Sunday 19 April Sermon Fr Nick and Reflection by Rev'd Arani Sen
Sermon on John 20 vs 19-End - Fr Nick Mottershead
Having a faith is at times way much harder that anyone told me. To believe in something we can’t see or detect with our senses, something we don’t think we can touch, and yet we endeavour to allow it to shape every aspect of our life ..... It seems so hard at times to me at least or is it that I just make it hard over complicate it?
Look at life today…..how is it that, in such a short amount of time, so many of us now truly believe that social distancing makes a difference; that wearing a face mask will keep us safe; that this latest 3 weeks’ lock down will be the last. Well maybe not the last one!
I had to go out on an essential journey in my car yesterday and clearly some of the large number of people in the local high street didn’t believe in social distancing. Yet the vast majority of people have believed and for 4 weeks now, largely physically isolated themselves from friends, work colleagues and their social groups.
I am fascinated as to what it is that has helped so many believe and change the way they live so dramatically.
Is it a fear of death, yet we are told it is really the old or already unwell who are most at risk
…a fear of £30+ fines. Not normally society’s greatest deterrent
…or is it finally a recognition of our role in protecting the weak or vulnerable?
But just like those taking non-essential trips to our high streets, or those groups picnicking out in the sun, a faith in the risen Christ can be hard at times for some. To believe in something we can’t see or detect with our senses, something we don’t think we can touch something that should impact every part of our life.
Most of us I am sure have a favourite story or passage from scripture. Reading about Thomas is one of my favourites as I realise I am not alone in my struggle in picking when and where I let my faith rule my life and so often it is my life ruling my faith…..
The disciples had been with Jesus for a few years, and yet as Rowan Williams comments in his book on Mark, so often they were baffled, dismayed, bewildered and silenced even and we too can be like the disciples at one brief moment we “see and grasp the reality of Jesus and think we have mastered combining faith and life” and then it slips through our fingers and it feels like we begin again. And then we have Thomas, perhaps having even more in common with many of us today, He hadn’t been there when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus he hadn’t been there when Jesus appeared to the other 11 disciples a week earlier he needs more evidence before he will believe.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it”.
I wonder do we have moments like Thomas? perhaps having these doubts today more than ever before
Most of us know someone, or know someone who knows someone who has died as a result of coronavirus. Most of us know someone, or know someone who knows someone who has had a funeral impacted by coronavirus such an important part of our Christian fellowship. Why would God allow this? where is he in the day to day struggles of our most vulnerable those dying alone those struggling with work, family, sickness? When we see or find ourselves in these situations, are we like Thomas?
Do we lay down a challenge to Jesus to prove he is there,to let us touch those wounds?
Our faith will decide how we respond. So we ask Jesus to do more for us or do we need to do more ourselves?
In my prayer and reflection on Friday, I quoted Dallas Willard the American philosopher who said
“Our concentration on Jesus will be strengthened by memorization of great passages (not just verses) from Scripture. This practice of memorizing the Scriptures is more important than a daily quiet time, for as we fill our minds with these great passages and have them available for our meditation, “quiet time” takes over the entirety of our lives”
We have so much time on our hands now but yet, how much quiet time on scripture are we allocating each day? I think part of the challenge is recognising that we are often afraid of meditating on scripture….. just in case Jesus speaks to us?
Just in case he says ‘touch these wounds…stop doubting and believe” But what happens to us in those moments when we doubt? Jesus wasn’t angry, Jesus came to Thomas. When the other disciples needed Jesus he came to their aid too. He calms the storm for them; He takes Peter’s hand to stop him sinking and Jesus can do that for us too. Just like He appeared to the disciples He didn’t ask them why they were hiding behind locked doors, or why they hadn’t listened to Mary Magdalene. He said simply Shalom, ‘Peace be with you’.
The risen Christ meets each of us as he did Thomas and asks, in that moment, at our most difficult time what is it that we need? Jesus accepted the disciples for who they were, just like Jesus accepts each of us for who we are. The disciples went from a confused, doubting and at times frightened bunch into a group that transformed the world. It is in those moments when we are struggling with our faith, that we should remember,. we are all just the sort of people that Jesus chooses so that we, and all those in need shall be saved. .. and that’s more important today that ever.
Reflection Rev'd Arani Sen
John 20: 19 -31
In 1987, Terry Waite, serving as a hostage negotiator, on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, travelled to Lebanon to negotiate the release of hostages. While in Beirut, he himself was taken hostage, and spent almost five years in captivity, four of which were in solitary confinement. During his time in prison, he was blindfolded, beaten, and subjected to mock executions. For much of the time, he remained chained to a wall in a room without daylight.
Terry Waite may have spent much time in doubt - doubt that he could ever be free, doubt that he would ever see his children again, doubt that he would remain alive. Yet, through faith, prayer and the prayers of others, his doubt turned to joy, as he was finally released in 1991. In the power of the crucified and risen Christ, he pronounced a very profound edict on forgiveness:
“You can forgive, of course, and I do forgive – of course I do. That doesn’t mean to say you agree with what was done. That’s a different matter altogether.”
In the gospel today, we focus on Thomas, known as doubting Thomas. We should not belittle or demean Thomas, after all, he had witnessed the most brutal and cruel execution of his Lord. The disciples are fearful, doubting the future. They are locked in an upper room, afraid to go out, afraid of being taken captive themselves.
Thomas has heard from Mary Magdalene, “I have seen my Lord” but probably writes this off as a dream-like fantasy. But now, Jesus returns to his disciples, when they need him the most, when they are at their most vulnerable, and he offers them his peace. The last time they had seen this body and this face, they witnessed torture, deformity, and bloodshed. But now this resurrected body is wholeness itself; after his greeting, Jesus shows them his scars; they see the miracle of the resurrection.
Thomas still cannot believe this is Jesus: “Unless I see and touch the scars in his hands and plunge my own hand in that hole on his side, I will not believe it.” We cannot dismiss Thomas, in our rational thought processes. We, like Thomas, demand proof, the proof through three of our senses: seeing, touching, hearing. For us, the miracle is sensing, sensing the breath of the risen Christ through the gentle outpouring of the Spirit, bringing us reassurance, peace, and God’s presence.
The resurrected Christ, ever mindful of those he has chosen and loved, reveals himself completely to Thomas a week later. The disciples are all together again, Thomas among them, when Jesus appears again, this time to call them to his mission. He has come towards Thomas, turning to him immediately. “Bring your finger here and see my hands; bring your hand and plunge it in my side.”
Thomas, without needing to touch, cries out the one declaration of belief that matters: “My Lord and my God.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus comes to us in our doubts and in our darkness, in our sufferings and our pains, and through the power of prayer, we encounter the resurrected Jesus who breathes the gentle gift of his Spirit on those who love him. That breath gives us life, gives us hope, gives us strength, to face every moment of this life on earth.