Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied.Matthew 5: 6
Hymn 416 Christ is alive! Let Christians sing
It is now two weeks since Easter
the holiday weekend seems like a distant memory
Easter eggs have been eaten
or they are now ‘Reduced to clear’ in the shops
as the focus changes to something else
it is easy to think that Easter has been put away till next year
Maybe there was an element of that among the disciples
as they went home from Jerusalem
as they left behind the scene of Jesus’ death and rising again
it was so easy to leave behind the pain of Good Friday
and the joy of Easter
Jesus came to them in ordinary, everyday places
reminding them that he was always with them
that he really was alive for ever
that life could never be the same again
that you had called them to be Apostles
to be witnesses to the ends of the earth
to your Good News and love for people
We confess that at times we like to settle back into our routine
to treat the amazing stories of your love and commitment
as though they are decorations that can be put back in a box
until this time next year
But Jesus is alive!
He is risen from the dead!
Life cannot be the same again
We have Good News to take to the ends of the earth
By your Spirit fire us up to go and do that
through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time
[Chinese whispers – Greenock sneeze – supermarket] We suspect information that is passed on verbally, thinking that accidentally or deliberately it changes in transmission. Research by linguists and social scientists, however, suggests that in societies where most people can’t read or write, where important information has to be passed on by word of mouth rather than in writing, there is a long-established tradition of accuracy when oral transmission is used. It has to be accurate, or the fabric of the community would collapse.
So when we hear that for the first 30-50 years after the Resurrection stories of Jesus’ life and his teaching were not written down, but were passed on orally, we don’t need to be alarmed that they grew arms and legs as they were transmitted from person to person. Jewish and Gentile communities around the Mediterranean were used to accurate oral transmission.
We can’t be sure why and when the Gospels were written, but it was probably in the years from the 60s AD onwards. The Apostles and their earliest followers were dying out; local communities and civil authorities regarded Christians with deep suspicion and even hostility; Jewish rabbis and those educated in Greek philosophy dismissed their Good News as blasphemy or nonsense; and other groups appeared claiming to follow Jesus, but teaching a very different message.
We don’t know who wrote the Gospels, or later edited them to provide the versions we have now, but it does seem that each one/group had specific audiences and objectives in mind. They weren’t writing biographies, nor were they compiling a compendium of everything that Jesus might ever have said or done. Their works were directed to specific groups with specific needs, and they selected material with those ends in mind.
There is a lot we don’t know about Jesus. Maybe the information was simply not transmitted down the years, or maybe it didn’t seem relevant to the author/editor’s purpose. So we don’t know what Jesus looked like, when exactly he was born, what he ate for his breakfast and lunch, what he did when he was growing up, and so on.
In story bibles, such as we produce for children, we have characters like the Christmas donkey, the inn keeper and his wife, three wise men/ kings on camels. All of that is made up. They aren’t mentioned in the Gospel accounts of Christmas, but we don’t see a problem with it – we need them to fill out the bare bones of the story. It adds to, rather than takes away from, the message of the story.
So it was with the Gospel writers. Luke tried to create a very clear chronology for his account, mentioning the dates of kings and rulers – but it’s generally reckoned that he got in a muddle over the census, which probably happened in 6 AD, while Herod died in 4 BC. Similarly, Luke Part 2 (the Book of Acts) seeks to illustrate the fulfilment of Jesus Ascension-tide command to take the Good News to Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Everything has to fit that. So the Apostles hang around Jerusalem from Easter till Pentecost. In an appendix to John’s Gospel (from which we take today’s Bible reading), they go home and go back to the fishing. It’s a picture we find in Mark and Matthew. No one is telling lies, or trying to confuse – they just need an equivalent to the Christmas donkey, to fill out the gaps in the story.
