Church of England Diocese of Exeter Witheridge with Creacombe

An homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

2 May 2021, 11:30 a.m.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8: 26-end

Sitting in a police cell is a lonely experience. There is nothing there to distract you from your mind wandering. The walls are bare with no pictures. Furniture is minimal – a slab and mattress. No window to see if it is raining. Time just crawls past. I have experienced these conditions. Fortunately it was not for long and I was there as a guest – not of her Majesty!

A prisoner, a youth, had been arrested and locked in a cell. Somehow he had obtained a Bible and had been reading it. It was by now late in the evening. He asked the Custody Officer if he could see a vicar. The officer looked on ‘the system’ and found my name as the Senior Police Chaplain. He called me out to see the youth. Hence my time in a cell. The door was left ajar and a police officer was within hailing distance.

We spent quite a time talking. The young man’s main reason for seeing me was to explain to him what he was reading. Starting at the beginning I went through the main points and introduced God to him. By the time we had finished he had promised me that he would see his local vicar and follow up about what we had been speaking. Of course there was a little matter of a court appearance and possible prison sentence to be dealt with first.

With our Sunday readings for the period after Easter, and following the Acts of the Apostles, our attention has now moved away from the Apostle Peter to another, Philip. We meet him as he is obeying God’s commend and is walking along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Possibly he did a bit of hitchhiking, whatever, he was given a lift in the carriage of an Ethiopian eunuch. This fellow had been reading the Scriptures but, like my young prisoner, he did not understand what he was reading.

The Bible is not the easiest book to read. It cannot be read from page one to the end because it does dive about a bit. Some guidance is required in order to obtain the maximum understanding from its words. As I did in the police cell so did Philip do to the eunuch. The good news about Jesus Christ was expounded bringing understanding. The seed had been planted (just as in the parable of the Sower) and in Philip’s case the eunuch wished to act immediately. He asked to be baptised in a handy local source of water. Philip duly baptised him before being transported away by the Holy Spirit. The eunuch was left to continue his journey praising God and rejoicing.

This story is so much like my experience in a police cell with a prisoner who had encountered God but without understanding. So often the events that we read of in the Bible can be found to have a parallel in today’s world. Many are the times that I have heard people comment that how can a book written so long ago have any valid meaning today. Here is just one example which is particularly close. The two stories are very close in their content and explanation.

We can also learn of the importance of listening for God. He does speak with us but not always in the first person. It is frequently via other channels. Be it the written word or the utterances of a friend or companion. Whatever, God will speak with us. It is up to us to respond and obey God’s command. We can then walk on and rejoice in our turn. Thanks be to God.

Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Almighty God,

who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ

have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:

grant that, as by your grace going before us

you put into our minds good desires,

so by your continual help

we may bring them to good effect;

through Jesus Christ our risen Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.