Benefice Service commissioning of AWA’s
Today is universally known as Low Sunday - probably so named because of its relative unimportance in contrast with Easter Sunday, but of course we have to disagree as there is nothing Low about this Sunday. Nothing low in our faith, in our worship and as we are celebrating the commissioning of four Authorised Worship Assistants nothing low in our commitment either.
However, when we look at the situation in our Gospel reading we can sympathise with the feeling in that room. It is Easter Sunday Evening and the 10 disciples shut away in a room. Judas had betrayed Jesus and then hung himself in a fit of remorse and Thomas was Mr Elsewhere.
You would have thought the mood would have been one of excitement and celebration - after all Mary said that she had seen the Lord, and that he had risen. John and Peter had been and seen the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes and had believed that he had risen. However the reality of it had not yet sunk in. He might well have risen but where was he? Where was Jesus when they needed him to help? So here they are hiding away in an upstairs room. They are scared witless of the Temple police, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees. They were afraid that the Roman soldiers would come and take them away and they too would suffer such as Jesus had done only 2 days ago. I don’t think they were shouting with joy, but whispering with fearfulness. Wondering what the future was going to be, what they should do, where they would go.
According to a survey conducted in the US and UK, the majority of adults between eighteen and thirty-four – suffer from “FoMO”, resulting in an escalating use of social media and the need to say yes to everything. “FoMO” is the “Fear of Missing Out”, also described as, “the pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.” It perpetuates the fear that we have made the wrong decision on how to spend our time.
Perhaps Thomas was the first to suffer from FoMO. He was absent when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of the first Easter Day, so did not receive the Holy Spirit breathed into him by Jesus. No wonder he comes across as stubbornly sceptical.
The full description of the effects of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples has to wait for Luke’s version of the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts, but in today’s Gospel reading John tells us that they were filled with joy. The fact that the disciples were transformed from a terrified group, meeting in secret behind locked doors, to a band of excited, happy people full of animation, cannot have been lost on Thomas.
Perhaps, because he was aware how much he had missed out on, and perhaps because he was a realist, knowing that dead bodies do not come back to life, Thomas refused to believe, but he did leave the door open. He declared that he would not believe simply on the words of his friends, but he demanded positive proof by meeting Jesus for himself, then he too would accept that Jesus really was alive.
A week later, when the apostles were gathered together, Jesus appeared to them again. After greeting them all Jesus addressed Thomas using the very words and imagery that Thomas had used in his declaration to the disciples. Jesus invited Thomas to touch him, to feel his wounds. We will never know if Thomas acted upon Jesus invitation to put his finger into the wounds, I suspect not - there was no need. He saw and he believed.
Strangely, this seems to be the only post-resurrection appearance of Jesus where his wounds are still apparent. In these two accounts in John’s Gospel Jesus is known immediately, but in all the other post-resurrection appearances, Jesus is recognised only when he does something appropriate to the occasion. For Mary Magdalene it is the way he speaks her name. For the two walking to Emmaus, it is the way he breaks bread, and for the disciples out fishing it is the way he cooks a meal on the beach.
There is another anomaly too. When Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene he refuses to allow her to touch him, saying that he has not yet ascended to the Father. Yet a week later he invites Thomas to touch him, even though he still has not ascended. Mary Magdalene does not want to let Jesus go and is desperate to cling on to him, whereas Thomas merely wants to confirm that the risen Jesus is the same person as the Jesus who died on the cross.
This time Jesus had come with a purpose and He needed all of them to be present for he had come with their instructions for the job ahead. All their training with him was at an end here was the climax.
To get the mood right and calm them down Jesus again says that wonderful greeting. Shalom - Peace be with you - their fear, gloom and despondency lifts, and meeting with the risen Lord still changes lives today. Jesus tailors his post-resurrection appearances to meet the needs of those who experience him and we can be sure that he knows our individual needs. He will still come to us where we need him and in a way that we can recognise and understand.
Some of us, like Thomas, may need to learn patience and to open our minds to accept the apparently impossible. But if we are able to receive the risen Lord, we will not be one of the FoMo’s, and we will be filled with his peace and joy.
Then Jesus begins the commissioning itself, He breathes on them, they would have felt it, the same Greek word is used when God breathed life in Adam. Jesus breathed life into his fledgling Church which now, certain of his resurrection, was ready and equipped to carry his peace into the world outside of that locked upper room.
As the Father sent me so I send you. The apostles were commissioned to carry on Christ's work - not instructed to start a new one. In other words you have seen what I do, you are no longer disciples, that is, followers, but now you are apostles. The word apostle means - one whom Jesus sends and accompanies. From that moment until now the Church in every age is to be an apostolic one - sent and accompanied by Jesus. The apostles had to take a leap of faith that day, and in a few moments we will need to take a leap of faith which enables us to know that in the Eucharist we partake of the hidden presence of Christ.
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Gill, Ivy, Sally and Karen are being commissioned this morning – they need to feel the breath of the Holy Spirit for all that God is calling them to be and to do, and each one of us needs to know that it is Jesus that both sends and accompanies us as we fulfil that for which we have been called.
Mary wanted to touch Jesus, Thomas demanded to touch Jesus, and we touch Jesus when we reach out to the hurting and needy. When with listen with patience to the elderly or demented, and when we comfort the bereaved or the crying child. We are with him and he is with us in sights and sounds that give us joy, pleasure or sadness and sorrow in all our experiences of life and it begins afresh this morning as we receive him in bread and wine. So hold the bread very lightly today – for it is the first day of the rest of your life.