‘Open Our Eyes, Lord – We Want to See Jesus’ (a sermon on Luke 24:13-35)

We sometimes sing a worship song around here that goes like this:

‘Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus,
to reach out and touch him, and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen;
open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus’.

This song expresses the longing of our hearts in this Resurrection season. At this time of year we read the stories of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection, and maybe when we read those stories we feel just a little envious; maybe we think, “I wish I had been there. I wish he would appear to me too. Then I’d believe in him and I’d never doubt again”.

There are some people today who tell stories of mystical encounters with Jesus. John Sherrill has a story like that in his book They Speak with Other Tongues. He talks about how he was in hospital recovering from cancer surgery. He was lying awake at night, in some pain; there was a boy in the room with him too, tossing and turning and sleeping fitfully. And suddenly, in the night, there was a light in the room; it seemed to be centred on the far ceiling. John watched it for a few minutes, curious, and then he said one word: ‘Christ?’ The light didn’t move, he said, but it was as if it enveloped him, and the pain from his wound eased.

John’s roommate turned on his bed, moaning a bit with pain. John said, ‘Christ, could you help that boy?’ And it was as if the light enveloped the boy too, and immediately he slipped into a peaceful sleep. And then the light was gone.

This was obviously a real encounter with the risen Christ that was so powerful that it changed the rest of John Sherrill’s life; he says in his book that for months afterwards, when he tried to tell people about it, he choked up with tears. And again, when we hear stories like this, we might find ourselves just a little bit envious. “Why can’t I have an experience like that? If Jesus is alive, why doesn’t he show himself to me, in a way that’s clear and unambiguous?”

But wait a minute – in the gospels, the resurrection appearances of Jesus weren’t always clear and unambiguous. Let me remind you of a detail that we often forget: when he appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead, they often didn’t recognize him at first. When Mary Magdalene met the risen Jesus beside the empty tomb, she ‘saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus’ (John 20:14); she didn’t recognize him until he spoke her name, “Mary”. Later on, in John chapter 21, after the disciples had been fishing on the lake all night long, we read that ‘Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus’ (John 21:4). We might think it was because the light wasn’t very good, but a little later on, when they were sitting and eating breakfast with Jesus, John adds, ‘Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”’ (21:12) – a very strange thing to say if it was absolutely clear who he was.

We get the same thing in our gospel reading for today, the story of the walk to Emmaus. The two disciples – perhaps they were a married couple? – were walking on the road. ‘While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him’ (Luke 24:15-16). It wasn’t until he was sharing a meal with them later that evening, and he ‘took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them’, that ‘their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”’ (24:30-32).

Luke isn’t just telling us about something that happened on the day of Jesus’ resurrection; he’s using the story to instruct us about how we can meet Jesus today. The appearance will not be unambiguous; we’ll need to have the Holy Spirit ‘open our eyes’ so we can recognize his presence in the scriptures and the breaking of bread. But you can be sure that Luke knows exactly what he’s doing: he’s writing his gospel for a generation of Christians who have not seen the Risen Jesus; he wants them to know that this does not mean they can’t experience his presence with them. And that includes us; our eyes can be opened too, so that we can see him in places where at first we didn’t recognize him. And two of the most common of those places are the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, or Holy Communion.

Let’s explore this passage a little more. I can imagine this couple walking home to Emmaus, ‘talking with each other about all these things that had happened” (v.14). And then along comes a stranger, and he asks them what it is they’re talking about. Out comes the sad story of Good Friday:

“The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (vv.19b-21a)

In other words, “We thought he was the Messiah, but he obviously can’t have been, because if he was, God wouldn’t have abandoned him like that. But he was such a good guy; we really loved him and believed in him”. But then the story goes on:

“Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him” (vv.22-24).

What do you hear in their words? I hear bitter disappointment, anger at the authorities, confusion about who Jesus really was. I hear a desire to believe in the resurrection, but also a fear of false hopes, and almost a sense of “I told you it was too good to be true!” – “but him they did not see”.

Sometimes when we come together for worship each week, we come like these two disciples – confused, disappointed, wanting to believe but finding it harder than we thought it would be, hurt by the wounds the world has given us. Maybe we remember a time when faith was easy, and we wonder why it’s so difficult now. Maybe we wonder why bad things happen to good people. Maybe we wonder why we seem to find it so hard to have any real sense of connection with the living God. Maybe we even ask those really threatening questions: “Does God really care? Is God silent? Is God even there at all?”

