Sunday 29th April 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 13:16a, 26-43,

Psalm 98

1John 4:1-8

The Rev’d Jenny Wilson


In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

 O sing unto the Lord a new song
for he hath done marvellous things.
With his own right hand, and with his holy arm
hath he gotten himself the victory.
(Psalm 98:1-2)

On this, the Fifth Sunday after Easter, we find ourselves invited in our three readings from scripture to offer three different possible responses to the Easter truth.

Each year in our cycle of liturgy we tell the stories. We journey through Lent, remembering Jesus’ forty days of temptation and soul searching in the wilderness before his ministry began. Perhaps we searched our own souls a little during that time. Perhaps we wondered about our failings and the demands of our lives. Perhaps we wondered about the struggles of those we love, or places in the world in the grip of violence, perhaps we worried about our planet. And then we journeyed through Holy Week and we sat at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, watching Jesus die forgiving those who nailed him to his cross. On Easter Day we witnessed the lighting of the new fire and the lighting of the Pascal candle from that fire, the candle that is lit before us this night, and we heard again the stories of Jesus’ resurrection and the response of those who knew him and loved him dearly and yet, deserted him, as he hung dying on the cross. We heard Jesus say Mary’s name and then tell her not to cling onto him, we heard him speak words of peace to his frightened disciples, we heard him speak with Thomas and say words that might surely comfort and encourage us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” We have heard all these things, we have  journeyed again this sacred road and now we are encouraged by our readings tonight to respond.

The psalm, Psalm 98, exhorts us to sing. To sing a new song. We will come to that later.

Our reading from the thirteenth chapter from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles tells of Paul who has travelled to Antioch with his companions.

On the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: “You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen”  (Acts 13:14-16)

Paul then speaks. He tells the story of God’s history with the people of Israel from the time of the Exodus, through the time of the judges and the kings to God’s sending of a saviour, Jesus. In our reading tonight we heard the second part of Paul’s speech in which he tells the story of Jesus’ execution, quoting from the psalms and the prophets to set this story deep in the heart of the story of the Israelite people.

Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, Paul says, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39)

Paul speaks. Paul tells the story of the history of God’s actions to save God’s people. And so, one response for us in this season of Easter is to speak. To tell the story of God and the way in which God in Christ has brought healing and forgiveness in our lives, in the life of our community, in the life of our world in our time and place. We might tell of a person or a community that has nurtured our faith. We might tell of a way in which God’s blessing has touched our loves or the lives of those we love. We might tell of the way the world has been  changed by the actions of ordinary people like the Anzacs or by the inspiring presence of a political leader such as Oscar Romero whose anniversary of death we remembered this week.

One response to the gift of Easter is tell of God’s actions in our lives.

Our second reading tonight, from the Fourth Chapter of the First Letter of John, introduces us to a second possible response to the truth of Easter – that of reflection and discernment.

Beloved, John writes in his letter, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (1 John 4:1-2)

Later he continues:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

Another response is that of discernment. We might sit quietly and reflect on our lives and wonder about the things that have happened and the people we have encountered. We might wonder about ourselves and our own actions. Is God in Christ present in our actions, we might wonder. Is God in Christ present in a situation in which we find ourselves? Is God in Christ present in a place of struggle the world?

According to John, the key is love. God is love. Where there is love, there is God. Jesus came that we might know God loves us, God loves God’s creation. We might sit quietly, this season of Easter, and reflect. Where do we know love in our lives? Where are we able to show love? Where is love shown to us or to others? Where is love difficult? Where do we struggle to see love at all?

John in this, his first letter, invites us to reflect on these things.

And then there is this evening’s psalm, Psalm 98. The invitation of the psalm in response to the life changing truth of Easter is simple. It is to sing. And we are exhorted to sing a new song, we might notice. Sing a new song in response to what God has done in Christ. What might we gather into a song of praise to God that is new? For what might we give thanks this year, this time, in this place after we have remembered what God in Christ has done? In what way do our lives seem blessed in a new way when we reflect on the past year in the light of Jesus’ passion and resurrection?

This Sunday the Fifth Sunday of Easter, as we continue to remember the great truths of Easter, we might speak of these things as Paul did in the synagogue in Antioch, we might reflect on these things as John exhorts us to in his letter, and then we might sing. Sing in response to this great gift from God. Sing in response to the extraordinary courage and love and forgiveness of Christ. Sing. We’ll sign one more hymn tonight. But first we’ll let the Cathedral Choir have their voice. Firstly, we will hear them sing.