I cannot help but think what stark parallels there are between today’s Gospel reading from John and our current situation in this country and in many countries across the world. The disciples are in ‘lockdown’, cramped in one room, fearful and downcast. They hide away thinking Jesus’ ministry has ended in failure, that the world is not changed as they thought it would be – the Romans are still in power and the people are still oppressed, there is no peace. The peace Jesus promised seems further away than ever. They thought the resurrection would transform the world but at that time it had not. They are not only fearful for their own lives but for what the future holds and how life might change. But they are also grieving, grieving for their dear and closest friend who had been a part of their lives for so long.
And then Jesus comes amongst them, into their lost, fragile and broken lives, bringing them the peace they long for, and everything changes. He knows more than anything else that what they need at this time is peace. He knows the pain and suffering they too will have to go through in this world but He stands amongst them offering hope, love, salvation and joy and they know in that instant, through the joy of seeing the risen Christ, that He will lead them through these difficult times. As Paula Gooder says: “They needed to learn how to live the resurrection, not as they expected in a world made suddenly easy and peaceful, but in a world fractured by heartache and sorrow.”
In his ministry, Paul having encountered the Risen Christ, lived the resurrection life. He not only preached to the gathered community but wrote many letters to surrounding churches, offering words of encouragement and emphasising the need to stay together and build one another up in Christ. So today, as I cannot stand before you in Church, here is my letter to you:
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
During this Easter season we face similar challenges to the disciples over 2000 years ago. We too are fearful, worried about our loved ones and what the future holds, grieving for a lost and broken world. Yet if we look to Jesus He brings us His peace because we know that through belief in Him we have hope. We as Christians know that He conquered death and dealt with all that is broken, and He brings life and love, calling His church to be the agents of His love in a broken world. Just as Christ came to the disciples and brought them His peace, the risen Christ comes to us in our fragile existence – a persistent reminder that in the words of Desmond Tutu: “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.”
Just as Christ, in that glorious moment stood before His doubting disciples and opened their eyes to His presence, giving them His peace, so the risen Christ comes to us today in the same way offering us that same peace, expecting nothing in return. He wraps His arms of love around us and wipes our tears. Just like the disciples, He knows already the wounds and troubles we’ve carried and will continue to carry and the pains and worries we feel, for He suffered Himself and so suffers with us.
We see Him in one another with all our family – physical, mental and emotional; in the lives of thousands of sick and dying, bereaved and fearful people across the world and in the tireless work of so many helping others. Christ stands among us as one who knows our pain and distress, He understands us and our needs because He ‘stood among us’ all those years ago so it is He who will bring healing and freedom and will lead us through these dark times.
It strikes me therefore that in present times we, brothers and sisters, have a simple choice: we can choose to regard this Easter as the worst Easter ever, live our lives in fear and darkness for the future, or we can remember it as it should be remembered – a beautiful time to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, a time to live in His light and love, with the sure hope of a better world.
I know it’s difficult when we see so much death and destruction, despair and hopelessness to put our trust in Christ, and this pandemic has tested the faith of many of us, but God has led His people through such times before as Scripture reveals, and so He will lead us through this too so continue to put your hope and faith in Him.
If we look at the early Church, they lived in difficult times just like today; they met in homes, not church buildings, yet despite what was going on around them they were a growing church. We too meet in our homes – via websites, video links, phone messages – to come together as community, as ‘the Body of Christ.’ The early Church must have wondered how it could spread the Good News of the resurrection and salvation, fearful for their lives, but they did so because this is what Jesus commanded them to do – ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ Brothers and sisters, this message has not changed; it is still our mission as Christians today and why we must stay together as ‘the Body of Christ’, being His hands, feet, eyes, mouth, lungs, heart to bring this message to others.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful in the future to look back on this current time as a time of growth in our Church, and not one of decline, a time when love was shared amongst us and where all those who took part in on-line worship, fellowship and prayer felt so encouraged and loved by God they found a deeper and surer faith. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if many filled our churches because they have experienced the ‘living’ Christ walking among them sharing His love through us and so they want to know more about this God who draws alongside us and is our firm hope for the future.
We must therefore never forget we are God’s children, we serve Him, and even in such difficult times should never stop rejoicing in this truth.
Today, more than ever, therefore, it is important that we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and let the world know of the joy to be found in it. When we walk in the presence of the wounded Christ, we walk with the wounded of this world. The broken body of Jesus on the cross is the place, ultimately perhaps the only place, where we will find healing and wholeness for ‘…..by his wounds you have been healed.’ (1 Peter 2:24).
Remember brothers and sisters, we are in this together. My prayer today is we will emerge from the other side of this crisis with a renewed commitment to one another and a new sense of community, with a new world which draws us together in love, the way God intended. Let us never forget to rejoice in the power of the Cross which is our symbol of hope, and all its blessings, for as Bishop Stephen Cottrell says:
“It will not go away. It stands at the centre in the universe and in a great light. And wherever you run, you will always find yourself doused in its shadow.”
Stay firm in faith, reach out to others in whatever way you can, and may Christ be with you all as you continue your journey with Him.
God Bless you all.