You see, this isn’t just a story of two disciples who met Jesus on a road long ago: it’s a story about us, too. Let’s go on.

The fellow traveller comes and walks with them, and Luke tells us ‘their eyes were kept from recognizing him’ (v.16). This is our experience today too; often Jesus comes to us, but our eyes are kept from recognizing him. After all, we can’t see him, and it’s sometimes hard to believe in someone you can’t see! I’m reminded of the story of a mom who was reading a bedtime story to her little girl, and the doorbell rang. The mom got up to answer the door, but the little girl said, “Don’t leave me by myself, mommy; I’m scared”. “There’s no need to be scared”, says mommy; “Jesus is here with you”. The very wise little girl thought for a minute, and then said, “Send Jesus down to answer the door; you stay here with me”!

As we come together today, I think of Jesus’ promise that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). But we often forget that, because we can’t see him. We need to ask God to open our eyes and realize that he is coming to us, particularly in the two main parts of this service: the word, and the sacrament.

Look at verse 32: after the risen Jesus had been revealed to the two disciples, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They were referring to what had happened to them earlier in the day; after they had opened their grief and confusion to the stranger, who they didn’t know was Jesus, he said to them,

‘“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things, and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures’ (vv.25-27).

What an amazing experience that must have been! In those days most Jewish people would have been familiar with the story the Bible tells, and would have had some parts of it memorized. But the problem these two had was confusion about the role of the Messiah. They believed the Messiah was going to ‘redeem Israel’ – in other words, lead an army and set them free from their enemies. They heard the stories of King David and prayed that God would send them another one like him. But they hadn’t noticed Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:1a, 16) – or Isaiah 53:

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

So Jesus led them in a Bible study, all from memory, going through all the scriptures and pointing out the things that had been fulfilled in his death and resurrection.

Martin Luther once said that ‘the Bible is the cradle where we find the infant Christ’. That’s why each week we read big chunks of the Bible – Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, Gospel. This is important. Some people think it’s just the appetizer, with Communion as the main course, but it’s not! When the Word of God is read and preached, Jesus is present in it, meeting us, teaching us, opening our eyes to his truth. And often we find, as those two found on the road, that he sort of ‘sneaks up’ on us; we don’t realize until afterwards that our hearts were burning within us as we listened to the message of the Scriptures.

Well, going on with the story, the three travelers on the road finally reached the village of Emmaus. The two invited the stranger into their home, and they sat down to eat together.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. (vv.30-31).

Strictly speaking, this was not a Communion service – it was an evening meal. But still, when Jesus did those actions from the Last Supper, something powerful happened – something supernatural, that Luke could only describe as ‘having their eyes opened’ – and they realized that Jesus had been with them all the time.

My friend Terry, from my last parish, tells a story of something that happened to him not long after he became a Christian. He had struggled with anger issues in the past, and one day he had an experience – I won’t go into detail about it – that he expected would make him very angry, but to his surprise, it didn’t. He puzzled about that for a few days, until he came to church the following Sunday. He told me afterwards, “I was still wondering about it, until I went forward for communion, and when you put the bread in my hands, I suddenly remembered: ‘Oh yeah – I have help now!’” Like the disciples in Emmaus, when the broken bread was put into his hands, he realized that Jesus had been with him all along.

Holy Communion is Jesus’ gift to us. He commanded us to ‘do this in remembrance of him’. He told us that the cup was the new covenant in his blood, pointing to his death as the sacrifice for our sins. He told us that if we eat and drink, we will have his life in us. We’ll spend our whole lives trying to understand these things, but we’re never going to completely get our heads around them! If we wait until we’ve got them figured out, we’ll wait forever, because Communion is one of those things that you can really only understand from the inside. And even then, we won’t understand much of it – but maybe, as the bread is broken and we receive it, we’ll realize Jesus is with us, like those disciples in the house in Emmaus, and like my friend Terry did.

Well, there are many more things we could say about this wonderful reading, but I need to stop now. So let’s just go round this one last time.

