A Service for the Second Sunday of Easter

If you would like to see this service run in YouTube, then you can watch it here (and listen to the bird song!):

HYMN Ye choirs of new Jerusalem

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith, firmly resolved to keep God's commandments
and to live in love and peace with all.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you
and against our neighbour
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry
and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died for us,
forgive us all that is past
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name. Amen.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

THE COLLECT
Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

FIRST READING - 1 Peter 1.3-9
This passage from the first Epistle of Peter, which, of course, few scholars think was the work of Peter the Apostle, is encouraging and inspiring to followers of Jesus facing trials and discomfort. The last sentence could be put above the door of every church in the land.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

HYMN Christ the Lord is risen again!

GOSPEL - John 20.19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

SERMON
We are soon to celebrate the gift of the Spirit.  The birthday of the church.  The church  follows the order of things as given by the writer of the Acts of the Apostles and places the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the Resurrection.  But for the writer of St John’s Gospel it was not so; according to him, Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples culminated with him breathing upon them and saying, “receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” These are important words, uncomfortable words, words that make us stop and  question what this Gospel is trying to say.
The power to forgive sins is the prerogative of God, it was Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive on God’s behalf that enraged the scribes, priests, and pharisees - it completely negated the Jerusalem Temple, the Torah, the whole religious edifice of Israel.  Now that controversial power Jesus passes to his community of the faithful.  That ragged bunch of disciples has been transformed into the vehicle of God’s grace in the world.  No wonder Thomas didn’t believe it.
I don’t believe that the Apostles, or those who followed them, were actually allowed to decide someone’s fate. I don’t believe Jesus ever taught that his disciples could not forgive someone their sins - clearly his teaching was the very opposite of that. But I do think St John is trying to tell us something bigger, something that Jesus did believe.
His community of followers were to be the sign of something that became clear on Easter morning in a decisive demonstration; that the way to God is not through Temple and sacrifice, unbending law and ritual, that it is through relationship; and that Jesus is the embodiment of that relationship, and that relationship is open to everyone in the world, Jew, Greek, male, female, adult, child - that there can be no division before God, all are his people, all of equal worth.
This is the message of grace to a tired and sick world. Simply that in Jesus God could communicate who he is and that in following his way, believing in his truth, sharing his life, brings a more abundant life. A living relationship with God through him who described himself as ‘the way, the truth and the life’.
St John realised, as Jesus did, that if that message was to reach the world it would need to be communicated, not just in books that eventually become more hallowed than the message they convey, but communicated in living flesh and blood, in real people. If Jesus was the sacrament of the Father then the Church is to be the sacrament of the Son. In the giving of the power to forgive, a central part of our Lord’s ministry of reconciliation, those endowed with the Spirit, now, as a body are to represent him in the world.  These poor confused, and frightened people are more than a symbol of their crucified leader, they are in very fact - sacrament.
To call the followers of Jesus the sacrament of his presence in the world, is to say that Jesus is present in the world through the community of those who still follow him. Flawed we maybe, falling short we undoubtedly do, but nevertheless, to paraphrase St Teresa of Avila, ‘Christ has no other hands, but our hands; no other feet but our feet’. 
Jesus was not merely a picture of God dwelling with his people, not only a symbol of the presence of God, but God really and decisively present - the Word made flesh. We now, by the gift of the Spirit and our love for Christ, give substance to his presence still in the world.  Just as a candle does more than simply represent light, but gives light, so we do not simply symbolise Christ’s resurrection, we give it substance and form, we make it real, we are the resurrection for this day, for our day.
And if we, like St Thomas, need wounds to touch and scars to see, then we can look around us – and see wounds aplenty, and scars without number in the children of the resurrection who are still its witness and its proof.  And whether or not the world about us believes in resurrection, the evidence is all about us, now as much as ever. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
Let us declare our faith
in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.                      1 Corinthians 15.3-7

HYMN Jesus Lives!

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Let us pray.
O Lord, we pray for the Church throughout the world. May it be filled with the hope of Easter always but especially in these difficult times.. We yearn for certainties which are not possible in this world. Help us to hear the Easter message that we can go forward with confidence even in times when our uncertainty, our lack of total knowledge, is very evident.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for those with power, both in this country and abroad, that they may seek the common good. May they work together without political point scoring, so that the problems we are experiencing at present may we overcome as speedily as possible.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for our families and friends. May they know that, when in difficulty, they are supported.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for those in any kind of need in body, mind or spirit. We pray for those who are finding the present lockdown particularly difficult. We pray for those who are physically sick, both those in our own communities and those on our benefice prayer list. We pray for all who are suffering from coronavirus and for those in hospitals, care homes or in their own home who are looking after them.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we remember before you those who have died, especially those who have died recently. We pray for those who mourn them. Help them to hear the Easter message.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We thank you Lord, that through Jesus' death and resurrection, flawed as we all are, like the apostles, we with the whole church throughout the world, can act as your presence in the world, which brings the hope of a new beginning.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

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.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

HYMN Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour

BLESSING
May Christ, who out of defeat
brings new hope and a new future,
fill you with his new life.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen

TO END - Baba Yetu - Our father...  Watch all three versions for a treat!