You can join this week’s worship service by clicking here. Thank you to Lauren Hale for sharing the gift of music with us, and to Steve Spencer for working so hard on the collaborative Hosanna video. What gifts for today! There’s also a short video for children which you can watch by clicking here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection based on the scripture for this week, as well as Steve’s pastoral prayers. Our weekly e-newsletter will continue to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at St. Paul’s. If you don’t currently receive that, and would like to, please contact us and we’ll happily add you to our mailing list.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Second Sunday of Easter
Scripture: John 20: 19-31
Music: Where Two or Three are Gathered; The Water is Wide; Hosanna
Musicians: Lauren Hale, Steve Spencer
There was a game we used to play in school. The teacher would place a tray of random objects, covered with a cloth, in the centre of our group. Then she would take the cloth off and give us five seconds to look at the tray, then put the cloth back on. And then she would ask us to recall as many of the objects as we could. Each time we played, we developed various methods for remembering. The visual learners would close their eyes and use their mind’s eye to recall what they had seen. The auditory learners would say the names of the objects to themselves when they could see them, and then play back as much of that internal tape as they could. The kinesthetic learners, who learn by touch and action, were just out of luck.
Our eyes tell us much. We see the field white in Winter and green in Spring. We see that the nose of the little girl is freckled and that her face is flush when she sleeps. We see that the man isn’t sure where he is, can’t remember. This is what our eyes can tell us – they give us information, register facts, log data, but there is yet another way of seeing.
Sight alone cannot account for why we find the field beautiful. It cannot tell us why the child is so precious that we would give our life to save hers. It cannot convey the struggling man’s humanity and integrity, which persist in spite of the march of years and a diminished neurology. Only the heart, which looks with love, can see the whole truth. To look with love is to look with generosity and compassion; to seek the way of healing and joy.
The story of the Risen Christ appearing to Thomas is often interpreted as a story about Thomas’ doubt and Jesus’ blessing of those who have faith in the absence of evidence, sometimes called “blind faith.” Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Interestingly, he didn’t say this to Mary in her confusion at the empty tomb, nor to the disbelieving disciples in the Upper Room. So, I’m not sure that Thomas is deserving of being singled out.
One explanation is that the Gospel writer we know as John tells this story for an audience of late 2nd century listeners – those who would be invited to believe without having ever met or seen Jesus. The appearance of the Risen Christ to Thomas is, in a way, a story for all those who would come after the apostles, who would have to interpret the presence of the Risen Christ without visual evidence. For all of these, including us, as much as for Thomas, Jesus says, Look again. I am here. And Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.”
With Thomas, we learn that it is in the presence of love that we “see” Christ in others, and in our lives. The faith Jesus blesses in “those who have not seen” is not “blind faith”, then, but a faith founded on the evidence of experience. Those who look with their hearts see God’s very real presence in others and in their lives, both in sorrow and in joy. They learn to look, and look again, for the possibility of healing, reconciliation, new life, in all people.
In the midst of COVID-19, it’s tempting to focus on one way of seeing: how many cases, how many deaths; predictions about vaccines; the stock market. And yet, the stories being told most often are of the bravery and selflessness of essential and medical personnel, and of unprecedented global collaboration among scientists. The heart, which looks with love, sees a human and spiritual truth emerging from within this frankly terrible situation: that the only way through trial is love. Our experience of COVID-19 maps onto the way of the cross: the way of self-giving and self-sacrifice; to a literal degree on the frontlines, and in various ways behind them.
The demands of this public health crisis are giving rise to a shared experience of public unity. Not measurable, perhaps, but palpable. Interestingly, well before this year, the environmental advocate Gus Speth had confessed that he used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. He had believed that thirty years of good science could address those problems. “But,” he said, “I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”
Just like letting a field lay fallow for a year in order to be fertile another season, COVID-19 has ushered in a Great Pause, inaugurating an (unbidden) experiment in the potential for our transformation. The unchecked growth and material abundance of yesterday is yielding to a season of “only what is necessary.” Opponents of socialist policies are being forced to consider the necessity of public health care and education. Citizens in Japan, Mexico, the US and India can, for the first time in more than 50 years, see mountains that had been obscured by smog.
Even within this pandemic, the earth is healing itself, we’re learning the extent to which we depend on others, and we’re seeing courage and love poured out every day. Look again, says the Risen Christ, I am here.
The story of Jesus’ resurrection is not a scientific account of resuscitation, nor is it a metaphysical discussion concerning miracles. Resurrection is the pattern of life; not just biological life – that when living things die they give life to more living things – but life together. The way of the cross is the way of love – giving of ourselves for the sake of others.
This resurrection pattern of life is focused in the Easter story, but is woven throughout Jesus’ healing ministry, as well. Healing on the Sabbath, touching the unclean, eating with Gentiles – all of these were outward signs which challenged others to live with the courage of compassion for their neighbours.
Look again, says the Risen Christ, I am here. In this wounded body; in these who were forgotten; in this world in all its beauty and brokenness; I am here. Now. Living in your midst, and you in mine.
In this health care worker risking her life; in the young man on a ventilator; in this family holding it together and in this one coming apart. Look, and look again. I am here. This is love – life together. And the people said, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.
In this time of fear and doubt, in this time that feels like none that we have ever faced before.
A time of isolation, a time that leaves us sometimes anxious, sometimes feeling overwhelmed, sometimes unsure about what to believe or what to do next.
In this time, we turn to you as we often do when we are confused or feeling alone – or when we are gathered together in your name, we reach out to you our Loving God and seek your presence and guidance in prayer.
We remember the first disciples who gathered together in a different way without Jesus. For they, like us, were filled with fear and doubt, anxious and overwhelmed, unsure about what to do or where to turn. Then you were there offering peace and strength and hope.
In that time, as in this time, help soothe our anxieties and calm our fears; help us to discern how best to care for ourselves and others; help us to breathe and slow down our racing minds; help us to open our hearts to your deep love for us; help us feel the resilience and hope you offer through resurrection.
In those days, you invited Thomas to take you by the hand. In these days, when we can’t touch with our hands; help us to feel that you are reaching out to each of us, to all of us. Help us to feel your love and to know that love is the one power in the universe that can overcome anything.
In this time we know there are many who are reaching out and we pray for them. For doctors and nurses, for technicians and caregivers, for those who cook and clean, for researchers and theorists, for epidemiologists and scientists, for truck drivers and those who work in warehouses and stores, for reporters and first responders, for those making calls and checking on neighbours, for those offering leadership in many ways, for those doing the best they can to brighten the day, we give you our thanks.
We pray for all whose world has been turned upside down; for those who have lost work, for those who are sick, and those who are grieving, we pray; for all who are affected in any way by the pandemic economically and or socially, all around the world… we pray for safety.
For all people we pray, for health, for wholeness. In spite of the pandemic, in spite of the fear and sense of loss, help us, O God, that we might help each other. In the name of the Healer, our brother Jesus, we pray in the words he taught us, Our Father…