We come here each Sunday longing to meet the risen Jesus. Maybe our week has been tough, like these two disciples on the road; maybe we’re hurt, or confused, or angry, or doubting. So Jesus comes to us here and meets us. As the scriptures are read and preached, he opens our hearts and minds to understand what’s written there. But it’s not just an intellectual thing; it’s relational as well. “Our hearts burn within us” as he opens up the word to us. And then comes the sacrament: his body is broken, his blood poured out, and in the bread and wine those gifts are given to us. So we come in faith, holding out our hands, not understanding, but trusting that he will keep his word. And he does: whether we feel anything or not, he has said it, so we can rely on it.

Let’s pray that this will be real in our experience – so real that we won’t be able to keep it to ourselves, like the two at Emmaus, who ran all the way back to Jerusalem to tell what had happened on the road, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Planxty: ‘The Blacksmith’

Here we have a wonderful performance by the iconic Irish folk band ‘Planxty’, from their reunion tour back in 2004. I’ve been listening to them since the 1970s – long before I understood what traditional folk music was all about – and they are truly amazing.

This Wikipedia article does a good job of telling the story of Planxty.

Mainly Norfolk describes the recorded history of ‘The Blacksmith’ here. There’s also a short discussion of the origins of the song at Mudcat Café.

And finally, here’s a spellbinding solo version of ‘The Blacksmith’ by Andy Irvine. Its hard to find a better bouzouki player in the world today I think.

Kate Rusby: ‘The Drowned Lovers’ (AKA ‘Clyde Waters’

This is from a 2001 performance, in the days before Kate played with a polished backup band.

Kate learned this traditional song from Nic Jones and recorded it on her 1997 album ‘Hourglass‘. I think Nic had learned it from some old Scottish versions and had changed a few of the lyrics to make them more accessible to modern English audiences (although I still like the line ‘turled low on the pin’). Nic recorded a very jaunty version of it on ‘Penguin Eggs‘, but I like his live versions better.

You can find out more about the song at ‘Mainly Norfolk’ here.

Kate’s version is on ‘Hourglass‘. Her website is here. Nowadays she mainly sings her own original songs, but I still love her traditional songs best of all.

Trump and Jesus

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Donald Trump appears to be leading the world into a time of belligerence, building walls, turning on your neighbours, and picking fights with everyone about every little thing.

People of Jesus, do not follow him in this. Our Lord is about compassion, forgiveness, caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger, loving enemies and praying for those who hate us, sharing the good news of God’s love, and seeking first the Kingdom of God built by love, not the earthly empire built by force and coercion.

Let’s commit ourselves to following Jesus in loving God, our neighbours, and even our enemies.

Low-Key Religious Experience

1Religious experience doesn’t have to be dramatic to change your life. I know that, because my life was changed by a low-key religious experience.

I gave my life to Jesus when I was thirteen. This was part of a series of events that had been going on for some time.

I had been confirmed a year or so beforehand. Some of the confirmation candidates had stayed together as a youth group, and one of the people in that group was an older girl whose faith impressed me. Also, my dad had been lending me Christian books, and I’d read Dennis Bennett’s Nine O’Clock in the Morning, describing his early experiences in what we now call the ‘charismatic renewal’. Healings, speaking in tongues, works of knowledge and wisdom, baptism in the Holy Spirit – it was all very dramatic. And I found it very attractive (and a lot more exciting than the staid Anglican worship I was experiencing at the time).

But my night of commitment to Christ was the opposite of dramatic. At a youth group meeting, my dad (the vicar) said to me, “You’ve never given your life to Jesus, have you?” After the meeting, I went to my room, sat down on my bed and prayed a simple prayer giving my life to Jesus. That was it.

I realized as I was thinking about it this morning that I actually have no memory of that event. I think I do, because I’ve told the outline of the story so many times. But I don’t remember why I did it. I don’t remember what the thought processes were that led me from Dad’s study to sitting on my bed praying the prayer. And I don’t remember how I felt, before, during, or after.

I must have been at least considering the possibility of something dramatic happening. Think of what I had been reading at the time – the spiritual experiences of charismatic Anglican (Dennis Bennett) and Pentecostal (David Wilkerson) Christians (yes, I’d read The Cross and the Switchblade too). Those folks didn’t exactly major in low-key religious experiences! But I have no memory of anything dramatic – no powerful sense of God’s presence, no speaking in tongues, visions, or voices from heaven. No memory at all. Whatever happened, I’ve forgotten it.

