Church of England Diocese of Liverpool Sefton

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY - SUNDAY 11TH APRIL

11th April 2021

Reading: John 20:19-end

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “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.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Thought for the Day from Bishop Paul

Thomas: doubting and courageous

The Gospel reading today is a very familiar story, and for that very reason it’s easy to skate over it because we’ve heard it all before. Thomas, doubting Thomas, has missed out on the appearance of Jesus in the locked room and is not willing to believe what he has not seen. And Jesus on his next appearance convinces Thomas, and then points beyond Thomas to those - like you and me - who have come to believe in him even though we have never seen him.

And I wonder, as you look again at this story, what you make of it. How does Thomas figure in your mind? Do you see him as “doubting Thomas”? Do you see a weak believer who can only be convinced by the evidence of his eyes? Perhaps he’s just jealous that he was not in the room when Jesus appeared and blessed his friends?

Of course we have come across Thomas before in this Gospel - at Chapter 11 when we read of the death of Lazarus, in the context of growing conflict around Jesus and his ministry. From verse 14 the story unfolds:

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

If this were the only reference to Thomas in the Bible, we might have called him “courageous Thomas” and not “doubting Thomas” at all. As it is, we know both these things about him. And it’s interesting that in both these references, we are told that Thomas was a twin.

Do you know the statue in Hope Street, by Stephen Broadbent, of Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock? It was commissioned by the Liverpool Echo and paid for by the people of the region. They stand together, a bit like twins really, facing one another. But my friend and colleague Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, the present Archbishop of Liverpool, has pointed to the third circle on the pavement between them, a circle where anyone passing by may stand, and connect with the values and virtues of the gospel as these men lived them out. There is room in their friendship for us. So also perhaps there is room in our lives for Thomas, the twin, in his courage and in his doubting. Perhaps we can stand beside him and learn from him.

The Bible is very concerned to make sure that we know that Thomas was a twin. In fact the word Thomas itself means “twin”, and would have stood alone. But on both the occasions I’ve mentioned the Gospel writer emphasises the fact - as if the words said “Twin, who was called the twin”.

It is never spelled out why this is important to the writer of the Gospel, and it’s never spelled out who Thomas’ twin was. Some have speculated that he was the twin of Jesus himself, but I’m not convinced by that. To me it matters that Thomas was a twin, and that I don’t know who his twin was, because it makes me wonder whether I could be his twin.

Nancy Rockwell says this:

Thomas is a Greek name, and it means twin, though his twin, if he had one, never appears, and some suggest we are, each of us, his twin.

For each of us has our nagging doubts that sometimes prompt us to get up and investigate a situation that needs our attention, and that sometimes hold us back. If Thomas’ doubts are the most persistent, then he is our twin because our doubts persist, and at times are insistent, and they have the ability to lead us to new discoveries about ourselves and in our relationship with all that is holy.

My doubts are not so much about whether Easter happened, though I do question that at times, but about whether it is important, whether it has anything to do with me. After all, it is from my own suffering that I long to rise.

Easter insists on an end to our victimization, and opens an endless Day of Peace, which we must begin to proclaim. The disciples move through degrees of despair and doubt in each other’ company in a long, varied conversation, in which all the things they think and feel are transformed from Demons into Angels. Easter is new life, rising. Not about escaping with our life, but walking in the power of God’s love, even into death. And that’s what it has to do with each of us. (Nancy Rockwell)

I am moved and inspired by these words in this age of the Coronavirus. Under the pressure of lockdown and uncertainty, bereavement and anxiety, I ask God for the grace to be courageous, and as part of the courage, not to be afraid to doubt, so that in both these ways I can be Thomas’ twin.

The American writer Anne Lamott has said:

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.”

Easter is the season of light and hope beyond death and darkness. And I pray for you, and for all of us who are Christians, that we can be unafraid, and trusting, and wise in uncertain times. May God bless you with that love that casts out all fear, the love of the risen Jesus whom we cannot see but in when we believe. The poet Sydney Carter wrote that very well-known hymn “Lord of the dance”. In another poem he describes our life as being lived, as it were, on a boat and not on solid ground, and he describes what it is to live in faith and not in certainty.

And I pray his poem for you, in this Easter season and in all you have faced in the past year and will face in the coming months; that you may come to know doubt as a friend and a dancing partner, and that you, too, may dance courageously with Thomas, your twin.

Here then is Carter’s poem, “Doubt is”

Doubt is what you drown in or walk upon the solid deck is never really solid

singing a carol round the Christmas tree you can forget that you are floating but

the ship is not rock-bottomed all the while you walk upon the water

I will love

This dark and downward pulling angel doubt that I could never learn to dance without.

May God bless you and yours, and fill you with hope of the life that never ends. Amen

Prayers

Eternal, Everlasting God you are eternally patient with us, and no matter what we do, you persevere with us. Help each of us to show patience and perseverance with others; and with this prayer in our hearts and on our lips, we pray for those we know and love and hear of this day.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

For those struggling to accept the Easter message of resurrection; for those who long to have faith but miss the final step; who long to see Jesus but doubt what they see, seeing only as if in a mirror dimly; who long to hear your word, but grasp only a muffle and murmur; who yearn to feel your presence but shy away from contact; for those who need convincing of the truth in an age of fake news and skewed views.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

For those whose health and well-being teeter on the edge of uncertainty or insanity, pain, disfigurement and anguish; for those living with Covid in all its forms, immediate and long term; for those whose treatment is delayed and who are ground down by the mental and physical pain that can’t yet be treated; fr those who live with darkness and dread bombarding their waking moments.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

For those without meaning and purpose in their lives, who wake to the morning light and dread the empty day that lies ahead; for those who dread the dark nights of wakefulness, tossing and turning; for those who feel there is no hope for tomorrow, no vision for the future, no plan for their lives; for those without a stable home life, without meaningful work and prospects.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

For those without the shelter of a home, with no roots to a place, who are constantly forced to move on, change direction through war or violence, political unrest, prejudice, religious hatred and so much more; for those who seek refuge in new places and new lands with new languages and new ‘norms’.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

For the countries who make news headlines and then slip from view with little changed; for the people of Myanmar, Mozambique, and Ethiopia whose struggle goes on to keep life together against so much hatred, prejudice greed and violence. We cannot imagine or comprehend the lives these people are forced to live, the challenges they face, the fragility and fear and destitution of their lives.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

For those who are victims of modern slavery, who are all but imprisoned, abused, made to feel worthless, undervalued, inhuman, who are frightened and bewildered and a long way from home, family and support.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

For those areas in our country where unrest and unhappiness with government plans or police tactics or religious divides bring people out onto the streets in protest. For those who want to peacefully make their stand but who are overtaken by the violent few who ‘up the anti’ and go armed for violence; for those who perpetrate the unrest that they may be helped to see that violence is not the answer and will often only fuel more problems; for those who make plans and laws and those who need to police society – may they and we seek unity, purpose and love.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

The disciples gathered behind closed doors not only for fear of the Jewish authorities but they gathered to grieve the loss of their friend, their leader, their visionary, their Lord. We pray for those who mourn the loss of family or friends and especially those who have had to grieve alone in these Covid times without the support of those who love them – may the gentle easing of restrictions and the lengthening of the days bring them light and hope for the life ahead.

God, in whom we believe:
Bless them.

And for ourselves we pray, that we might banish shadows that hold us back and keep us fixed to what we are familiar with, even the new familiar, when we can be afraid to step out, step on, step forward, step up – w pray that we might know the wisdom of the psalmist, the grace of God, the blessing of the Spirit, the love and companionship of each other and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

These are our prayers this day.
Amen.