A pastoral message from our Rector
Locked doors. People inside. People hiding inside, maybe. Certainly, sheltering. Sheltering alongside only those other people with whom they have regularly shared their lives, those other people with whom they are closest, those that are family or like family. Those they can trust. And filled with a shared anxiety. Filled with apprehension and concern. What on earth has happened? What on earth is going on? So, gripped by fear too. Fear of what an enemy might do to them, if it were to seize its chance to grab them. And fear also, of what the authorities might say if they were to just step outside and into harm’s way. So, the door remains firmly closed. The door remains securely locked. And the people remain hiding inside. Anxious. Concerned. And fearful.
Does all of that sound familiar? Well, for once, I’m not just thinking about our present ‘lockdown’ in the face of COVID-19, but let me quickly say, that if you are experiencing the current ‘lockdown’ with anxiety, and if you are feeling trapped at home and afraid or just lonely, please do give me a call and let’s chat! If there has been one real joy for me in the last few weeks of being ‘locked’ inside the rectory, it has been the rediscovery of the telephone and of having the time to just chat with people. So, please, don’t be alone, and please don’t be afraid, even if we’ve never met before just give me a call and let’s chat! (01444 892332)
No, in writing as I have of people sheltering behind locked doors, what I am actually thinking about is Jesus’ disciples and how on the ‘evening of that first day of the week’, so, on Easter Sunday evening, they were all together ‘with the doors locked’ and they were afraid (John 20: 19 – 20). But these two verses from John’s Gospel have quite a lot to say to us I think, and quite a lot that can really help us, especially at this moment of crisis and in our own ‘lockdown’. The disciples may well have been in the room in which they had shared the Last Supper with Jesus. They may well have heard Mary Magdalene’s account of her meeting with the risen Jesus, earlier that morning. But the reality of the resurrection was still to emerge and so the doors remained locked, and the disciples were gripped by fear. Fear of what might happen to them. And it was into that scene of fear and anxiety that the risen Jesus suddenly appeared, greeting the disciples with peace: ‘Peace be with you!’ he says.
All of which reminds me that locked doors are no barrier to the risen Jesus and that no-one need open the doors to let him in. Jesus enters into our lives wherever and whenever he chooses. But also, I’m reminded here, that when he does enter, when he does come into our lives, the very first thing that he does is to bring us peace. ‘Shalom’ to use the Hebrew greeting that Jesus would have actually used. It is an expression that means much more than just peace. Jesus’ greeting of ‘shalom’ gathers up within it all the blessings of the kingdom of God, so, it speaks of life from God at its very best under the gracious hand of God. It speaks of reconciliation with God. And so, it speaks of the sort of well-being that only the risen Jesus can offer. And the effect of this peace? The effect of Jesus’ peace in our lives? We’re told that the disciples were ‘overjoyed’ (John 20: 20). The point is that an encounter with the risen Jesus brings joy in what may otherwise seem to be the darkest and most fearful of times.
But an encounter with Jesus also moves us on. As I write, the newspapers and blogs and all the rest of the observers are full of comment as to how we now need to move on from the ‘lockdown’ and how this ought to be achieved. Jesus clearly had a sense of this need to move on too. Having brought peace and joy into their fear and darkness Jesus then moved the disciples along and away from their fear-stricken ‘lockdown’ as he revealed to them all that he wanted them to do, so as to bring transformation to the whole world by sharing with everyone all that he had taught them, shown them, said to them and done for them. They were to be catalysts of change and of new creation a notion that was heightened as he ‘breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20 :22). There are obvious echoes here of God’s first act of creation in Genesis 2. And so, it speaks of new creation, it speaks of God restoring life and of God offering new life to the world.
And that’s something that we all need to see and so, something for which we ought all to be praying at this time. There is so much that we need to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic, if we are to avoid a similar catastrophe in the future, and so much that we can learn from what we are already seeing in the benefits to communities of being drawn closer together in shared concern for and appreciation of each other - even and despite the locked doors. Also, I think, through slower, more thoughtful and more reflective lives. Like the disciples, we need to take all that we have seen to be good with us when we eventually move on and use it to transform the world once more.
As move on we shall. Of course, my particular prayer is that in moving on everyone will come to know for themselves the reality of the resurrection. Because an encounter with the risen Jesus and the message of the resurrection and so of new creation, of new life, still needs to emerge in the lives of everyone, if we are ever to really move on. As the disciples’ experience proves, it is only that peace-bringing encounter with the risen Jesus that can bring to all who experience it, real and lasting joy. As the early church prayed, so we need now to pray: Maranatha! Come, O come, Lord Jesus.
With my prayers for your health and safety and my very best wishes.