Worship for Low Sunday

Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
19th April 2020 – Easter 2
Behind closed Doors

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea:
a great High Priest whose name is love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands;
my name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heav’n He stands
no tongue can bid me thence depart;
no tongue can bid me thence depart
2: When Satan tempts me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within,
upward I look and see Him there
who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
my sinful soul is counted free;
for God the Just is satisfied
to look on Him and pardon me;
to look on Him and pardon me.

3: Behold Him there, the risen Lamb,
my perfect, spotless Righteousness;
the great unchangeable I AM:
the King of glory and of grace.
One with Himself, I cannot die!
My soul is purchased by His blood!
My life is hid with Christ on high;
with Christ my Saviour and my God
John 20: 19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’  Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’. (John 20v.19 NRSV)
It has been a long, bewildering, exhausting day.
Amidst all the devastation caused to their hopes and dreams
by the events of Good Friday,
the disciples begin this day discovering that the body of Jesus
their teacher
their friend
has been removed,
–      by whom they don’t know.
Disturbed and blinkered by grief,
they have forgotten what Jesus has spent three years trying to show them.
And, as a result, his death on the cross is a loss to them.
The world around them is dark.
So they do what human beings tend to do in such circumstances
–      they lock themselves away
–      they pull the covers up and bury their heads under the bedclothes
Hidden behind doors of wood and walls of stone
they seek that feeling of safety amidst a hostile world
hiding not just from the Jewish authorities
but from overwhelming feelings of loss
as they attempt to make sense of it all.
When all the world around them is dark.
they are still unsure they can live in the light of the resurrection.
John, however, has the answer.
We need to have faith.
But as this gospel story shows us
faith can be complicated by fear and doubt.
Behind locked doors
all the disciples except Thomas (and Judas) gather.
They have heard from Peter and John about the empty tomb
and they have heard from Mary Magdalene who has not only seen the risen Jesus
but spoken with him also.
Yet still they are unsure.
Still they are afraid.
When all the world around them is dark.
they are still unsure they can live in the light of the resurrection.
Then Jesus appears
and they rejoice.
Jesus says to them ‘As the Father sent me so I send you.  Receive the Holy Spirit’.
We sometimes tell the Easter story as if the joy of new life and resurrection
dawns on the disciples all at once.
apart from Thomas that is,
who is, of course, absent.
In the story of Thomas, doubt is given as the opposite of faith.
So, John reports Jesus coming back the same time the following week
seemingly to put Thomas right.
And, despite what Jesus tells Thomas
‘do not doubt but believe’
 and ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’,
Thomas comes to faith 
precisely because he has the courage to voice his doubt!
John, of course, has a purpose in focusing on doubt.
He writes in the last verses of the chapter
that his recording of these events is
simply a snapshot of many events which have not been recorded.
He records these events
so that successive generations may believe in Jesus Christ
as the Son of God
and so have the life that comes from faith.
This is his reason for the story about Thomas:
to doubt is to be human.
For Christians doubt might be the opposite of faith
but it is not its enemy.
As with Thomas,
doubt is not a stumbling block
it is a stepping-stone
on the road to faith
as we go in search of what is true
in order that we may find it.
In these days of panic buying
as someone said to me recently
faith is not a packet to be lifted from the spiritual shelf.
Coming to faith is a process.
Coming to faith will take as long as it needs to take.
Thomas simply had yet known the transforming power and presence,
joy and confidence,
direction and purpose,
guidance and inspiration
of the risen Christ.
But I wonder if there is something more going on here.
Because there is not only doubt but fear as well.
For me the enemy of faith is not doubt but fear.
We know a lot about fear at the moment.
–      fear of catching the virus
–      fear of not getting a supermarket delivery
–      fear of losing my job as businesses shut down albeit temporarily
–      fear of being on my own
–      fear of not knowing how long this new way living will last or if things will ever going back to ‘normal’ what normal may be for you
Fear is real.
It’s not just in the mind;
it brings physical symptoms,
physical sickness. 
Fear is not just an individual trait.
Fear can grip groups of people or whole communities.
What we would term mass hysteria
can make a group of people behave irrationally
as we have seen as people fight over toilet rolls and pasta.
It is the disciples fear that has enclosed them
behind locked doors made of wood and walls of cold stone.
they have no idea of their next move.
But Jesus moves through the locked doors and walls
and stands among them and says peace be with you.
He gives them direction,
direction in the task they have to do
to bring new life and hope
to a confused and hurting world.
Many of us are behind closed doors at this time
but these are not doors of wood and walls of stone
which keep us inward looking.
What many of us are learning afresh during this season
is that the Jesus who asks Thomas to look and see
is the same Jesus who asks you
to look and see the gift of God
that is alive and present in those who call themselves the people of the resurrection.
The challenge of God is that you should take this transforming presence so seriously
that not only you believe in it,
but that a whole world of hurting and confused people
recognise new life and hope,
new direction and guidance.
This was the appeal of the Church in our Acts reading.
When Peter delivers his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost
he does so almost immediately after the Holy Spirit
has burst through the closed doors of the upper room.
Peter tells his congregation in Jerusalem
that the ministry of the resurrected Jesus continues through his followers
all in the power of the Holy Spirit
for the resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit
are inextricably intertwined
The result is
a church which lay in its ability to hold together the proclamation of a stunning new message,
a church which nurtured its people by explaining what that message means
a church that expressed itself in service and care
to those living inside and outside its community.
I’ve been humbled by the acts of kindness shown to me over the past few weeks
–      virtual flowers
–      e-cards
–      phone calls and Facetime
–      offers of shopping for essentials
–      as well as conversations with those ministers and congregation who are getting to grips with technology needed to keep in touch with their communities
all practical ways in which the Spirit is helping us to break out
to share the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As we journey on through these disturbing and dark times
let God’s Spirit release us from the fears and doubts
that keep us behind our closed doors
to continue to share the message of the Resurrection that through Jesus
God promises us new life and new life casts our fear.
Scarred and wounded we may be
but we will be no longer afraid.