However, something happened, because that day set the course of the rest of my life. Very quickly, Christ and following Christ moved into the centre of my life and became my number one priority. I was an enthusiastic Jesus-freak almost from day one! Dad taught me to pray and read the Bible and I made it a habit, a habit I’ve maintained to this day. I plunged into Christian fellowship, small group worship and study times, and I read voraciously. And four years later I enrolled in a two-year training course to become an evangelist. Later on, I was ordained a deacon and a priest.

But all this began with something so low-key that I can barely remember it!

So don’t feel second-class if your religious experience is low key. God is still at work, at a far deeper level than your emotions. As my friend Harold Percy says, God doesn’t write boring stories; all God’s stories are interesting stories. Including yours and mine.

Everyone’s story is unique. There is no template. There are no standardized conversions. Every conversion described in the Book of Acts is different, except for this one thing: they all describe a process by which person’s life is reorientated toward the God who Jesus revealed to us.

And that’s the most important issue. Not ‘Did I feel Jesus enter my heart?’ or ‘Did I see a vision of God?’ or ‘Did I pray the right prayer?’ The important issue is ‘Today, as I go into my day, is my face toward the God who Jesus revealed to us?’

Everything else is optional.

Faith in the Risen Lord (a sermon on John 20:29-31)

At some time or other, most of us have probably used the phrase ‘Get a life’. If you’re a literal thinker, that’s actually a rather strange thing to say. All the people we say it to are, in fact, already alive: their hearts are beating, the blood is coursing through their veins, and their brains are more or less in working order.

But of course, that’s not what the phrase is all about. We all know instinctively that it’s possible to be biologically alive – ‘alive’ in the medical sense – and yet not to be enjoying everything life has to offer. It’s possible to get so caught up in foolishness and deception that we’re missing out on the most important things. And so we say ‘Get a life’, meaning ‘Smarten up! Don’t sweat the small stuff! Make sure you concentrate on the best things, the most important things’. After all, as my friend Harold Percy says, no one wants to be in the situation where God writes on their tombstone the words ‘Brilliant performance, but she missed the whole point!’

This is what John is talking about in our gospel reading for today:

‘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’ (John 20:30-31).

John wants us to ‘get a life’, and he says the way to do that is to put your faith in Jesus as the Messiah. If we believe in him and follow him, we will experience life to the full, the way God intended when he created us in the first place.

But there was a problem with ‘believing in Jesus as the Messiah’ for the first followers of Jesus. The word ‘Messiah’ (or ‘Christ’ in Greek) meant ‘the king God promised to send to set his people free’. In popular Jewish belief in the time of Jesus, ‘Messiah’ didn’t mean ‘someone who came to die on a cross so we could be forgiven’. It meant King Arthur, or Aragorn son of Arathorn, or King David – a powerful military leader who would raise an army in the name of God, drive out the forces of evil and set up God’s kingdom on earth by force. If you were the true Messiah, God would help you do this. On the other hand, if you were defeated – if you were killed by your enemies – that was a pretty good sign that you were faking it: you weren’t the true Messiah.

That’s why the Resurrection was so vital to the faith of those early Christians. If Jesus had stayed dead, they would probably have abandoned their belief in him as God’s Messiah. The Christian movement would never have gotten started, and Jesus would have been an interesting character studied by historians, but certainly not worshipped as the Son of God by two billion people around the world today.

But the New Testament witness is that those early Christians saw Jesus again in the flesh, alive and well, after they had seen him die. All four gospels record eyewitness stories. So does Paul in 1 Corinthians. Mary Magdalene saw him. So did Peter. So did the couple who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and the ten disciples in the Upper Room (and probably a few more with them), and Thomas the doubter, and a group of them fishing on the lake of Galilee, and another group of five hundred of them all together at once. These are some of the eyewitness stories recorded, or alluded to, in the New Testament.

One of them especially stands out in the Gospel for today. We all love ‘doubting Thomas’, because he’s so much like us. “I’d like to believe, Lord, but I just can’t! Just let me see with my eyes – let me touch your wounds – then I’ll believe!” He’s so honest; he’s unwilling to pretend he has one ounce more faith than he actually has! And incredibly, Jesus loves him so much that he gives him what he asks for.

