A Reflection for Low Sunday - by Revd Fiona Pennie
Reflection for Low Sunday
As we reflect on a Holy week and Easter Day “like no other”, constrained physically by the 4 walls of our homes, but with the world in front of those of us who have access to the internet, I wonder what did you “make of it all”. What impact has this interruption in our normal lives had on your spiritual life?
There has been much written and said about church in the new digital age and how church might “look different” but I for one was glad to brought back to the familiar bible passages this Easter-time.
This week as I read through the set passages from the lectionary for “Low Sunday”; Acts, 1 Peter and John’s gospel I was drawn to the word WITNESS.
‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know.'(Acts 2 v 22)
Peter, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and transformed by what he had seen and experienced, stands in front of the crowd. He is a man transformed from the timid Jesus denier of Good Friday, into a man who proclaims what he has seen and holds the crowd to account. They have been witnesses to the events of Jesus earthly ministry and to his resurrection from the dead;
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.(Acts 2 v 23)
They were witnesses to a life lived “like no other” Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God. They were witnesses to a new way of knowing God through His Son Jesus.
They were witnesses, but how was their behaviour going to change? What would they do as a result of being witnesses?
We know that some took the gospel message to the world, as we hear in the opening sentences of Peter’s first letter; To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia ( 1Peter 1 vs1). We know too that moving away from the old teaching and understanding about God has brought them to the point where they have had to suffer various trials (1 Peter1 v 6) . We hear repeatedly through the book of Acts and all the Epistles, that being a follower of Christ was not easy.
We know too that some folk are Jesus followers, not yet called Christians, even though they are not “eye witnesses” to the earthly life of Christ; Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him.(1 Peter 1v 8) They believe in him and are transformed in their worship, rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.(1 Peter 1v 9)
I wonder as we live through the trials of this pandemic, forcing us to experience church in a different way, encountering the love of God through neighbours and family in a new way, can we rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy?
I suspect not. We are still in the midst of the uncertainty of what will happen next. The “lockdown” has just been extended for another 3 weeks and we just cannot see a way ahead. We cannot yet process fully what is happening, but we do need to hold on to these moments. We need to try to understand our experiences as the world fights this unseen coronavirus, to be witnesses to how God is at work even in these dark times.
In our Gospel reading we hear about Jesus’ first appearance to the gathered disciples after his Easter Day resurrection; When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them ( John 20 v 19).
The disciples locked away fearful, much as we are locked away, not physically together but joined through the internet, and fearful.
Jesus first words are “Peace be with you.” ( John 20 v 19) How do we long to hear Jesus say those words to us.
And yet in the anxiety and worry we cannot seem to hear his words.
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.( John 20 v 20).
The disciples gathered there were witnesses to those wounds, they rejoiced when they saw him. But Thomas was not there and he doubted - he was not yet a witness. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ ( John 20 v 25)
How grateful am I for “doubting Thomas”. It is very hard when the world seems very dark around you. Whether a loved one has died, you or a loved one is facing illness, unemployment, hunger or homelessness, it is very hard to be at peace, to have any hope, to have faith. The presence of Thomas brings me comfort;
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ (John 20 vs 26-29)
I had the privilege to speak to a newly widowed woman this week as we began to plan her husband’s funeral. We talked about her faith and the lack of faith expressed by her daughter “How can there be a loving God to let this happen?” I empathised and agreed it is very hard to believe at times of great sorrow and suffering and reminded her of doubting Thomas. This lady recalled that she had lost her first born child some 30 years ago at the age of 13 months. She knew and had experienced the love of God for her through bereavement and she knew that in the pain there was hope. My hope and prayer for her is that her witness to God’s amazing love will be a comfort to her and her surviving children at a time where grief is overwhelming and the darkness is closing in.
Doubting Thomas reminds us of our humanity, that even a disciple who had been an eye witness to all Jesus signs of power still doubted. It is through Thomas doubting that we receive the promise of blessing that Jesus gives to us “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
I will leave you with one suggestion which is helping me try to make sense of the world I am experiencing. It is a you tube clip of Andrea Bocelli singing Amazing Grace, standing alone in front of the Duomo in Milan at Easter.
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T'was blind but now I see
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T'was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home.
As he sings I am struck by the power in his words, “I was blind but now I see”. Andrea is physically blind and yet through his singing we can witness the faith he has. Our faith. The faith that witnesses to the fact God is with us through the many dangers, toils and snares that life throws at us; that through His Grace our fears may be relieved.
Readings for 2nd Sunday of Easter Acts 2.14a, 22-32;1 Peter 1.3-9; John 20.19-end