This week’s letter is written by Alice Smith
Dear Church Family,
It was a wonderful culmination of our Lent and Holy Week journey to be able to gather last Sunday, with our churches open, to celebrate the Risen Jesus. Whether you were with us in person at one of our three services in our two churches across the day or joining in online via the 9.30am Live on Facebook, it was a day of great joy and celebration, with wonderful music, preaching and energy. Tears, smiles (behind masks!) excited chatter from children, waves during the peace and for some, receiving communion for the first time in many months. So much to be thankful for as we also continue to pray for our community, for the vaccine rollout and for those who are unable to return to worship yet.
This Sunday which follows is sometimes called Low Sunday, coming as it does after the pinnacle of Easter Sunday and the ending of the Easter feasts and celebrations. For many children, it is also the day before they return to school again for a new term, never a fun day in our household! It has certainly been a quieter week in the Rectory, as we’ve taken some time to pause Morning Prayer online and to sleep, walk, read, eat chocolate and rest.
The Gospel reading this Sunday focuses on Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the upper room and on Thomas, traditionally called ‘Doubting’ because of his insistence in seeing the wounds on Jesus’ hand and side before he would believe the tales of the other disciples. In the evening service of Prayer and Praise last Sunday, I encouraged those joining us to put themselves in the shoes of the disciples walking to Emmaus, and those who had stayed behind in Jerusalem, yet to see Jesus in his risen form. We considered how they must have been feeling, the fears they were facing, the disappointment of everything going wrong around them, what they were still seeking, the magnitude of it all.
So often, in these well-known stories around Easter, we can forget the human reactions because we’ve heard it all before and we know what happens next – but there is always something new to see as God reveals and speaks to us. Andy’s sermon last Sunday focused on Jesus’ question to Mary in the garden by the tomb, ‘Why are you weeping?’, reminding us that Jesus notices and is interested in the human response, not the polished answer or well-presented view we might offer. He knows what we need – and he brings peace: John 20:19-21
And so, in this same pattern of very human reactions, fears and concerns, we meet Thomas in John 20:24. Thomas had missed out on Jesus’ previous visit and so hadn’t seen the wounds or been in Jesus’ presence as he promised peace and the breath of the Holy Spirit. But on this visit, one week later, Jesus again brings His peace and immediately offers Thomas the tangible reassurance and confirmation that he needs. Jesus does not shy away from Thomas’ questions or doubts, he doesn’t chastise him for being slow to ‘get it’. He is compassionate and responds to Thomas’ needs as only God can. This account of how Thomas refused to believe that Jesus rose from the dead is not recorded to make us mock Thomas – in fact I rather dislike the nickname he ends up attached to of ‘Doubting Thomas’. Rather this conversation and encounter is there to remind us that Jesus works with us in our doubts and questions and through this our faith can grow. His was a testimony that recognised more than anybody else who Jesus really was: God in human flesh.
I hope that you are reassured by Thomas this week and by the myriad of questions and emotions that the Easter characters all demonstrate! We are not chasing after a God who is trying to trick us or catch us out, checking that we’ve got all our beliefs neatly in order but a God who brings his peace to our questions and faces them head-on. Jesus reaches out his hands and his feet and indeed, his whole body, to show us just how much he loves us.
In response, I believe that we also, as a wider church family need to be a place where questions can be asked and answered with kindness, not defensiveness as we each take further steps on our journey of faith. We have all had had different encounters with Jesus over our lives – so don’t assume that everyone who gathers online or in-person each week believes the same as you or is in the same place as you! That is all part of being the big family of God – adopted at different ages and stages and bringing our whole selves, questions, doubts, and all we are into worship and community and life together and allowing God to transform us by his presence and his faithfulness.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer frames it:
“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveller.”
Have a wonderful week ahead.
With every blessing,