‘Jesus came 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” (vv.26b-27).

The story doesn’t record that Thomas actually did that – reached out his hands to touch Jesus. Instead he falls at his feet and exclaims “My Lord and my God!” (v.28). And then Jesus says something tremendously significant:

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v.29).

That’s us, you see! Verse 20 says ‘Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord’ – but how can that verse apply to us? We’ve never seen the risen Lord. Like Thomas, we long to see him and touch him. If only he’d appear to us like he did to Paul on the road to Damascus! And so when it comes to faith we think of ourselves as second class Christians. We can’t really share the fullness of joy of those first witnesses; we can’t enjoy ‘life in his name’ in the same way they did.

Not so, says Jesus. The same blessing applies to us as to them; “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”. As St. Paul says in one of his letters, we walk by faith, not by sight.

Which, by the way, is a perfectly reasonable thing to do – and something we all do in certain areas of our lives. For instance, I believe in the existence of a planet called Pluto. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, and I don’t expect to either. I don’t have the time or money to undertake the astronomical study I’d need to do. But credible astronomers have told me that Pluto exists; I believe their testimony, and so when someone asks me, I say, “Yes, I believe in Pluto”.

I also believe my wife loves me. I can’t see love or quantify it, but she tells me she loves me, and her actions seem to confirm the fact.

Well, that’s self-evident, you might say. To which I reply, not necessarily so. She might just have pretended to love me, and married me so she could get rich! All right, I admit that in our case that’s unlikely – but you can see that in some cases it would be an issue. Does Kate Middleton really love Prince William – or does she just enjoy all the attention she gets as Duchess of Cambridge? You see, evidence can sometimes be read in more than one way. In Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’ a man is persuaded to believe in the infidelity of his wife by the lies of a false friend. We, the audience, can’t believe he’s falling for it; Desdemona so obviously loves and is faithful to her husband. But Othello is persuaded to read the evidence differently, and the result is a very sad end for them both.

It’s the same with Pluto; apparently the evidence can be read more than one way. I was raised to believe that there were nine planets, but a few years ago astronomers changed their minds – no, Pluto’s not really a planet after all! And then a few years later, some of them said “Well, it depends how you define ‘planet’!” So again, the evidence can be read in more than one way. It might be persuasive, but it’s not conclusive. In the end, we make a choice about things like this.

So why do we modern Christians, who have not seen the Risen Lord with our own eyes, choose to believe he is alive today? Let me suggest some answers to that question.

Some would say, “I believe it because that’s what I was taught when I was growing up”. And that’s undoubtedly very common and very valid. Many of us Christian parents hope that’s what will happen with our kids. Christ is very important to us – the most important part of our lives, many of us would say – and we want our kids to know and love him as well. So we pray for them, and bring them to church, and teach them the Bible story and the Christian way of life.

But lots of kids part company with things their parents teach them; it’s a natural part of growing up. As we get older, we learn to think for ourselves and make our own decisions. As adults, we decide which parts of our parents’ belief systems ring true for us, and which don’t. I’m a Christian today, but my Christian faith is not exactly the same as the faith of my parents. And that’s as it should be; otherwise it wouldn’t be my faith, it would be their faith, one step removed.

And that’s why I don’t think this can be an adequate answer in the long run. If the only reason I continue to believe in the resurrection is because that’s what my parents taught me, I think sooner or later that faith will fail. We have to go through a process of making that faith our own, and inevitably this will involve questioning and rethinking things.

Why do we believe in the resurrection today? Some would say, “I’ve examined the evidence and I find it compelling”. This was the approach of Frank Morison, a British writer who published a well-known book in 1930 called Who Moved the Stone? The first chapter was entitled, ‘The Book that Refused to be Written’. In it he described how he had been sceptical about the resurrection of Jesus and had set out to write a short paper disproving it. However, the more he read and researched and sifted through the evidence, the more he came to believe that the resurrection was well-founded. The book has been reprinted many times since then, and apparently many people have become Christians as a result of reading it.

