The Seventh Sunday of Easter
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The prayers/readings can be found here:
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‘Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts… and this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.’
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed, alleluia!
If you’re anything like me, the thing that you’ll have the most of on your phone are pictures. Now, I don’t mean that I’m taking pictures as such, but rather I’m saving pictures. I must save at least one picture a day that I see online, be that from Facebook or Twitter or some other page that a friend has linked to. Nine times out of ten the picture is something church related. And the reason I tell you this, is that a little while ago, I came across an image on Twitter which I saved, thinking that one day it’d be good to begin my sermon – and it just so happens that today is that day.
The image to which I’m referring is a photograph, it’s a photograph of a pamphlet written in 1954. It was written by the then Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Geoffrey Fisher and Cyril Garbett, at the request of the Church Assembly, the ancestor of the General Synod.
It’s a timeless piece, as relevant now as it was in the 50’s and beyond. The pamphlet is called A Short Guide to the Duties of Church Membership and contains just a few bullet points.
The Archbishops’ said:
All baptized and confirmed members of the Church must play their full part in its life and witness.
As we move out of the Covid situation, and hopefully return to something of normal life, the position of the Church, like that of every organisation in the country, and indeed the world, has become somewhat fragile. For much of last year, the Church, our Church, our building, like so many places, was closed. This diminished our common life together – and whilst prayer was offered daily, the people of God, you, were deprived of the grace of the sacraments. Church life, has been on a sort of ‘hold’ in these days and months. And we have been diminished for it.
Now we are edging towards a time, we pray, of rebuilding, and that rebuilding involves each and every member of the Church. Remember those words again: ‘all baptized and confirmed members of the Church must play their part in its life and witness’.
The crucial word there is must.
The Archbishops’ didn’t say this was optional – quite the opposite: it is a requirement. But a requirement to what exactly? What are we required to do as baptized and confirmed Christians?
We are required to give ‘testimony’. That’s the word that has dominated our readings this morning: ‘testimony’ – John recalls in our second reading that if we believe in the Son of God the testimony is our hearts, so it’s within us already, we are in the ‘truth’ because we have been made holy by the ‘truth’ which is Jesus himself as we heard in the gospel reading.
Testifying to Jesus literally means ‘witnessing’ to him. We must witness – we must declare, as we heard in the Acts of the Apostles ‘his resurrection’. That is the primary job of the disciple – that’s what our baptisms and confirmations prepare us for. And let me repeat again: if we wish to rebuild after this terrible pandemic, each one of us, and I include myself in this, must step up, each disciple must be prepared to and again I quote the Archbishops’: ‘fulfil this duty’.
The season of Easter is drawing to a close, and now, we rest in the time between Ascension and Pentecost praying for the coming of the Spirit. This is the time when the disciples were preparing themselves for the mission that Jesus had given them, as we heard on Ascension Day, the commission to ‘go out… and proclaim the gospel to all creation’. As the disciples were sent out, so we too are being sent out to build the Church, to do so afresh for our generation so that the people who are not here, may know the story of God’s love revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
It is a requirement for us to do so. The Archbishops’ finish their message by instructing Christians to:
· follow the example of Christ in home and daily life, and to bear personal witness to Him.
· be regular in private prayer day by day.
· read the Bible carefully.
· come to Church every Sunday.
· receive the Holy Communion faithfully and regularly.
· give personal service to Church, neighbours, and community.
These are the absolute essentials – we will not be bearing fruit as disciples if we are not bearing witness to him, if we are not regular in prayer each day, if we are not reading the Bible carefully, if we are not coming to Church every Sunday, if we are not receiving Holy Communion faithfully and regularly, if we are not giving personal service to the Church, neighbours and the community.
This is our calling: this is our duty.
It is required of us if we have been baptized and confirmed so that others may know the truth, in the words of our second reading that ‘God gave us eternal life in his Son’. The purpose of the Church, our reason for existing is to share the Good News with others. But we will only be effective in our work if we are reading the scriptures, if we are praying, if we are here each week, if we are receiving the sacrament. Remember, ‘those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts’. Doing those things will allow what’s in your heart to flow into mouth and become Good News for those who ‘do not have the Son of God’ and therefore who don’t have life in all its fullness.
We are witnesses to the resurrection. We have the testimony in our hearts. Let us fulfil our duty, putting that testimony into action, witnessing, so that the Church may be rebuilt and people may truly know the God who ‘gives life in his Son’.
Those words again:
all baptized and confirmed members of the Church must play their full part…
Play your full part. Witness to him.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
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