Good morning – it’s Sunday morning again, and, in the Gospel reading we’ve just heard read, Jesus’s friends met behind locked doors. We are also behind locked doors, but we have something contagious that is to be shared.
It will be obvious that I don’t mean Covid 19! So – what do I mean?
I mean that most intimate and motivating communication there can be: ‘heart speaks to heart’. We won’t bother with logic-chopping or philosophical nit-picking – no, we’ll cut straight to the chase in terms of human communications that are worth waking up for – we’ll speak from the heart. Pope Francis wrote on twitter on Easter Sunday: ‘Every human heart awaits this good news. It is the contagion of hope! Christ, my hope, is risen! – a different contagion – a message transmitted from heart to heart.’ And, although we miss not being able to meet and to worship in public, nonetheless, heart can still speak to heart – I received the Pope’s message because Justin Welby, whom I follow, ‘liked’ it – and I’ve passed it on earlier this week to some of you – and now to everyone watching – heart speaks to heart, mine to yours, each of us to others, and the shared message of hope –‘He is Risen! There is hope!’ – spans two thousand years, and finds no barriers between races, nations and all the multitude of things that divide us.
But, let’s be honest, I feel a bit like Thomas, faced with this genuinely heartfelt good news from his friends, when he returned from taking his daily exercise and found them all on a bit of a high, ‘Where’s your proof that this is more than just phantasy-land? – that is, wish-fulfilment resulting in shallow optimism rather than solid hope?’
It’s the marks of the nails. The enduring evidence of his suffering.
Did you pick it up in the Gospel reading?
Jesus greeted them as all good Jews greet each other, ‘Shalom!’ – ‘Peace and fulness of life be with you’ (is what Shalom means) – and we are told: ‘After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.’ That was the point at which they recognised him, and so it was, in due course, for Thomas. Easter Sunday does not obliterate the events of Holy Week and Good Friday. The Gospel story tells us that the sadness and the joy and the darkness and the light are inextricably bound together. There is no nicely sanitised Easter message that erases, as though it never happened, the pain, humiliation and most devastating darkness of the cross.
Listen to how these words, translated from the French of a medieval hymn, hold Good Friday and Easter Day together:
Christ, our companion, gloriously alive,
We can share your darkness; we can share your life.
In the rocky cavern, dead your body lay,
Till the shining angels rolled the stone away.
Risen now in glory, Christ still meets us here,
Lovingly enfolds us, quietens our fear.
So the faithful household sings the joyful hymn:
‘Grief can’t last for ever; death has lost its sting.’
Christ’s glorious living is for us to share.
Lost in adoration, trust will be our prayer.
Help us through the darkness; lead us through the night,
Guarding deep within us, visions of the light.
Christ, our companion, gloriously alive,
We can share your darkness: we can share your life.
‘Sharing life’ has to be more than just well-intentioned hot air, if what hearts speaks to heart is to really make a difference.
In Bisley Church, more than 20 years ago, we found that opening up our Sunday morning service to those who lived in a Care in the Community home, just down the Guildford Road from the church, was a sharing of their wounded lives which brought our barriers down, before we knew what was happening, and our wounded lives became mixed with theirs.
I have found similar very moving ‘sharings of life’ in this past year as my life has been touched by some homeless folk.
You can see the marks of the nails.
The hymn-writer, Sydney Carter, spoke, for me, heart to heart, in his poem about Mother Teresa of Calcutta lifting up a dying man from the gutters:
No revolution will come in time
to alter this man’s life
except the one
surprise of being loved.
It is too late to talk of Civil Rights,
or any kind of sex.
He has only twelve more hours to live.
a cure for cancer, smoking, leprosy
Over this dead loss to society
you pour your precious ointment,
wash the feet
that will not walk tomorrow.
Mother Teresa, Mary Magdalene,
your love is dangerous, your levity
our local gravity.
But if love cannot do it, then I see
no future for this dying man or me.
So – Come, levity of love,
Show him, show me
in this last step of time
Eternity, leaping and capering.
We know very well that, for the time being, we must continue to keep distance from each other – I find that hard, as, I’m sure, you do as well – we need each other. So, let’s not forget that we need the sharing of each other’s hope – heart can still speak to heart, and the contagion of resurrection hope can be spread!
Let me leave you, therefore, with words of passionate hope from Martin Luther King, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech – as one who also knew the marks of the nails. King said:
“I still believe that one day humankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed;
and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” +