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Disbelieving Joy

Sermon for the third Sunday of Easter 2021.

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

A particular line stood out from the Gospel of Luke today to speak in a new way. In those verses it is written of the disciples that in ‘In their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering’. I couldn’t help thinking that a notion of a disbelieving joy seems a rather appropriate way of describing the current status of our roadmapped society.

Staggering into the light from the long dark tunnel of lockdown and isolation. Stepping into the daylight after the long winter nights. Gazing upon spring growth in the gardens not so long ago frozen and hard … brings with it all a sense of disbelieving joy.

Dare we hope this might be over?

Dare we believe that the end is in sight?

More than a few what ifs, buts and maybes, crowd into the way of hope right now.

If you like me are blinking with the brightness of the light on the horizon, then you are not alone. After a year of false endings and temporary beginning-agains, it is quite understandable that we tiptoe cautiously and carefully into the new land, working out together what has changed and how it will all unfold.

Considering a notion, of disbelieving joy, as we continue our journey through the great fifty days of Easter, speaks into the place of the Resurrection in our faith. As a priest I find it fascinating that the central event to everything that brings us here, is also often surrounded by a sense of a disbelieving joy.

We are an Easter People - but even for some of us, a disbelieving joy can exist around the mechanics of the resurrection, and so it is perhaps immensely reassuring to find a disbelieving joy in the readings from Luke and the Book of Acts today, revealing a tension that isn’t particularly modern - it has existed for far longer than that.

Lord Williams and Canon Paula, in a recent conversation at St Paul’s Cathedral,. suggested that the resurrection was never an event to be scientifically analysed, but rather a lens to be looked through. The wrong questions, they suggested, are often asked about it. What matters most of all about the resurrection, they agreed, is the difference that it made. What happened before and what happened afterwards. Even the Gospel and New Testament accounts talk about the before and the after, but make no attempt whatsoever to explain what happened in between.

The point was made, in their wonderful conversation, that without the resurrection Jesus would have remained little more than a historical figure, a saint, a good man, a hero. Such a man may have had a slight following but growth into the billions and centuries of followers is highly unlikely.

The resurrection brings us to be able to powerfully talk about Jesus in the active and potent present tense. The resurrection brings Jesus right here into the middle of the here and now, where we encounter him and he does things.

Without the resurrection baptismal fonts would only hold plain water and the Body of Christ would only be plain bread. Without the resurrection, this would only be a wonderful old building, a museum; whereas with the resurrection for centuries this has building has held living water, offered bread of the presence, and nurtured living communities, with a beating heart, a purpose and a witness to share with others.

The Annual Meetings for our United Benefice take place over these two weekends and we will look back at what has been brought into our field of visions; the losses and loneliness we have endured perhaps most poignantly epitomised by the sight of Her Majesty the Queen sitting alone in Windsor Chapel yesterday at the funeral of her devoted husband.

At the annual meetings we will also look ahead, we will ask what will be the same and what will be changed, how we rebuild. There may well be a certain amount of nervous and disbelieving joy in all of this. How will we rebuild our social, corporate, and pastoral life, some of you may be asking will we ever have coffee again and others asking how will we serve a new and nervous post-pandemic society? The many questions and challenges can feel a little overwhelming, especially when accompanied by this sense of disbelieving joy.

But, as Easter people we don’t ever stand here alone and it is because of the resurrection that we believe this. Because the only way to move forward is by remembering that the Easter account, despite our joyful disbelief, brings those words and actions and presence of Christ here into the present-tense.

We ARE the witnesses of these things

Jesus IS risen

God IS with us


The Rev'd Arwen Folkes (Rector of the United Benefice)

The full conversation at St Paul's can be watched here:

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