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Second Sunday of Easter


Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church Budapest, Hungary Acts 2:14a,22-32 ; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31 ; Psalm 16 “The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear...” No one is quite sure when and where the first annual general meeting of a church took place. They date back in England to the time of the Reformation at least, a period when laypeople began to exert increased authority over their church and its property. Most anyone could attend those early AGMs. By the late seventeenth century, parishes and their annual general meetings had in fact become the main unit of local government in much of England; according to some historians, electing not only churchwardens as overseers of the parish itself, but the local constable, the surveyor of roads, and the overseer of the poor as well. A financial auditor was also appointed annually. In many places, only those who owned real property and who had paid their tithes in full could vote at the AGM; including, astonishingly enough, women. By the nineteenth century, because of their size, annual general meetings were typically held at the local pub, which may account for the reported rowdiness and clamour of AGMs in that period. Parish annual general meetings by the way eventually become the model for corporate annual meetings of stockholders. The Thirty-Nine Articles, one of the foundational documents of the Church of England, do not mention AGMs, though of course they do speak of general councils of the Church. And curiously – ominously perhaps -- the one thing the Articles tell us about such general councils of the Church is that they can -- and often do – err; a sober reminder that, except perhaps for the Ten Commandments, nothing is etched in stone. What works today in church life may not work tomorrow. Or next year. It may be bit of a stretch, but I might vote for our narrative today from the Gospel of John as a description of one of the very first annual general meetings in Christian church life. Unlike most AGMs today, however, it was apparently impromptu and meant to be a closed session event, for as the Gospel tells us, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked;” whereas AGMs today are generally open sessions at which anyone on the Electoral Roll can have their say. No word on the agenda of what was arguably the first meeting of the disciples either, although we can probably infer one. Fear was no doubt topic number-one. The text in fact makes it clear that the disciples were gathered in fear of, as the narrative indelicately states, “the Jews,” whom we can in this case take to mean the outsiders, those who are not

believers, those not among the disciples. We can be pretty sure the financial report was missing at that meeting, as was the treasurer, since Judas had alas hanged himself in despair. It seems to have been as inauspicious an AGM as one could imagine. For all the disciples knew, this little gathering might well have been not only the first AGM but very likely the last one as well. All was doom and gloom. Their Lord was crucified, dead, and buried, despite rumours of his Resurrection. One could only wonder if his message of God’s Kingdom of love and mercy had gone with him into the grave. It is into this scene of trepidation and perhaps even self-pity or despair that Jesus suddenly makes his way. The doors having been locked, it is not at all clear how he even got in – through the window or transom perhaps. But nevertheless suddenly there he is in the midst of the disciples. The mood changes immensely and immediately. As John tells us, “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” They rejoiced in other words when they recognized that all was not lost after all. Jesus’ first post-Resurrection message to those disciples gathered in fear is one of reassurance. “Peace be with you,” he says, words which resonate with us still today. And then he breathes on them. Now, it may seem a very strange thing to do: To breathe on them. But keep in mind: Dead people do not breathe. Jesus is not dead after all. And, in the language and thought of the time, the breath itself was equivalent to life and spirit; or in this case, the Spirit, of God. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” says Jesus. And, he gives them – and in some sense us too – the power to forgive. For, without forgiveness, there is no peace; a lesson we must take to heart during these troubling times of aggression and war in our neighbourhood. In the midst of it all, in the midst of our own meeting later this morning, in the midst of our individual and corporate fears about the future, stands once again the Lord of eternity with his message of peace and reconciliation. That very first AGM of the disciples seems to have turned out well enough. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus tells the gathered disciples, “so I send you.” Meetings are fine, in other words, but they are not an end unto themselves. Jesus’ true disciples, then as now, are ever people on a mission – people on-the-go -- proclaiming peace and forgiveness; proclaiming God’s mercy. Most Anglicans will remember with fondness Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who died recently. He was of course an active figure in church life and society for many decades and was equally famous for his wit and humour. On a particular occasion, apparently weary of having attended one too many synod or annual general meeting sessions, he is said to have quipped in exasperation, “We Anglicans are uniquely those Christians who go to meetings.” He may have been right. But we can only hope that each of our meetings – great synods and councils of the Church as well as humble parish AGMs such as ours today – might also be, like that meeting of the disciples long ago, a time to allow the Lord to overcome for us our fears and anxieties: A time in other words, to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” A time to forgive the past and its mistakes. And a time to be sent forth from this place, our humble home in central Budapest, into the world outside, taking with us to that world our Lord’s own greeting of hope and reassurance, “Peace be with you.”

Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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