St Stephen's

April 26th 1992

Acts 5: 12 to 16
Revelation 1: 9-13, 17-19
John 20: 29

Second Sunday of Easter 1992

The Church Register

In the sacristy of every Church there is a book called the Register of Services, and every time a services is held in that Church an entry is made in the book to record not only the fact that the service has taken place but also how many people attended it.

Reading back through the book can be very informative. If you leave aside the odd exceptional Sunday when there are either many fewer or many more people in Church than usual (for instance numbers attending are usually pushed up when we have a baptism or an occasion like Mothering Sunday) then it is possible to get an idea of whether the recent trend in numbers is upwards or downwards; and such numbers can be very instructive, providing one is sensible and doesn't become more interested in the numbers than the people who make them up, and what the beliefs of those people are: for instance do they believe in the risen Christ.

If the Church we heard about in the first reading had kept such a Register during that period it would have shown a dramatic increase in numbers of those attending. But St Luke, who wrote this down for us and was a careful observer, draws a distinction between those who merely took an interest in the Faith and those who came to believe in the Lord.

He describes on the one hand are the hundreds who came crowding in from the towns round about Jerusalem bringing with them their sick, and on the other hand those who came to believe in the Lord, the number of which increased steadily.

Now to be sure those who became interested in the Church because they are ill or unhappy or lonely often begin, as a result of their experience of the Church, to believe in the risen Christ who alone has power to save them from their sins.

Often, but not always. There is nothing automatic about it and all of us must know people will have attended St Stephen's for a while and then have drifted away. They wanted something badly, whether it was health or companionship or reassurance: they got what they wanted and, there wants being satisfied, they went away again! Who can blame them? It seems the natural thing to do. And yet such people are really missing the point, aren't they?

St John the Divine who wrote the second reading was someone who didn't miss the point. He believed in Jesus the Risen Lord, the First and the Last, the Living One who ascended and is to live for ever and ever and who holds the keys of death and the underworld.

It was for believing this and bearing witness to it that St John was sent into exile on the island of Patmos. And yet from his exile John continued to believe and to preach the Risen Christ at a time when there were perhaps very few who were interested and fewer still who came to believe. And yet John's faith in the Risen Christ never seemed to waver, although there must have been times when he longed for those exciting days in Jerusalem when the people came crowding into be healed.

If we were to look in to Saint John the Divine's Register of Services and see the number of Communications week by week one or two; perhaps the odd week with half-a-dozen we might well say that his Church was a failure by comparison with the Church in Jerusalem as the first Reading describes it.

But it isn't a simple matter of success and failure, as we can see from the third Reading, the Gospel. The real acid test of a local Church is not how many people attend it on a given Sunday but whether those who do attend are indeed an Easter People, Risen with Christ, seeking those things which are above.

I'm not so much concerned about the people like Doubting Thomawholl have real problems in believing. People like Thomas if they live through their doubts usuallcome to see the light of the other end of the tunnel.

What is of more concern are those people in whom the Faith has ceased to grow.

And what are the signs are that our faith is growing more has ceased to do so? Well ask yourself these questions:

If we can say "yes" to all these questions there is the probability that we are an Easter people. Rooted in grounded in Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.

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