Simon Aley has prepared this week’s sermon. And as the Welland Fosse group of churches comes to terms with lockdown, Simon has bravely videoed/recorded himself on YouTube, if you would rather watch/listen than read/scroll.
OR read ….. RESURRECTION LOCKDOWN!!!!
Well, here we are in the middle of the coronavirus lockdown, at the heart of the Christian year and the Gospel story is another lockdown! All the disciples – well almost all of them – were in Jerusalem and, knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead – were they elated? Were they out spreading the good news? No, they were dead scared and were together in a room and following current Government advice that the best protection from the current threat is your front door – they responded by shutting and locking it from the inside locking it tight for fear – of a virus?
No, for fear of the Jews, which is a strange fear to have in one sense because the disciples were all Jews themselves! Probably this refers to Jewish authorities, or local mobs although our present lockdown leads many of us to fear ourselves too. If we go out and anyone sneezes or coughs, they are glared at shunned for fear they may have the virus. Here in Manton our walking is restricted as the Rutland Water paths are closed for fear of spreading disease.
Fear was as real then as it is now but for different reasons. The disciples had seen what happened to Jesus and were afraid that the Jews, as John puts it, would come after them next and a similar fate would befall them and we know they were right to be afraid – a similar fate did befall other disciples. People are right to take precautions now for fear of catching or spreading this deadly virus and sadly the daily statistics show the importance of staying at home to save lives. And in the midst of all this fear, the risen Jesus appears, and the clear implication is that he didn’t knock, and the door was not unlocked. So, did this appearance reassure the disciples? I would be surprised if it did at first? ‘How did you get here?’ and ‘What, who are you?’ might all be questions the frightened disciples would ask and we get a clue that these were their concerns as Jesus has to reassure them he is who they think he is – they need evidence. After saying “Peace be with you” he shows them his hands and his side where the nails went through to address their doubts. And note from verse 20 there is no criticism of their doubt: there will be criticism but that comes later, but for now as Jesus enters this locked room he faces and answers their doubts and shows the evidence they need.
And Jesus gives the disciples authority to forgive sins in the power of the Holy Spirit which the disciples receive there and then. Now some people question this. Surely the Holy Spirit came 50 days later – Pentecost – that’s what it means – this must be wrong? No, the Holy Spirit has always been here as part of the Godhead. The Hebrew Bible’s name for the Holy Spirit is Ruach which means breath or wind. The Day of Pentecost recounts a dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit which had always been around but now came with power.
So, the disciples who have seen and touched the evidence of Christ’s resurrection are keen to share this with Thomas who was not there and did not see what happened. So, when they meet, they tell him. And this is the difference. This is why Thomas is chided, albeit gently when he meets Jesus, after being told by the other disciples what they had seen, what they had touched and Thomas’ fault lies in the shortest word in his response, at least in our language. The word “I”. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Regardless of the testimony evidence of what he is told by his fellow disciples; unless he sees, he touches, he feels he has no evidence he cannot believe.
And when they meet, Jesus lets Thomas see and touch and feel and Thomas stops doubting and believes and worships “My Lord and my God!” and Thomas is chided and told “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Thomas had all the evidence he should need – eyewitness accounts from his fellow disciples whom he should have trusted. This is important because in John’s Gospel, nothing is there by accident. At the end of this chapter we are told that what is written is there that we might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’. John chooses three resurrection appearances for specific reasons and this one is to address fear and doubt that we might believe.
We have our doubts too and we demand evidence. Evidence for doubts as to whether or not this pandemic will ever end and when and the consequences of it all. Will life ever be the same again? Where is God in all this and what are and where are those faith handles, we cling to at such a time? If God is active now why is this person or that person not being protected?
I want to suggest that this lockdown is a great opportunity for all of us to get to grips with some of those questions, to face some of those doubts head on and pray, study and listen to God for ways through these doubts and questions so that we can grow and be stronger in our faith with our roots as Paul said “being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17). It is at times like this that we need our faith handles to encourage us and sustain us. Books like the Gospel of John written just for this purpose. The problem it seems is there are so many areas of doubt in the Christian faith!!, so many questions and demands for evidence. Even the resurrection itself.
I am often reminded reading this passage of a great book written by the English writer and advertising legal practitioner, Frank Morrison 90 years ago in 1930 and remains print, which I commend to you. He set out to write a book discrediting the resurrection of Jesus to find out as the title of his book suggests “Who Moved the Stone?” But as he researched and read his mind changed and he found faith. In an embarrassing call to his publishers Faber and Faber he warned them that this book he had promised would not be as they had expected because he now firmly believed in the resurrection. The, by now relieved publisher responded – that’s great Frank, what will be the title of your book now? Oh no said Frank, the title remains the same! Frank Morrison worked through his doubts and looked at the evidence and found a faith handle. The disciples’ faith handle was to see and touch his nail scarred hands and speared side. What will be the faith handle for each of us?
Finally, armed with those faith handles, what will we do about it? Jesus is very clear to those disciples in lockdown “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (v.20) According tradition, Thomas got that and travelled to India, preached the Gospel, founded a church and was martyred in Chennai, formerly Madras.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” – what does that mean for us in lockdown and beyond? The answer is found in what it meant for Jesus Christ.
- He came into the world as a poor Person
- He came as a Servant
- He emptied Himself
- He delighted to do the Father’s will
- He identified Himself with humanity
- He went about doing good
- He did everything by the power of the Holy Spirit
- His goal was the cross
And now He said to the disciples and he says to us in lockdown, “I also send you.”
So, I guess we had better get ourselves ready. AMEN