Welcome to our service from Craigmillar Park and Reid Memorial Churches in Edinburgh for the first Sunday after Easter. After the emotional high of Easter, this week may seem somewhat mundane, however it offers us an opportunity to reflect on the sense of belonging that being ‘in Christ’ offers us
Call to Worship (from Psalm 133)
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life for evermore.
SGP 7 Alleluia, Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord
Lord of life and eternity,
we gather in these days after Easter
to continue in thanksgiving,
and to praise your Holy Name.
The cross remains empty,
the tomb continues abandoned,
as you live victorious
in ascended glory.
In this time of adoration,
wonder, joy, and hope
take our words and our silence
as offerings to you.
Inspire us as we gather;
make us one in Your Spirit.
Show us Your light;
guide us on our way.
When we fail you,
have mercy upon us.
Lift up our heads,
and retore us once more.
Show us how to rejoice,
that we may share Your truth,
that we may share Your love,
that the whole world may cry ‘Glory’!
Rejoicing in Your new creation, as our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.
Acts 4:32-35 – The believers share their possessions
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
John 20:19-31 – Jesus appears to his disciples
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’The purpose of John’s gospelJesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
HYMN 522 The Church is wherever God’s people are praising
(from Hobkirk and Southdean with Ruberslaw Churches)
Love changes everything!
I wonder how many songs have been written with either that title, or that idea, in mind? In purely human terms love can make us or break us. At one end of the scale, it can drive us to the greatest of human self-sacrifice, while at the other it can break us. As another songs asks, ‘What becomes of the broken hearted?’
In our readings today it is not human, but divine, love that changes everything. The Gospel reading sees us encounter the disciples, hiding and frightened. Their fear of the religious leaders would certainly have made them act this way. Yet is it possible that the stories of resurrection, told by the women, had also made them frightened? Remember, this was something they had never expected or understood. They may have been refusing to believe that Jesus had risen from the grave, but something was already transforming them. Now, when they are confronted by the living Jesus, their transformation is made perfect. Jesus shares his peace with them and imbues them with the Spirit too. Yet two are not there. Judas has already been lost, and Thomas is somewhere else. The disciples are not complete as a body until their companion returns. Enter, now, Thomas, complete with his questioning and often sceptical mind. He desires evidence before he will believe. A week later the evidence he needs is brought before him. Despite the offer to touch the wounds it is only the site of the Risen Lord that he needs in order for him to believe and worship. The disciples are now as one.
We fast forward a little to the events of the book of Acts. Here the disciples are being persecuted, but so great has been the transformation that they continue to meet, share, and witness in public. Shortly before the episode in our reading two of the disciples are arrested and threatened by the religious leaders. They are let off only if they promise to not mention the name of Jesus. The two refuse but are still set free as the council have nothing with which to prosecute them. What is it about the name of Jesus that causes so many to fear or feel threatened? Is it that the love of God, in Jesus, truly does transform the human heart, and then the world around?
The vary nature of Jesus means transformation, change. His presence in a life means a reorientation of the heart and mind. It means a change of focus from self to God and others. It was all these changes, brought about by the love of God, that enabled the disciples and the early church to be one. The characters and personalities remained but how they were directed was different.
How may that apply to us? Like it, or not, we need to let the Spirit of the Risen Christ transform us. Being church is not about being a member of an organisation, it is about being a disciple of Jesus. Being church is not about some private belief system, it is about recreating the world as God would have it. Being church is not about the buildings, it is about being the Body of Christ. The challenge we have to face is allowing that transformation to take place within us to such an extent that it allows us to live outwardly as one body. It is this that will allow not only the church to be ‘one’ but also enable it to reach out to those around us that do not believe. They will see the change just as the world of the ancient near-east saw the change in the early church. While we hang on to notions of membership, private faith, and buildings growth will not occur. Rather than growth, it will be the death of what we think of as church.
These words are not easy to hear, read, or even write. We enjoy and value our institutions and buildings. They often give form and history to our journey of faith. But they are not ‘the faith’. The early church grew rapidly because the believers allowed Christ to transform them in ways that made them one. It was this witness, seen in grace, compassion, and mercy, that drew the crowds to them. For us it means allowing ourselves to be transformed in the same way. It will mean allowing our hearts to be softened. It will mean seeing our treasure as being ‘in Christ’ rather than cash in the bank, or in bricks and mortar. It will mean doing things His way, not ours. It will mean living in the transformative love of God, a love that does change everything.
Your disciples gathered in fear,
and You offered them Your peace.
You restored and empowered them.
Many in our world know no peace.
There are those experiencing lockdown,
feeling trapped and gasping for space.
We think of those struggling with emotions,
knowing despair rather than hope,
seeing darkness rather than light.
Many in our world are lonely,
missing the presence of loved ones.
We think of those in care homes and hospitals,
with few visits and no loving touch.
We think of their loved ones,
experiencing guilt while stuck outside.
Many in our world grieve,
our cultures and traditions prohibited.
We think of those who are troubled,
and need some form of peace.
We think of those trapped in their concerns,
unable to live with joy.
You gave Your disciples peace.
You gave Your disciples Your Holy Spirit.
Send Your peace upon us and our world,
bless us through Your Spirit.
Restore and empower the peoples
that hope and joy may return.
HYMN 516 We are marching in the light of God
(from: Episcopal Church of the Advocate, Chapel Hill, NC)
May the peace of the Risen Lord go with you.
May the strength of the Holy Spirit be within you.
May the love of God the Father sustain you.
This day and every day.
English translations of Lord’s Prayer © 1988 English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC). www.englishtexts.org. Used by permission.
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.