Sermon from Sunday 24th April from Nikki Firth

I would like to ask you to cast your minds back to last week, Easter Sunday. Where were you? how did you mark the day? was it a day of celebration? I know for many of us we came together either onsite in this church, or online – we sang joyfully and enthusiastically joined in proclaiming Alleluia He is risen. But what happened next, where do we find ourselves now?

Today’s Gospel reading begins with 10 of the remaining 11 disciples, the evening of that first Easter. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ; she had been and told the 11 disciples what she has seen and heard. Last week, they thought it was just an idle tale, apart from Peter who ran to the tomb and was amazed. It doesn’t say so, but I am sure he too must have returned to the 10 and told them what he had seen, yet here they are, hiding in a locked room, from fear of the Jews. The only one who is not locked away, is the one so often and rather unfairly referred to as ‘doubting’ Thomas – I can’t help but wonder where Thomas was and why he was not also locked away and hiding like the others.

Then suddenly, standing among them appears Jesus, this must have been utterly terrifying for them – they probably wondered at first who this man was and how on earth he had got in through the locked doors. The first words Jesus speaks is ‘peace be with you’ now, knowing what had happened over the last few days, they had failed to stay awake with Him in the garden, they had denied him, ran away and now are locked in a room hiding – despite Mary telling them that he had risen. Jesus speaks peace over them, He sees them fully and forgives them. He knows that they will be struggling to comprehend, so He shows them His hands and His side, the scars of His sacrifice.

Jesus has been betrayed, suffered, died and was buried, He had been to the depths of Hell and stands among them raised to life – yet we do not see his body repaired to perfection, in fact it is by His wounds that they recognise Him. He uses the scars to show who He is, it is not to be forgotten, but to be celebrated. It reminds me of the Japanese art of kintsugi, where things that have been broken are put back together using gold, the cracks and scars are not to be hidden away, they are to be celebrated, the object is once again whole. It may look different, yet it is still beautiful and once again has purpose. I wonder what our own scars and wounds may be, that we carry and how can our own wounds become proof of new life?

The next thing He does is incredible, He breathes onto them. Now most of us know that having someone breathe on you is pretty uncomfortable, especially during these days of pandemic – but the breath of Jesus does not bring fear, it brings new life. I just love how this reflects the creation story, when God took the dust and breathed Adam to life.

Whilst Jesus had left the tomb empty and was out in the world, the disciples had created their own tomb, locking themselves away, hiding, with fear, shame and confusion. They may have been alive physically, but spiritually they were dead.

After hearing what happened, Thomas had told the disciples that unless he sees and touches the marks of the wounds, he would not believe.

Now you would think that Jesus appearing to them in a locked room, declaring peace and breathing new life into them would be pretty life changing right? Why are they still stuck if the resurrection is such a life changing event?

So here we are, a full week after the resurrection and we find the 11 disciples still in that same room, the same place, doing the same thing – nothing seems to have changed! Does that sound familiar?

Jesus once again appears among them and says peace be with you – and he knows exactly what Thomas needs – doubt is ok, Jesus understands. Just as he revealed Himself previously to the 10 by showing His scars, this time He takes an extra step and invites Thomas to put his finger into the wounds.

I have a teeny, tiny scrape on my ankle, it hurts whenever anything brushes past, there is no way would I let anyone touch it – yet here is Jesus, with wounds made by nails that pierced Him, to hang on a cross and ultimately causing His death, inviting Thomas to put His finger into those wounds, with the words – do not doubt, but believe.

Wow! Surely that would have hurt, and Jesus willingly invites that pain in because He knows it is what Thomas needs!

 We do not know if Thomas did indeed reach out and touch the wounds, but we know that at that moment he was changed, he cried out ‘My Lord and My God’ he recognised Jesus in a way that the others seem to have missed. Many feel that Thomas lacked faith, but the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty – doubt gives space to question and to grow, certainty is unchanging and leaves us with nowhere to go. Doubt was not who Thomas was, it was merely his starting point, the place he was at when he recognised Jesus, and begun his own resurrection story – did you know that Thomas was responsible for taking the Gospel to India, where he died a martyr by being speared by 5 soldiers – hardly the ending one would expect for a man labelled as a doubter!

 Living in the resurrection takes time, it is not a onetime event that as if by magic changes everything, it is something we grow into. It’s a process, it is a way of being and a life to be lived. It is by the grace of God that we evolve into resurrected people, through our relationships and circumstances of our lives, God wastes nothing. Maybe it would help if we thought about Easter as a verb, something that we do, Easter is about action, living, transformation and new life.

 Like Thomas, and the disciples, we each have our starting point. We have all built walls and locked doors as we have become battered and scarred by the world, we carry fear and shame, we are all sinners. Whatever your life is today, if you are dealing with deep loneliness, sorrow and loss, that is your starting point, the place that Jesus comes in.

If you are locked in fear, confusion, and darkness, that is your starting point and the place that Jesus stands. If illness, old age, disability, or uncertainty are facts of your life, that is your starting point where Jesus shows up. If you feel lost, betrayed, disappointed, and overwhelmed, that is your starting point and the house that Jesus enters.

Jesus steps into the midst of our house, through locked doors and breathes new life into us. He breathes peace, courage and strength into us, and that breath of peace is what unlocks the door. Just as with the disciples He speaks those words to us ‘peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’

Christ invites us to share in His risen life as Paul says in Galatians.
‘It is no longer I that live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me

In our reading from Acts, we see that the disciples are not having an easy time. They are being persecuted and it picks up after they have once again found themselves in a locked room, this time a prison. Instead of Jesus appearing among them, an Angel of the Lord unlocks the door and sends them out. When the temple police arrived, they find the prison guards in place, the doors locked, yet when the door is opened the room is empty, much like the empty tomb of Jesus.

The disciple have been sent out, they are out of their comfort zones, living a new life through Christ, it is not easy, but they are obedient.

So where do we find ourselves today?

Here we are, 1 week after Easter Sunday, the same as with the disciples, Jesus can enter our locked places, and breath his peace and new life upon us –we now get to choose how to respond. Let’s take a deep breath, take it all in, live in the resurrection and new life, let us stand at our starting point, wherever that may be, bearing all our scars and live the resurrected life Jesus has promised. When Jesus said upon the cross “It is finished” it sparked new beginnings, the best of which is the hope of His return, that is promised and is yet to come.

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