This pattern of reflection is designed to encourage us to deepen our understanding of what it means for us to be an Easter people in this strange Easter season.
- Have you ever been “locked-out”? What did it feel like?
- Read this week’s passage.
- Keep a few moments of silence
- Read the passage through a second timeWhat word or phrase strikes you or stands out for you?
- Read the passage a third time
- Think about what that phrase might mean to you and what questions it raises.
Jesus and Thomas – John 20: 19-29
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
One of my favourite collections of children’s stories are the “Alfie” stories by Shirley Hughes. One of these – Alfie gets in first – begins with Alfie racing down the pavement to get home, pursued his care worn mother managing Alfie’s little sister Annie-Rose in the pram and the shopping. Alfie proudly gets home first, then helps to open the door as his mother prepares to ferry the shopping, pram, and Annie-Rose up the steps from the street to the front door. But before this can be achieved, Alfie proclaiming his victory – “I’ve won, I’ve won” – slams the door in triumph, locking him in, and everyone else out.
Realising what he has done Alfie begins to cry. His mother, balancing Annie-Rose, tries to open the door whilst consoling Alfie through the letter box. A neighbour comes across the street to help, but to no avail. Maureen McNally, the big-girl from across the street, offers to shimmy up a drainpipe to climb through a window. Then the milkman, and then the window cleaner come to help. But Alfie remains locked in. Then the resourceful Alfie calms down, gets a chair, and opens the door. The story finishes with Alfie’s would be saviours sharing a cup of tea in the kitchen whilst Annie-Rose plays on one’s knee, and Alfie look on, relieved but happy.
Much of our world is living behind literal and metaphorical locked doors. Well over 100 countries have instituted some form of lock-down affecting the lives of billions of people. We are now entering the fifth week of formal lock down in this country and looking at the reality of some form of limitation on our movement for the rest of this year at least. We are, in many ways, like Alfie, suddenly and unexpectedly behind a locked door.
Our reading this week, the second of the resurrection appearances we are examining through this Easter season, is, in many ways, a parable for a locked down world. Most of us know this story as the story of doubting Thomas, but I don’t, at least for now, want to focus on Thomas’ part in the story. Rather I want to focus on the fact that the disciples are living in fear, in a form of self-imposed isolation; they are living in lock-down.
This is clearly and important fact. We are told twice in the reading that disciples were behind locked doors: initially on the evening of that first Easter day, and then a week later. At first sight it would be easy to read this detail as dramatic scene setting. It tells us about the fear the disciples were living with and heightens the drama of Jesus’s appearance amongst them. However, for me the locked doors are an important detail in the story not for what they tell us about the scene or the disciples, but what they tell us about who God is in the Risen Christ.
In both of his appearances Jesus in this story shows the disciples his wounds, in the case of Thomas challenging him to put his fingers in the holes and his hand in his side. This again is there to tell us something about God. What we encounter is not a ghostly apparition, but Jesus in the physical reality of his Resurrection body standing amongst his disciples saying, “Peace be with you”. What we are told is that, even behind these locked doors, all of Jesus is present with the disciples. Experiencing this new reality, despite his initial incredulity and doubt, Thomas sees to the heart of this Resurrection appearance.
Thomas answered Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’
In our locked-down world it is easy for us to feel like Alfie, suddenly and unexpectedly alone, behind a locked door, with others trying to get in and help. But in our locked-down world we need to have the courage and faith to be like Thomas and recognise that, in the words of our Collect for today, for our risen Lord, “no door is locked, no entrance barred.” That even behind the closed doors of our lock-down lives, we need to have the faith to know that all of God is with us.
At the end of our Sunday morning service we sang George Herbert’s wonderful hymn “Let all the world”. This Hymn, which echoes Thomas’ exclamation, calls on us to proclaim again and again “My God and King”. If you listen to Vaughn-Williams’ setting of these words you get the urgency of this call even more vividly. What Herbert reminds us, is that in the resurrection there is nowhere in creation – not the heavens above, nor the earth below – where God, in all of Gods-self, is not with us. And, perhaps most powerfully for us, in this locked-down world, we are charged to proclaim this truth:
The church with psalms must shout,
No door can keep them out:
- What have you found most challenging about the lock-down?
- Have there been any unexpected gifts of this lock-down?
- How might we share those gifts with others and help them know God is with us in our locked-down world?
- You might like to gather this time of personal or collective reflection in prayer by saying the prayer for the Parishes by the Wall or your own prayers.
- We finish by saying the Lord’s Prayer