Second Sunday of Easter – morning
Sunday 28th April 2019
Easter 2 – morning
Acts 5. 27-32
John 20. 19 – end
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Overcoming Fear and Doubt
“I don’t belieeeeve it!”
That phrase on its own is enough I suspect for many of you to immediately conjure up in your minds the wonderful actor Richard Wilson, in his TV persona of Victor Meldrew.
Of course it is quite a few years now since we saw Victor on our screens, but it is probably not that long since you yourself uttered or heard someone else say something remarkably similar?
For Victor it was usually in the face of some frustration of modern life that he uttered those words – the same words, give or take, that poor old St Thomas uses in our Gospel this morning. Words that have caused him to be dubbed for ever “Doubting Thomas” – although that really is not fair. This was the same Thomas who just a short time before the events of Holy Week was urging on his fellow disciples to go with Jesus, even if it meant facing great danger and even death.
And Jesus does not give up on Thomas – any more than he does on any of us when we experience difficulty in believing in his divinity. When people challenge me – which they do occasionally, by proclaiming “Well, I can’t believe in all that religious nonsense!”, I sometimes answer them by saying, “That’s quite alright (which usually flummoxes them a bit!) God believes in you! That is all you need to concern yourself with.”
Jesus makes what appears to be a special return visit to the upper room, just for Thomas’ benefit. Although there is a gentle reproof, when Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
And those famous words are not only aimed at St Thomas. They were aimed at all those Christians for whom John was writing his Gospel, all those who never saw Jesus in the way the first apostles did, and had to rely on faith instead. And that applies to all of us too of course.
Just a week ago we were becoming aware of the terrible attacks on Christians at prayer in Sri Lanka on Easter Day. And I am sure there are now Christians there and in other parts of the world who are fearful of attending public worship as a result. And who could blame them?
The earliest Christians too were beset by fears. Their beloved Master had recently be arrested, tried and executed by the State. They no doubt felt that the same fate awaited them – and indeed many of them were to die a martyr’s death. Fear turns people in on themselves. There are churches where the doors are locked once the congregation are assembled for fear of possible consequences if they are discovered. Thankfully that is not the position we find ourselves in – our church doors will always be open for all-comers, but we may be battling fear of a different sort which can be just as debilitating. Perhaps we operate behind closed doors when it comes to expressing our faith – not in a belligerent, but just in a natural way, when in conversation with friends and colleagues, or even family, in our daily lives?
On a personal level, fear of ridicule or failure, or just change (!), can mean that we never dare to develop our gifts or explore a new possibility.
But locked doors are no obstacle to Jesus. As he came and stood among his first disciples, and made them glad to see him, so too he can come to open the doors of hope in us ! You might like to think of any locked doors in your own mind or life and spend a few minutes praying that God will come and help you to unlock them – to realise your full potential, not just as a disciple of Jesus, but as a human being!
Now I have been short-sighted for most of my life and I am so used to wearing spectacles and at one time, contact lenses, that I no longer really think about it.
But I know that there are some among us who find it increasingly difficult to see details – even to recognise faces. My own Mother suffered with macular degeneration for several years before she died, and I know how difficult she found it to have her world shrink around her as she no longer had the confidence to stride out as she once would have done, without a moment’s hesitation.
A former professor of theology who went completely blind as a young man, wrote much about the Bible and faith from the perspective of those whose sight is limited. Much of the talk about a struggle between light and darkness is difficult for such people – especially when goodness is equated with light, and sin with darkness. But John Hull pointed out one of the great weaknesses of the sighted world. We rely only on appearances, only on what we can see for ourselves, and as a result, we lose something of the capacity to trust. Being blind, by contrast, requires an ability to take a very great deal on trust. And in that context, Jesus’ reproof to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” – these words can be a special blessing to those who are visually impaired.
So again the challenge to us – along with those locked doors that may need to be flung wide, – is to think about those times when we have been blind to things that need to be questioned and discussed. Those parts of our faith that may feel too fragile to disturb. What would help us to explore those questions? What would help us to respond, “Lord, I do believe, help thou my unbelief!”. Amen.