Thelma Shacklady

Easter 4 2022



Readings: Acts 12: 24 – 13.5

                 John 12: 44 – end


During this Easter period one of our readings is always from the Book of Acts of the Apostles – what happened after the Resurrection and Ascension; after Pentecost. It always seems a little strange to me that we first hear about events after the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and then, in our Gospel reading we hear, as today, the words of Jesus himself. It seems rather back to front, cart before horse, as it were.

But I am going to look at our two readings in sequential order, beginning with the words of Jesus himself.

What immediately struck me when I looked at this passage in preparation for this morning is that ‘Jesus cried aloud’. There is a sense of desperation about what he is saying; that despite all that he has done – healing the sick, bringing reassurance to the anxious, affirming those who believe in him – there are still far too many who reject his word.

I come as light into the world,  he says, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness.

 Nevertheless, as he has said elsewhere, there are those who prefer darkness to light, deliberately preferring to remain in the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of sin, the darkness of self absorption and he says to them: if that is what you prefer, I am not going to judge you – that is not my role. There will be judgement,  but not from me.

I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

 But there are those who obstinately refuse to be saved, preferring to go their own way, ignoring the hand stretched out to help. A bit like the man who had fallen down a cliff, grabbing on to a branch to break his fall. He cries for help were heard and reassuring voice from the top called down: ‘Just let go of the branch with one hand and reach up to grab mine.’ The man in difficulties hesitated for a moment before calling up: ‘Is there anyone else up there to help me?’

Jesus is offering his listeners a helping hand out of the darkness of ignorance and sin, but they need to let go and reach out to take what he is offering. No wonder there is a hint of desperation in his voice as he ‘cried aloud’; there has to be acceptance of what he is offering – without it, they cannot come into the light.

And so to our reading from Acts. Despite opposition and persecution:

The word of God continued to advance and gain adherents.

 By this time Saul had had his ‘Damascus Road experience’ and was now a strong, determined missioner, working with Barnabas – whose name, incidentally, means ‘son of encouragement’. The church in Antioch is obviously a busy, prayer-filled one- in fact, just before this passage we learn that it was in Antioch they were first called Christians.

The church is getting organised – at Antioch there are prophets and teachers, and it is after prayer and fasting that Barnabas and Saul are ‘set apart’ for the work to which they have been called. They set out on their journey, one which was to last for years, and to cover many miles, as they spread the good news, initially to the Jews – note that the’ proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews’ – but then also to the Gentiles. But that, of course comes later in the record of their journeying.

The light which Jesus brought into the world is travelling throughout the known world, carried not by just one man – though Saul, also known as Paul, probably the most notable – but by many who establish house churches and watch them grow.

I am reminded of the ‘peace light’ which began as part of the scouting movement and grew to be an important part of bringing light out of darkness. Originating in Jerusalem, each year it travels to various countries, kept alight by various means, and in this country is brought to Dover from where it goes up the country, lighting lamps in churches and other places. I was made aware of it when I was in Luton, where it was brought into a local church and our lanterns were lit from it and carried out to homes and to other churches. One light became many, spreading out, just like the good news of the Gospel under Paul and his companions.

So from one man, born into an insignificant country in the Roman Empire, came a faith which spread first throughout the known world and then down the ages, despite persecution and every effort made to stamp it out. We are now a product of that faith, tracing our heritage back, through saints known and unknown, through Paul and the other missioners, to Jesus himself who declared:

I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

 Let us pray:

O God our Father, thank you that you sent your Son as light to save the world. Open our eyes that we may do your will.