KATHY WALSH, The Drive Methodist Church Sevenoaks,19th April 2020, Sunday after Easter 

NB At the end of this Service you can submit a COMMENT

CALL TO WORSHIP:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Peace be with you
And also with you
Risen Lord stand among us
Breathe on us, Holy Spirit

Let’s begin this morning with the Lord’s Prayer

Risen Lord, you entered into the lives of the disciples,
Despite locked doors and fearful minds.
You brought them joy, wholeness and peace, to set their frightened minds at rest
and to make them ready and equipped for the task you had for them
We admit that we too, fail to trust your promises, and are often lazy or reluctant to share your forgiveness, compassion and love. It’s too easy to become overwhelmed by our own concerns and frailties, and forget that we are commissioned to be your hands and feet and the conveyors of your love, in this community at this time,
We pray that you might reach towards us with your peace in these times of fear and fragility
Help us to worship you Lord and truly experience you, as we, trembling in these Coronavirus fuelled days, allow you to walk through the doors of our often closed minds.
Today Lord, behind our own closed front doors, we long to see your face, and to know again your peace and your purpose. Amen

HYMN: StF 30:
1. Jesus, stand among us at the meeting of our lives;
be our sweet agreement at the meeting of our eyes.
O Jesus, we love You, so we gather here; join our hearts in unity and take away our fear.
2. So to You we’re gathering out of each and every land;
Christ the love between us at the joining of our hands.
O Jesus, we love You, so we gather here; join our hearts in unity and take away our fear.

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 1977 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music
READ: John 20 verse 19 – 23 (NIV)
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.’

The disciples had gathered in the room, where Jesus had shared with them, the Passover supper, and they had locked the door for very good reason. Mary had seen the resurrected Jesus and told the others, but there was an element of understandable doubt among them, most notably Thomas. Who can blame them? It probably sounded like wishful thinking. More than anyone dared hope for.

Now here they are in the locked upper room , together, but probably shaking in terror. They remember the embittered venom of the Jews towards Jesus, and undoubtedly fear that their turn is coming next. So, they meet in deep anxiety, listening fearfully for every step on the stair, and for every knock on the door, lest the emissaries of the Sanhedrin should come to arrest them too.

We too, in these strange times, wait behind closed doors, wary of anyone approaching, taking heightened care to protect ourselves from an unseen enemy. Like the disciples, we are worried by the news we hear, grieving for the victims, separated from many we love, we wonder what the future holds, we imagine we might be next. It’s confusing.
It’s scary. ………it’s not dissimilar.

As the disciples were sharing their thoughts and fears, maybe comforting one another, maybe discussing and disputing plans, suddenly Jesus was there! No step on the stair, no knock at the door, He just appeared.
Surely there must have been gasps, unbelief, wonderment! Maybe even for a moment, more fear.
As I thought about this, I wondered how I would feel if today, this very day, while I am (like you) in my 12 week lockdown, Jesus were to turn up in my kitchen! I have heard He is alive, I profess He lives, but supposing He just appeared! How would I react? What would I say? What would I do?

Isn’t it lovely that He simply said Hello? ‘Peace be with you’, Shalom, was simply a customary greeting. In fact it’s the same one we use before we share Communion. ‘Peace be with you’
But it means something deeper than I realised.
If we realise that the last words from the Cross were ‘It is finished’, we can see a perfect connection. Christian faith believes that the death-burial-resurrection of Jesus is the means by which our ‘sin’, our pride, defiance, mistrust, unbelief, separation and self reliance is dealt with and done with. So if ‘It is finished’ then surely peace will indeed be available in exchange for so many difficult and and challenging and unsettling attitudes?
Faith is the means by which this completed work of Christ is made a reality in our lives; and so, fear, anxiety, lack of direction, and confusion are banished. ‘Peace be with you’ offers Jesus, the whole Peace of Almighty God.
Jesus was bringing the entirety of God’s love into their situation of fear and disbelief.
And He came again especially for Thomas. Each of us is precious to him.

And He is humble. He invited them to see his wounds. He understood too that Thomas needed this ‘proof’ to receive his personal ‘peace’. His hands still displayed nail marks and there was a wound in His side. No bleeding any more, but the scars were obvious, clear evidence of His ‘finishing’ the work which He had been sent by God to complete.
Perhaps with His wounded body, He demonstrated also that damaged as He was, damaged as the disciples were, damaged, indeed as any of us are, God’s Spirit is very much alive and cannot be quenched. In fact our scars very often are a means of demonstrating that very Spirit’s reality.
These days of lockdown, grief and compassion are the ‘wounds’ through which we currently
breathe God’s Spirit into our neighbourhood.