Jesus is saying to us Peace be with you! My peace I give to you!
As one Facebook post says:
Churches are not being closed.
buildings are being closed.
you are the Church!
You are to remain open!
Let the light of the resurrection
shine through us now and always. Amen.

Hymn:      Here is Love Vast As The Ocean  (sing through twice)
                William Rees 1802 – 1883

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
loving kindness as the flood –
when the Prince of Life, our Ransom
shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten
throughout Heaven’s eternal days.
2: On the mount of crucifixion
fountains opened deep and wide.
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers
poured incessant from above,
and Heaven’s peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love.

An Affirmation of Faith
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world—
which some seek to control, but which others view with despair—
we declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God!
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times,
until His Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever.
Our world belongs to God!
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness,
and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for our world belongs to God!
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience, and set free for joyful praise, we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in his world, for our world belongs to God!
With tempered impatience,  eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord. And we are confident that the light which shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears for our world belongs to God!

Prayers of Intercession
Risen Lord, no door is closed to you, no heart is barred to you, no mind is shut off from you. Come lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith, out of death into life in all its fullness:
We pray for all who witness to your resurrection, for those who speak of your presence, for preachers and ministers of the Word, for those who minister in community; for those who reveal your presence by the way they live, for all who live simply that others may simply live. We pray for all who are in doubt and for all who are seeking you. We pray for unity in the Church and in the world.
Lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith,  out of death into life in all its fullness:
We come today as we shelter behind closed doors with all who have lost their freedom, all who have lost hope. We pray for all who have been imprisoned because of their beliefs; that in the darkness they may find your love.
Lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith, out of death into life in all its fullness:
We pray for any fellowship to which we belong, for communities and clubs, for social groups, for our church. We give thanks for your appearing in the Upper Room, and pray for our homes and those we love.
Lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith,  out of death into life in all its fullness:
We remember all who are despairing,  all who lack confidence, those afraid to trust themselves or others. We remember all who are lonely, all who are fearful.
We pray for those in sickness, looking to you in hope. Come lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith,  out of death into life in all its fullness. These prayers, and the unspoken prayers of our hearts we ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lord, in these complicated times, we offer ourselves to serve you.  Take the money that we give to our churches, through Standing orders and through cash saved up, and all that we do and give in loving service to others, and bless  everything in your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
Hymn:      Come Ye Faithful Raise the Strain
                 St John of Damascus (675-750) tr. John Mason Neale 1818 – 1866

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought his Israel
into joy from sadness;
loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters;
led them with unmoistened foot
through the Red Sea waters.
2 ‘Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ hath burst his prison,
and from three days’ sleep in death,
as a sun hath risen;
all the winter of our sins,
long and dark, is flying
from his light, to whom we give
laud and praise undying.
3 Now the queen of seasons, bright
with the day of splendour,
with the royal feast of feasts,
comes its joy to render;
comes to glad Jerusalem,
who with true affection
welcomes in unwearied strains
Jesus’ resurrection.
4 Neither might the gates of death,
nor the tomb’s dark portal,
nor the watchers, nor the seal
hold thee as a mortal:
but today amidst thine own
thou didst stand, bestowing
thine own peace, which evermore
passeth human knowing.

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