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THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN, HENLEY-ON-THAMES

The Second Sunday of Easter

Apr 19, 2020, Author: Fr Jeremy Tayler

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Low Sunday 2020
Acts 2.14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
John 20.19-end

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

This Sunday we find Jesus’ disciples in lockdown.  They are meeting behind locked doors not because they are trying to protect themselves from a virus, but because they are afraid that Jesus’ crucifixion will be followed by a crackdown on His followers.  But the fact that they are in lockdown establishes an immediate point of contact with our own situation today, and the fact that their locked doors are no barrier to the entrance of Jesus into their midst gives us an immediate sense of comfort: our lockdown, our self-isolation, is no barrier to Jesus’ presence with us.

The natural thing for a preacher to focus on in today’s gospel is the doubt of Thomas.  And yet there is quite a lot more going on this gospel reading than just the story of Thomas.  The thing that struck me most on reading it this year has been that sense of movement from being locked in to being sent out.  The disciples are meeting on a Sunday evening, locked into the house in which they are staying.  And yet Jesus says to them “As the Father sent me, so I send you”.  A strange thing to say to people locked up in a room, with very little in the way of explanation.  And in time the disciples will make the move from being locked in to being sent out, as we heard in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

But not immediately.  Because Jesus comes to them a second time, a week later, and again finds them meeting with the doors locked.  And this time Thomas is with them, and Jesus gives him the opportunity not only to see Him, as the others have already done, but also to touch Him.  And he exclaims: “My Lord and my God”, the great confession of Jesus’ divinity that was probably the original ending to S. John’s gospel.

There is something very human in the fact that even after the first encounter with the risen Christ behind locked doors, even after Jesus has said to them “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”, even after He has breathed the Holy Spirit on them, they still continue to meet behind closed doors.  There is something very human, something in a way very reassuring for us, that it take some time for the impact of the resurrection to really make itself felt in the lives of the disciples.  Perhaps it is just too big a thing for them to come to terms with all at once.  And yet through these encounters with the risen Christ, through His glorious victory and His glorious wounds, they will cease to hide away, and they will go out into the world.

Jesus’ words to His disciples – “As the Father sent me, so I send you” – are words for His disciples for all times.  Christians have never ceased to be sent.  For some, that will mean a literal sending, a sense of physical movement, a journey, a going from one place to another.  For others, it will mean something less physically tangible, but no less real: a sense of purpose, of mission, a life lived outwards, a life lived towards others, a life bearing witness to Jesus.  And although we are physically constrained now, we continue to be sent.  We are no less “sent” than any other generation of Christians.  But understanding how we might live that out in our current circumstances is a real challenge.

For some of us lockdown presents a temptation to turn inward, to focus on ourselves and those perhaps most immediately connected with us.  It is to some extent an inevitable and understandable consequence of our isolation.  And the chance to slow down and reconnect with ourselves, the chance to develop our inner life, is not at all a bad thing.  Nor is the chance to reconnect with those who are closest to us.  But we must not forget that as Christians we are people who are sent, and we must be careful that we do not turn inwards to such an extent that we neglect that outward focus which is such an important part of our calling.  Under lockdown, there are still many ways in which it is possible for us to turn outwards.  There are various ways in which we can help and support our neighbours.  Even those of us who are compelled to self-isolate altogether can still pick up the phone to offer fellowship to a friend.  And all of us can pray, ensuring that there is that element in our prayers that is turned outwards, that is focussed on the needs of others, holding the needs of others in our hearts before God.

And we too can behind our locked doors look for the signs of Jesus’ presence among us, to strengthen us, to teach us, to inspire us, to send us out as He Himself was sent.  We may find signs of His presence in the countless acts of generosity and self-sacrifice with which people in many walks of life, and most particularly those in the medical professions, have responded to this crisis.  We may find signs of His presence in the suffering of those who are sick, of those who are lonely.  And we may too find signs of His presence when we are at prayer or study, and I hope and pray that this time of lockdown will prove have given a more powerful impetus than any sermon to help people develop patterns and practices of private prayer.  And we may even find signs of His presence most particularly when we are doubting and despondent, because in today’s gospel it is Thomas who receives the particular grace to touch the risen Lord Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.