The first Sunday after Easter is what people call “Low Sunday”. The flamboyant earrings are put away for another year…the chocolate eggs are all eaten…(particular thanks, by the way, for the delicious little box of eggs left for me in the vestry, coming from that most heavenly of all holiday resorts: “Hotel Chocolat”!) …and now after all the drama of Easter, it’s back to work as usual. So I guess we can readily identify with those Gospel stories of Jesus’ disciples gathered again in the Upper Room, after the trauma of Good Friday, coping with what they felt were unlikely and unsubstantiated rumours of the Resurrection, put about by “some of the women”, and as a group generally not feeling very optimistic at all about the future.
Sometimes I think your average Parochial Church Council is the natural successor of that small group – huddled together in a small room somewhere set apart, behind closed doors, discussing a little gloomily the state of the church finances and whether or not we have a future at all. Maybe we are not always aware of Christ stepping into our midst and calling for “Peace!” Occasionally as a group we are tempted to give up and follow our ancestor St Peter out through the door, saying in effect “Blow this for a lark! I’m going fishing!”, and then being surprised and delighted to encounter Jesus already out there in ordinary everyday life, cooking a simple breakfast on the lakeside. (Perhaps our equivalent is finding bacon butties on offer for our new Dads’ and Grandads’ group on the fourth Saturday of each month!) Daring to go beyond our walls, to keep asking questions about what’s important and to push our boundaries of expectation, reminds me of how amazed and delighted we were, just two years ago, to hear Christ speaking words of encouragement through people “out there” who told us they were so pleased to be asked their opinion about what kind of artwork should adorn the redundant doorway of our church extension, the splendid new addition to an old and well-loved building which in essence is both “ours” and “theirs”: clearly the Parish Church of Bollington, open for all.
Each year around this time at our Annual Parochial Church Meeting, I believe Christ breathes his Spirit afresh on those we have chosen as our representatives to serve as Churchwardens and on the PCC, empowering them to pray, study and act in his name, so that the good news of forgiveness and love can be spread and increasing numbers of people are enriched and transformed and enlivened for the good of the whole community and thus we become some of the “many other signs” St John refers to towards the end of his Gospel, and as St Paul puts it, we become “living stones”, building God’s kingdom on earth.
Amongst the Bible readings set for Low Sunday, we heard of that very down-to-earth disciple, St Thomas, “known as the Twin”. Let’s just focus for a moment on that almost throwaway description, “the Twin”. The Bible tells us nothing about Thomas’s twin brother or sister; we can only imagine that somewhere out there, outside the Upper Room, Thomas treasured a deep intimacy of shared life experience with another human being; in other words, he had a natural affinity and connectedness with at least one other person beyond the group of disciples and his close friend Jesus. Sometimes people who come regularly to church find that those closest to them, their families and friends, just “don’t get it”, and don’t understand the attraction of this church-going thing at all. Maybe your wife or husband or children say they’ve tried it and it’s just not for them – “After all you can be a perfectly good person without going to church, can’t you?” Maybe Thomas felt a similar disappointment in those circumstances, when his twin sister or brother declined to come with him to see what it was all about. And it’s so hard to explain your faith, isn’t it, even to those nearest and dearest to you?
In the penultimate chapter of John’s Gospel, we hear of Thomas the Twin coming back into the group on the evening of the very first Easter Day, but finding he’d just missed out on an unbelievably powerful encounter with the risen Christ! After all that! Having followed Jesus faithfully for the past three years and never having been afraid to get to grips with the painful and difficult questions, he missed hearing the definitive answer with his own ears! Remember Thomas had been the one at the Last Supper to interrupt when Jesus was mysteriously trying to explain that “his hour had come”. “But, hang on a minute, Lord,” says Thomas, “We do not know where you are going! How can we know the way?!” And this elicits the clear and resoundingly memorable words we often hear at that common deeply traumatic time of transition when someone we love has died: Jesus says to Thomas, and to each of us who seek authentic answers to life’s agonising mysteries: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life… Peace I give you, not as the world gives… Do not let your hearts be troubled… neither let them be afraid!” (a response finding an echo of course for us in St Oswald’s excellent motto 600 years later!)
All human endeavour and discovery comes from often a small group of people not just taking things at face value, but painstakingly and sometimes at great personal cost, probing deeper into the mysteries and complexities of the created order. Jesus said equally memorably elsewhere in the Gospels: “Ask, and you will receive; Seek, and you will find; Knock, and the door will be opened to you.”…. in other words (especially resonant with those who have been on a Cursillo Weekend): PRAY, STUDY, ACT! (Incidentally, please do ask the Vicar about joining her on the next Cursillo Weekend taking place in Crewe from 21 to 24 May! I wonder whether God may be courteously holding open that door for you this month, inviting you to take advantage of being treated to three whole days away – absolutely free of charge! – in the company of friends, with plenty of cake, but more importantly, the luxury of time to pay attention to yourself as God’s precious child on your unique journey of faith. Worth asking, don’t you think?!)
Once again as the Easter season unfolds into Pentecost, we celebrate St Thomas, affirmed in his continuing quest for Truth and Life by the risen Jesus. Tradition has it that Thomas went on with great courage to preach the message of new life and hope through Christ to the people of India who, like our friends in the Delhi Brotherhood, remain today acutely conscious of a need to respond creatively in the face of human vulnerability and mortality. May we learn to recognise in Thomas the face of our own Twin Self, asking deep questions, reaching out to be in touch with God through prayer, social action and the sacraments of bread and wine, and seeking new meaning in all the complexities and woundedness of our own relationships, choosing to renew our baptismal promises to go on being followers of “The Way”.
Every blessing this Easter and always,