Sunday Worship - 11th April
Welcome to this morning's Worship service.
Worship today is led by Tanya Cook (also available via zoom at 10:00 a.m.)
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Below you can find this weeks Message. Click here to find the whole worship sheet.
“Is it true?”. Thomas needed to know! Is Jesus really alive?
Our first reading today spoke of unity – of God’s people living together in harmony. It struck me that throughout the ages the church has known division – certainly not what Jesus would have wanted. But the one thing that does unite us all is the Easter story – the resurrection story. Psalm 133 tells us “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God's people to live together in harmony! It is like the dew on Mount Hermon, falling on the hills of Zion.” That last line seems to be an analogy for God’s grace coming down to the world and all people. So what has that to do with our second reading? Jesus wanted those confused and scared disciples and subsequently his church to know and experience that grace and that unity. We know that they were locked away in fear for their lives afraid of what the Jewish authorities might do to them if they found them - a dejected and probably quarrelsome group. I think Jesus needed to restore the unity of the disciples. The disciples must have been going through all manner of emotions at the shocking events that had occurred – Judas Iscariot, one of their own, had betrayed Jesus – then there followed his subsequent unjust trial and the events leading up to his crucifixion and death. Put yourself in their shoes – how would you deal with all of that and still be able to function within a group without disharmony of some kind occurring.
So when Jesus first appeared to the disciples Thomas wasn’t there - we can only speculate why. Perhaps his love of Jesus and the fact that he would have been happy to die with him or for him made him fearless, maybe he just wanted to grieve alone away from the others, maybe he was just completely shattered by Jesus death – his friend gone, his life changed beyond belief – what was he going to do now?
I am always intrigued by Thomas. I don’t see him as a negative person or doubter – I see him as a realist, a man who wants justice - isn’t that something that as Christians we all want – justice, fairness, equality, freedom and acceptance. Thomas needs to know the truth, to see things clearly and when he does he shows complete loyalty. His trust in Jesus is documented in other places in the gospels. In John 11 – the story of the death of Lazarus – when Jesus says he is going back to Judea the disciples try to discourage him by reminding him of the attempts to stone him on his previous visit. But Jesus insists on going and Thomas responds with “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. Some writers suggest that this was said sarcastically but I don’t believe that to be true. To me it suggests that Thomas had complete faith, hope, trust in, and love for Jesus – and he was genuinely prepared to die for him or with him. Thomas also appeared to be the practical and analytical disciple. In John’s Gospel Chapter 14 v 5 Thomas asks the logical question “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus reply was perhaps one of the most famous verses in the Bible “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me”.
But Jesus appeared to the disciples, alive. He showed them his wounds - even in his resurrected body those wounds were visible. They must have been completely shocked – how could Jesus be alive again? He had died. He’d been placed in a sealed tomb. How had he managed to get through locked door? We are told simply that they “were overjoyed when they saw the Lord”. So when Thomas met with the disciples later he was sceptical when they told him that they had seen Jesus. Perhaps he thought that they were having a joke at his expense – was this just fake news?
Fake news – something we are all becoming more and more familiar with in modern society. Social media has caused it to escalate and scams have become even more commonplace during the pandemic. The sad thing is that people are taken in by fake news. We’ve probably all heard some of the scaremongering about the covid vaccination or had phone calls telling us we’ll be arrested for income tax fraud or something similar if we don’t press 1 and give our bank details. I’m still awaiting my impending arrest for that one.
You get the feeling that Thomas had been pranked and teased by the other disciples at times and wasn’t impressed by it. He responded with those immortal words “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”. Thomas was the analyst, the practical man who needed to see and to know how things worked but who was always unflinchingly loyal to Jesus.
A few days later Jesus made that return appearance, in the same way through the locked doors. Was this purely for Thomas’ benefit? I think Jesus return this time was out of love for Thomas so that he wasn’t excluded and still filled with uncertainty. Jesus invited Thomas to see and touch his wounds. We’re not told if Thomas did touch Jesus’ wounds – I’m sure that seeing Jesus alive again was sufficient for Thomas who simply uttered those words “my Lord and my God”.
The sentence which we often overlook in that reading reminds us that Jesus breathed on the disciples and said “Receive the Holy Spirit”. It had little effect initially – perhaps on a slow burn as they absorbed all the events they had been through and witnessed – but which culminated at Pentecost.
Where does that leave us? We haven’t seen Jesus – yet we believe? Or do we sometimes feel uncertain about our faith? Thomas remained with the disciples despite his uncertainties and it’s vital that we support each other in unity through difficult times and through uncertainty. Jesus effectively came to Thomas calling him by name and quashed his uncertainty. I am reminded of Easter morning when Jesus called Mary Magdalene by name. Perhaps in the last year with the trials of the coronavirus pandemic we have felt shrouded in darkness and uncertainty, at times feeling like Thomas and the disciples that hope has been lost and that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But we can say with Thomas “It is true, Jesus is alive” and with us today in Spirit. The resurrected Jesus is calling each one of us by name despite our human failings, our doubts and inhibitions. He offers the gift which he left for his disciples in that locked room and again at Pentecost for all people for all time – the Holy Spirit - and he equips us for whatever he asks of us. In Matthew 7 v 7 we are assured "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” He invites each one of us to journey with him, to listen for his voice, to allow him to be our source of hope, our anchor and our guide in everything we say and do.
So my question to you today is - where are you on your journey with Jesus?” Have you found the risen Christ who loves you, offers you hope and forgiveness and makes you complete just as he did for each one of those disciples? Can you say with Thomas “My Lord and my God”. The Easter story isn’t just history from 2000 years ago – it’s an ongoing story throughout the ages, one we can each be a part of as we seek Jesus and allow him into our lives and journey together with him. Are you seeking him, looking for him? Is he calling you by name today? “Seek and you will find!” Amen