Preached by Lesley McCormack on Sunday 3rd April 2016 at St Peter & St Paul and St Michael and All Angels.
(holding up Bible) This is God’s story, the story of God’s interaction with his beloved creation. But this is also our story, this is our song and now in the Easter season, we revel in the most astonishing and glorious part of the story of God’s dealings with his children, with the song of Miriam and Moses still ringing in our ears – “I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph, glorious his triumph! I will sing to the Lord”.
But not all are singing, it appears. Some are in hiding, behind locked doors. Hiding, we are told from fear of the Jews. Yet they themselves are Jews, the one who led them was himself a Jew. Perhaps it was the Jewish religious authorities that gave them cause to fear for Jesus had threatened the structures, purpose and the very meaning of the Jerusalem Temple at a fundamental level. Or perhaps it was fear of the Romans, for accounts in Josephus indicate that the Romans would kill the followers as well as the leader of any Messianic group to ensure that the sedition did not spread, for holding on to power at all costs – that is what mattered to the Romans.
But mention of a locked door might also have been the means by which John was communicating something about Jesus resurrection body – a body that could still eat bread and fish and yet profoundly different, no longer constrained by the limits of time and space.
But I also wonder if they were, in a way, hiding from God – like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? For what was the last thing they did before the arrest of Jesus? They fled, they denied knowing him, they turned their backs even though so shortly before they had said they would die for him! But now their friend and leader, the one who had so inspired and encouraged them – he is dead, the body gone from the tomb. And if that wasn’t enough, Mary Magdalene has told them that she has seen Him! None of it makes any sense – utterly incomprehensible.
Then suddenly, into this room where fear-filled men had gathered (but also it must be remembered the fearless Mary of Magdala who had come to them with extraordinary news) into this room, even though the door is locked, Jesus is there in the middle of them. He doesn’t say what might have been expected – it doesn’t say ‘Well, where did you all go’ or ‘Why did you abandon me when you professed such loyalty!’. No, nothing like that – rather, he looks at them and says ‘Peace be with you’. He shows them his hands and his side, presumably with the mark of the nails and the cut of the spear and again he speaks – ‘Peace be with you’. They are words that remind us of the words so often used by God when he introduces himself or his messengers – ‘ Do not be afraid’.
These are words that are so much more than a greeting or words of reassurance; they are words that offer release from that which binds – be it fear, or doubt; guilt or shame; or any of the many things that serve at different times to bind and paralyse. These are words that give courage and energy; words that unlock doors. ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ says Jesus. The disciples are to continue the work begun in Jesus. They cannot, must not remain behind closed doors or the resurrection will mean absolutely nothing. John Dominic Crossan in his book The Resurrection of Jesus, says that the Resurrection is less about the exultation of Christ, and more about the transformation of the world, about collaborating with the ‘non-violent God of justice and peace’. These people who are confused, unsure, doubting and struggling to understand are the same people that Jesus sends out to continue his work. And he empowers them for this work he calls them to do.
There is a wonderfully intimate moment which again resonates with Genesis, for here in Johns Gospel there is no roaring wind or tongues of fire; rather the gift of the Holy Spirit is given quietly – He breathes on them and in that moment I imagine an experience of such closeness. The breath of the Divine inspiring, empowering, energising these disciples. We are drawn back to that image of God in the Garden of Eden breathing life into the first human being. Here we witness the new creation.
Meanwhile, Thomas has been conspicuous by his absence, and is, it seems, not unlike many of us at times, struggling with his own doubts. The other disciples share their experience with him, but he remains unconvinced by either their stories or their transformation from defeat to joy. ‘No! Unless I can see the marks of the nails and see the hole in His side made by the spear, I will not believe!’
A week passes, and then, through closed doors, ‘though no longer locked, Jesus is among them once more with those same words ‘peace be with you’ and immediately offers Thomas the opportunity to do what he said he needed to do. But that offer was enough for Thomas; he is able to make what is the first full profession of faith in the divinity of Christ in the Gospel and proclaims ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus turns to Thomas and says ‘have you believed because you have seen me?’ Then it is as if he turns to me, to you to all of us …….’Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.’
In that moment, Jesus steps out of this story we are reading directly into our lives. This is our story, this is our song, a song sung in the continuing hope and power of the resurrection.
The reality of the resurrection is lived out and sung in every small step that is taken to push back the darkness of violence and injustice in our world; it is lived out and sung in every small action that shines like a light in the dark places of peoples lives and the lives of communities. The reality of the resurrection is made visible in efforts of young people like Katy Campbell who threw us a challenge to help her support Care4Calais and put together boxes of food and provisions for refugees living in camps in Calais. It is made visible in the commitment of our volunteers who, week by week push back the darkness of injustice by making soup and providing nourishment, friendship and companionship to people who have little or nothing. It is made visible through the love of friends, and neighbours; through the forgiveness of those we have hurt or wronged; through the constant love and support of those nearest and dearest to us; through the countless acts of generosity, kindness and compassion expressed in so many different ways in the ongoing worship, mission and ministry of this community.
Belief in the Resurrection is what drove Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter in Lampedusa to go down to the shoreline and gather wood – the broken fragments of a boat carrying Eritrean refugees wrecked at sea off the islands coast in 2011. He went in search of the debris after meeting some of the survivors in his parish church; people grieving for their drowned relatives and friends. At his carpenters bench he made small crosses from the salvaged wood to give to these people who had lost everything; crosses of wood that smelt of the sea and in which he recognised something of the holy. He then made a large cross to hang in the church as a constant reminder of the suffering of refugees, but also a reminder to them, and to all who looked upon it, of their rescue.
A member of the British Museum heard Signor Tuccio describing his work; deeply moved she made contact with him and, unbeknown to the museums director Neil MacGregor, asked if he would make a cross for their collection. Some while later, a parcel arrived. What she unwrapped was a rough cross, bearing flakes of the blue and yellow paint that had once adorned another boat, one wrecked in October 2013 with the loss of 366 lives.
Two things happened as a direct result: Mr. MacGregor accepted the cross as the last item to enter the collection under his supervision; and the Italian Navy initiated its Mare Nostrum sea-rescue mission. That simple blue and yellow cross serves as a sign of the solidarity of those who, having little themselves, cannot turn away from the plight of those washed up on their shores. That is the power of the resurrection.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!