Again, this can be very valuable, and I have to say I share Morison’s view. How do we explain the empty tomb? How do we explain the eyewitness stories? How do we explain the change in the disciples? I don’t have time to go into it this morning, but suffice it to say that many of us find the weight of evidence to be very firmly on the side of the truth of the resurrection. It’s not conclusive of course – if it was, everyone would believe – but it’s a lot more persuasive than many people think.

So some believe because that’s what their parents taught them, and some believe because they’ve examined the evidence and been convinced by it. Some, however, are impatient with all these logical arguments. They would say, “I believe because I’ve met the risen Jesus myself”. Archbishop Anthony Bloom was one of those people. He was a medical student in Paris during World War Two, and not a believer. One day, however. he went to hear a talk about the gospels given by a priest, and he was surprised and disturbed to find himself attracted by what the man said. This made him angry, but he couldn’t dismiss it. So when he went home, he sat down at his desk to read the gospel of Mark. He had only just begun to read, he said, when he became strongly aware of a presence in the room with him; he couldn’t see anyone, but he was as sure that there was someone there as he was of his own existence, and he knew instinctively that it was the risen Christ. This experience – not logical argument – was powerful enough to turn this agnostic into a Christian.

Some Christians do have experiences like that. Most of us don’t; our sense of the presence of Christ is more subtle. For me, I find that most of the time he’s there quietly in the background; I don’t tend to notice him unless I stop and pay attention, and then I realize he’s been there all the time. And I find that intriguing. Once again, I can choose to ignore him if I want, and the more I do that, the less obvious he is. But if I choose to pay attention to him, over time, my sense of him seems to grow.

But there’s one more reason for faith I’d like to share with you this morning. For me, this is the most powerful one. There’s a scene in John chapter six where disciples start leaving Jesus because they can’t make sense of what he’s saying about eating his flesh and drinking his blood; its offensive and revolting to them.

‘So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God”’ (John 6:67-69).

These verses really ring true for me. I believe in Jesus because I find his life and teaching so compelling. When he says, ‘What good is it to you to gain the whole world and lose your soul?’ my heart is shouting out a big ‘Amen!’ When he says, ‘a person’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of their possessions’, it’s obvious to me that that’s true. When he says that the most important things in life are to love God and love your neighbour, I think, “Well, duh! Of course! Why can’t everyone see that?”

And it’s not just his words – it’s his life too. The way he reaches out to everyone, rich and poor, men and women, sinners and saints. The way he loves the people no one else loves. The way he includes women and children. The way he refuses to hate people his society tells him he should hate, like enemy soldiers or tax collectors. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is ‘the image of the invisible God’, and I believe that to be profoundly true; I just know in my heart that if there is a God, he has to be like Jesus. ‘Like Father, like Son’.

‘These (things) 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’. Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). To put your faith in Jesus and follow him is to have life, abundant life. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the risen Lord, but we rejoice too, even though we have not seen him with our eyes, because we believe he is alive and we are doing our best to walk with him day by day.

Let me close with an invitation; two invitations, in fact.

First, let me to invite you to ask yourself, “Why do I believe in the risen Lord? Is it just because that’s what my parents taught me? Is it because I’ve thought things through, examined the evidence and been convinced by it? Is it because I’ve had an experience of his presence in my life? Is it because I find his life and teaching so compelling? Or is it some other reason?” Probably, for most of us, the answer to that question will include a story of some kind – the story of our faith journey.

Second, let me invite you to make a fresh commitment of faith today. In a few minutes we’re going to join with the parents and godparents of Sloane, Steven and Kai as they make the baptismal covenant with God on behalf of their kids. I will ask them, “Do you believe in God…in Jesus…in the Holy Spirit” and ‘will you commit yourself to the Christian way of life as a member of the Church of Christ?’  Those promises can basically be summed up in the words “Jesus is my Lord, and I will follow him along with my fellow Christians”.

So make that commitment of faith again today. Say the words along with the parents and godparents. And then when we come to communion, dip your fingers in the water of the baptismal font and make the sign of the cross as a symbol of your faith and commitment to Jesus. And then, when our service is over, you can leave this place with joy, knowing that Jesus is alive, that he is Lord of all, and that your life is in his hands.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

‘A Better Resurrection’, a poem by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

 

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

 

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

 

(Many thanks to my friend Tim Madsen for bringing this poem to my attention)