own way, it is not something to fear. Jesus reminds his disciples, reminds us: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. We have not only been given a responsibility, but also a reassurance, the reassurance of God’s peace and presence. This is not what the worlds gives, or as the world gives, but it is God’s inexplicable gift to us. The gift we celebrate as we break the bread and drink the wine. So let us also be thankful and encouraged as we have been reminded and are bidden to remember.