Hymn 443 He is Lord. He is Lord
John 21: 1-9
Did the disciples stay in Jerusalem from the beginning of Holy Week until after Pentecost – a period of almost two months? It is possible, but is it likely? They didn’t have a lot of money, and even if you had, you wouldn’t/couldn’t carry it 70-odd miles through territories known to have armed robbers. So how would they afford to pay for accommodation and meals in a city where – like most capitals – prices are higher?
Did they stay with friends or family when they went to Jerusalem for the great festivals? What would their hosts think if they said, ‘we’re just going to stay for another couple of months’? There were probably more than twelve of them, and some would have the appetites of young men.
What about letting the families at home know what was happening? There were no mobile phones for sending a text or WhatsApp message. In some cases families back home may have depended on them in some way. So it’s quite possible, despite what Luke/Acts says, that Matthew, Mark and John may be right in suggesting that they did go back home, and back to work, before joining the crowds going up to the Holy City a few weeks later to celebrate Pentecost.
How did it feel being back home after all they had experienced in Holy Week and at Easter? Probably somewhat deflated. [Evesham train] I suspect that many of us have experienced coming home from a particularly exciting holiday, to find that those we meet are less than excited to hear all about it, and want to share with us all the humdrum stories of life at home. Or maybe we’ve been at a conference or training event through work, and come back all fired up to do new things, or old things in a new way. And we meet, ‘This is how we do it here. We aren’t taking on board any of these fancy new notions.’ There may be a hint in this last chapter of John’s Gospel that Peter is struggling to do his old job, to be back at home, after all that he had seen and experienced.
Peter was called later to a full-time role as preacher and teacher in the young church, and if tradition is correct, so were the other members of The Twelve. However it may be that Jesus wanted him/them to begin by being at home, with family, friends and neighbours, doing their old jobs. Home was the place where people had always known them, where people knew what they were like. The Good News they were sent to proclaim was not just about the triumph of justice and truth, about promises of life beyond the grave, it was about a changed way of living here and now, establishing the kind of world God wants to see, a world without hatred, violence, indifference, abuse and the rest.
If encountering the Risen Jesus really did make a difference to the way that Peter and the others lived their lives (if things like love, joy, peace, patience and the rest were to be hallmarks of their behaviour) then the people who knew them well had to be able to see that change. Their message and their actions had to tie up. People had to see the difference that living by Jesus’ teaching could make in the ordinary, everyday parts of life.
Some of those who encountered the Risen Lord at Easter were not called to be full-time preachers and teachers. Some would carry on with the job they had always had (whether that was fishermen, farmers, joiners, businessmen, labourers, home-makers or whatever), some might continue to hold posts in the local synagogue, or work for ‘the authorities’. God had a role for them wherever they were, and all were equally called to live out Jesus’ teaching in their everyday lives – at home, at work, with friends and colleagues.
Not many of us are called to full-time work as preachers and teachers (though maybe in the future more of us will have to become involved on a part-time basis helping to lead worship or help people to explore more about our faith), but we are all called to be full-time followers of Jesus, living out his teaching wherever we go. It is hard following Jesus’ teaching, we quite often get it wrong, but he will help us through the Spirit, and forgive us when we do get it wrong.
Hymn SGP45 (orig) How lovely on the mountains
Prayers for others
You have called us to serve you in many different ways
help us, wherever the place, whatever the role,
to serve you faithfully
to strive, with your Spirit’s help, to follow Jesus’ teaching
and let his qualities be seen in our lives
make us ready to listen for your call
when you want us to do new things
those who are ill, those who worry about them,
those who care for them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are feeling lonely, down
or grieving a friend or loved one
those who don’t have enough to eat
don’t have somewhere to call home
those who are worried about family, friends, work, home, money
those who long to live in peace and safety
we pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
we pray for your church
the worldwide church, the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 412 The strife is o’er the battle done
Blessing (3-fold Amen)
Christ was raised from the dead
by the glorious power of the Father.
Set out, then, on a new life with Christ
And the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
rest and remain with you
today, and every day, and for ever