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Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Third Sunday of Easter
Scripture: Luke 24: 36b-48
Music: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise; This is God’s Wondrous World
Jenny recently shared with me a short list of “things to do when you’re feeling out of sorts.” It’s a sort of checklist that includes: drinking a glass of water, breathing deeply for 30 seconds, taking a short walk outside, making sure we’ve eaten a good meal, lying down for a few minutes, and so on. The purpose of the list is not so much to cure negative feelings, but to narrow down why we might be feeling off.
I was reminded of this when reading for today’s account of the Risen Christ, which I mentioned on Easter Sunday is my favourite. In the Gospel of Luke, the Risen Christ is hungry. He appears to his disciples, tells them he is no ghost, and asks for something to eat. He needs the same food, water, shelter, friendship and more that each of us needs to be fully restored.
And in doing so, Luke suggests that there is a connection between resurrection in a spiritual sense and the restoration of the whole person through meeting the most basic of needs. It’s clear that the resurrection is not simply a singular, historic event; rather, it’s an event which gives power to the infinity of smaller moments of resurrection, which stretch both back to creation and forward toward the furthest horizon of what we can fathom. The Living God has always been at work to redeem our humanity, and this is our trust that God will always be at work in the world.
In response to the many questions that the disciples, and we, have concerning the impossible possibility of the resurrection, the Risen Christ redirects our attention from how, to why. “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations…”.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins. The Gospel of John also hears the Risen Christ use these words to describe what the disciples are called to do in light of the resurrection. “If you forgive others their sins, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of others, they are retained.” In other words, the power to forgive – which had previously been understood as belonging to God alone, shared only by God’s son, Jesus – with the resurrection this power to forgive has been loosed upon the disciples; upon us and the whole world.
To forgive begins with us: not striving to be perfect, but to acknowledge our shortcomings and be gentle with ourselves. To forgive is not to demand perfection of others, or to condemn those who think, speak and act differently than we, but to seek in others the presence of God, even to imagine what God might be revealing through them. To forgive is to be neither optimistic nor fatalistic concerning the world, but to do what we can, with what we have, where we are, to bring healing and peace.
Part of my research and writing for the past ten years has been concerned with what many people call the secularization of our Western society. The signs of it are many: the decline of membership in mainline churches; the decreasing importance of the story of faith in the public sphere; and changes in priorities, including the place of church in many peoples’ lives. According to one survey, two thirds of Canadians under the age of 30 have never set foot in a church, mosque or synagogue.
Another part of my work, however, has been as a consultant for the EDGE Network of the United Church. In just the past five years, over 400 new ministries have been initiated in the United Church alone. Now, a ministry doesn’t mean a new church building; in most cases, it refers to an existing community of faith creating a partnership with a local organization in order to provide for an acute, local need.
St. Paul’s is no stranger to this kind of new ministry. When I arrived, the Alternative Suspension program, run in conjunction with the YMCA and local schools, saw students who had no other place to go find a warm, welcoming and supportive environment here in our own building. Young adults were employed as counsellors to help youth at critical moments in their lives; and we were a part of that. To welcome the Risen – and hungry – Christ into our midst is to welcome a world hungry for restoration into our life of faith.
We’re familiar with the tenets of repentance and forgiveness; they’re part of our tradition and an important part of our love for others. Forgiveness – giving someone another chance – repentance – turning again to seek God’s peace and justice, for ourselves and others – these are the hard work of faith. It’s hard to entice people who haven’t grown up in the church to such a view of our life’s purpose.
To these words – repentance and forgiveness – I would like to add two others, which I feel are inherent in Jesus’ ministry and call to discipleship, and which are certainly the work of following in his Way: compassion and healing.
Compassion literally means to “suffer with”, to share with or come alongside someone who is experiencing sorrow or trouble. In my experience, it often includes not only being sympathetic to what another person is experiencing, but to the journey that has led them to that time and place. In more sense than one, compassion means we are not alone.
Healing is something we often associate with illness, but we know that healing also applies to relationships, to old wounds, old grudges, old beliefs. And while healing can include forgiveness, it is also more than this; where forgiveness tends to focus on the source of heartache in the same moment as pardoning it, healing anticipates what comes next.
While we live in an increasingly secular world, we also live in a world hungry for compassion and healing. People who have not experienced the church as a place or a community that is both of these things will likely not be tempted to make the difficult journey through our doors. But people who see us reach out to our neighbours – to those hungry for friendship, for support, for inspiration and even just for food and drink – people who see us sharing these with any and all may be curious enough to ask why we do. And it is these who are as likely to ask us, “Have you anything to eat?” Amen.
Loving God, the promise of resurrection, of new life, and grace is so outlandish, so uncommon, and desperately needed in these days and this time. We give thanks for all of the levels of meaning it has for us.
Help us embrace its transformative power and to witness to it in all that we say and do as individuals and as a community of faith. Be with us as we strive to live as a people of the resurrection, as an Easter people questioning, learning and growing in faith.
On this day, we give thanks especially that Jesus came to break down the barriers between us and to widen our understanding of what it means to say that all are welcome. His resurrection means that you have not and will not abandon us and that your desire is that none are left behind.
Today we pray for all who are in need;
For all who hunger and thirst – may there be a more equitable sharing.
For all in need of shelter – may there be room for all.
For those who feel alone and abandoned – may they feel the presence of your love through others.
For those who live in the midst of violence – may peace with justice prevail for them.
For those who have lost hope or faith – may they find light to lead them.
As we continue to face uncertainty because of the pandemic;
be with those working to fight the new variants,
those who are helping to administer the vaccines
and those who are caring for people who have fallen ill or suffered other effects be they social or economic.
We pray too for all who are grieving,
For all in need of healing,
For all who are carrying burdens that are too heavy for one alone,
We ask these things through our brother Jesus, who teaches us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.