Address by Rev Donald Dowling
Title: Through locked doors and closed minds
Welcome everyone wherever you are. I am sure that those who are regular worshippers are very sad that we cannot gather together to celebrate this season. And yet in a strange way this passage from the gospel we have heard today is very appropriate for our situation. Most of us are shut in, some of us may be in complete lockdown and probably missing very much our friends and families. The consolation is that we live in a time when we can communicate and meet through our phones and the Internet. However, not being able to gather together in worship to shake hands or hug one another depending on your temperament is frustrating and perhaps distressing.
Christianity is a communal faith, not merely a personal set of values. The church expresses its nature in speaking of being the body of Christ. Of course, we can be aware through the Spirit of brothers and sisters in Christ and whatever else we are not cut off from God. Nonetheless it helps us when we join together in prayer, worship, celebration, and action. But today we are like those 1st disciples on that Sunday; evening locked in. Like them we have our own fears and anxieties for ourselves and those whom we love. Their very real fear was that they would be discovered and hauled off to prison and even to death because they were followers of Jesus. It is worth reminding ourselves that many Christians today also have to keep a low profile if they are not to be persecuted. Our situation is different because of the danger of infection by a virus that can be deadly, and for which at the moment there is no remedy. Of course, there are those who are working at considerable risk to themselves to ensure that that those who have contracted the virus or are very vulnerable can be treated and supported. Some of you may be carers or who work to ensure that we can remain at home in safety with our essential needs met. One blessing of this outbreak is to realise how so many people have shown courage, dedication, and love to ensure the health and well-being of us all. Some of the stories are incredible demonstrating that society can pull together and enable people to live their lives despite the pandemic. They deserve our prayers and gratitude.
But to return to our theme. That small group huddled together in fear and hope trying to make sense of the events of Good Friday and then the incredible stories they had heard earlier that day. They had watched Jesus die a horrific death. Many of them were filled with remorse over what they had done or failed to do. Yet some had helped with his burial in the tomb. They had spent the sabbath grieving and distraught–they had had such hopes. Despite their failures they had really loved Jesus, and seen him as their Messiah. It seemed as if all their cherished dreams and hopes had been smashed until the women came up with the news that the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive. Was Jesus alive or were they dreaming? And then Jesus burst into that locked room as he had burst from the tomb. Was it a ghost? A hallucination? No! He shows them his hands and his side, and speaks his Shalom, his peace. He was alive, risen from the dead! They were overcome with joy. But they saw him too with fresh eyes for this Jesus was bridging heaven and earth. Not only did he witness to the truth of the resurrection, he revealed traces of that resurrection life. Time and space were no barriers to the Lord of life. But Thomas wasn’t there.
Sometimes, I think, we are unduly harsh about Thomas. He carries the nickname doubting, as if we had never doubted? The John’s gospel reveals a rather more complex view of the disciple. He has a dour courage for when Jesus announces that he would finally go to visit Lazarus and his sisters, others warn them of the danger in going towards Jerusalem. But Thomas persuades the others to set out on the journey saying “Let us go with him in order that we might die with him”. We do not know why Thomas isn’t present on the 1st occasion, but nonetheless he agrees to join the others on the 2nd Sunday. However, he is not prepared to simply accept the testimony of the others that Jesus has risen. He needs evidence. And he is in a line of witnesses in this gospel. NathaniaJ won’t take Andrew’s word for it that Jesus is the Messiah. Those of the Samaritan village only come to settled belief when they meet and speak with Jesus. The woman at the well has raised their curiosity, but the presence of Jesus has confirmed their faith. Thomas must see that the Jesus whom he had seen crucified and buried still bears in his hands and side the marks of the cross. He needs to be persuaded. There are many who in their journey of faith doubt the testimony of others. One of the most notable was CS Lewis a convinced atheist who doubted the existence of God probably, among other things, because of his experience in the trenches. In his company is also Prof CEM Joad, who for many years had been a critic of the Christian faith. Frank Morrison was a distinguished lawyer who set out seeking to disprove the truth of the Christian narrative of the resurrection and ended up by being convinced of its truth. It is good we have such a one as Thomas in the gospel accounts. However he was not into playing games; he wanted to believe but needed to be convinced that it was true. So, when Jesus burst into that room the 2nd time he not only broke through the doors he broke through the barriers in Thomas’s mind so effectively that Thomas had to cry out my Lord and my God.
In this time of crisis and fear we need those who will explain the Christian faith with clarity and passion, especially to those who have doubts about the goodness of God, the power of God, the reality of God. I believe that this season could be a time of rich harvest despite the fear, despite the fact that we worship behind closed doors. For the Easter message goes out through the dedication and example of Christians who serve their neighbour, or demonstrate to friends and patients alike in in the care homes or hospitals, or through churches opening up to the wider community through the Internet and showing the reality of their faith in the risen Lord. Amen
Message from “webmaster” In the Edit Post page the sermon is there, and the Gospel reading, but the post as it appears has them missing. Also audio files which are inserted in the intended place appear in the wrong place!! Help, please!!