When He breathed on them and spoke of forgiveness, He entrusted the disciples and later us, to carry His message of love and forgiveness into the community and the wider World; we understand that was Thomas who took the gospel to India. Thomas whose scepticism became his cry of faith: ‘My Lord and my God!’
In Genesis God breaths life into the first man; in Ezekiel, His life breathed into dry bones. There is power and vitality in the breath of God.
Now here, Jesus is again breathing God’s Spirit into, in this case, His frightened and unbelieving dear friends.
They are renewed, released from behind locked doors, and set free to take the message forward of the life-giving, freedom-achieving, peace-assuring Spirit of Almighty God to the people of their time and place, with all its terrifying uncertainties. No less are we.

HYMN: StF: 316:
1. When Easter to the dark world came, fair flowers glowed like scarlet flame:
at Eastertide, at Eastertide, O glad was the world at Eastertide.
2. When Mary in the garden walked, and with her risen Master talked:
(Repeat Chorus)
3. When John and Peter in their gloom met angels at the empty tomb:
(Repeat Chorus)
4. When ten disciples met in fear, then ‘Peace’ said Jesus, ‘I am here.’
(Repeat Chorus)
5. When Thomas’ heart was hurt and grieved, then Jesus’ wounds his doubt relieved:
(Repeat Chorus)
6. And friend to friend in wonder said: ‘The Lord is risen from the dead!’
(Repeat Chorus)
7. This Eastertide with joyful voice we’ll sing: ‘The Lord is King! Rejoice!’
(Repeat Chorus)
At Eastertide, at Eastertide, O sing, all the world, for Eastertide

W. H. Hamilton (1886-1958) Copyright © Oxford University Press


Almighty and Loving God,
We pray this day……
For those who are ill with Covid 19 or other disease. Jesus healed many ‘untouchables’, lepers, the blind. Send your healing and comfort, in this crisis, we pray, through medical teams and the love and practical care of others.
For their relatives and others who love them, we pray for your peace.
Thank you for those who have recovered; let us see your grace in this and praise your healing love.
For those locked in, in loneliness, or frustration, or fear. For those in Care Homes. We pray for your protection and peace.
For families together ….. may they be blessed with a special closeness at this time; a life-enriching closeness to one another and to yourself.

We pray for the nurses and doctors, and other medical staff. Bless and empower them in their work and protect, we pray.
For other key workers…. drivers, food producers, binmen, teachers, carers, etc. We pray for their safety and your peace.
For those whose struggling businesses are causing real anxiety and hardship. We pray for their eventual economic regeneration, but above all, peace as only you can give.
We pray for all Governments, Scientists and leaders. Give wisdom, and knowledge which will lead to the protection of your people across the world.
We remember the poorest and most vulnerable….. in Syria, Nepal, India, Southern African, the Rohingya people, all refugees. We pray for their protection and peace. Enable us Risen Lord to do all we can, to care for those sisters and brothers whom we will never meet, as well as those we do know and love.
We thank you for our communities and neighbourhoods, and for our Church family. Enable us by your Spirit to offer practical help and to communicate your love and peace to one another, by the Spirit which has been breathed into us. We thank you that we have known Greta England and loved her for her deep inspirational faith, comfort her daughter Elizabeth and us on her loss
Thank you Lord, that you offer liberating and empowering Resurrection life, and that indwelling Peace which passes all understanding.
Through Jesus, our Risen Lord

the first verse from Because He is Risen, by Gerard Kelly

Because He is risen,
spring is possible
in all the cold hard places
gripped by winter
and freedom jumps the queue
to take fear’s place
as our focus.
Because He is risen.

HYMN: StF: 314:
1. This joyful Eastertide, what need is there for grieving?
Cast all your cares aside and be not unbelieving:
Come, share our Easter joy that death could not imprison!
nor any power destroy, our Christ, who is arisen!
arisen! arisen! ari-i-i-i-i-i-i-isen!
2. No work for him is vain, no faith in him mistaken,
for Easter makes it plain his kingdom is not shaken:
(Repeat Chorus)
3. Then put your trust in Christ, in waking and in sleeping.
His grace on earth sufficed; he’ll never quit his keeping:
(Repeat Chorus) Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) Copyright © 1969, Stainer & Bell Ltd

We have seen the Lord!!
Let us persevere in, love, joy and courage, to serve the Risen Christ. Amen