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.’ John 20:19-31
I could so easily insert ‘virus’ instead of ‘Jews’ into the first sentence above. The disciples were in lockdown. Except, it wasn’t really the Jews, but those in authority who had crucified Jesus. Adele Reinhartz in the Jewish Annotated New Testamentwrites that ‘the Jews’ in John’s Gospel can mean ‘those who are hostile to Jesus and his followers’ and can be literally translated as ‘the inhabitants of Judea.’
In the Bible we’re not told how many disciples were in fear of the Jewish authorities, but we do know from other stories in the Gospels that there were many disciples, so we can assume that it was not just the eleven who were in lockdown. Of course, the story we have in John’s Gospel speaks of ‘the twelve’ in verse 24 (paragraph two above), so naturally we assume that the disciples written about are of the eleven disciples of the inner group. Not all of the disciples would have been in Jerusalem, but scattered throughout Judea.
Listening to the sermon given by Bishop Anne on Sunday 19thApril (and the services are still available on https://www.scotland.anglican.org/broadcast-sunday-worship/), she spoke of the lock down that we are experiencing, and the effect on families and businesses. Some of us are self-isolating in that lockdown, due to age or underlying health conditions. And yet, a few of us have still experienced colds and other infections. It goes to show that lockdown reduces but does not eliminate the spread of infection. Likewise, being in lockdown does not mean that Christ cannot be present, because as we’re shown in the story above, Christ can stand amongst us. We’re told by Jesus that “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Belief, and continuing to believe in lockdown can be very stressful. Belief amidst underlying health conditions and infections can be hard. I know that during my recent infection I have felt God ask me to focus on Him and worship Him. Taking my focus away from my internal struggles and the news, overladen with negative stories of death and fear, and focussing in on God.
We count ourselves amongst those who have not seen and yet come to believe, such is our faith. But to remain under lockdown needs a new way of thinking, and being. Those not used to being at home have to adjust. A new routine will help those unsure moments, as will regular contact with friends and family over the phone or through social media. New stresses occur and mentally, one’s health needs looking after very carefully during this time.
Doing church has changed, as I hinted in my last Curate’s Letter. Being church has not, and this is where our faith, our belief in the things unseen, is what we need to hold onto. As I feel called to worship God through my infection, we should all look to God and answer that small, quiet voice of calm. As we, as a Province, Diocese and church in Caithness look to news of being church , I ask for your prayers for all of us as we take one tentative step in front of another, unsure of when we might be allowed out, yet sure of the hope we have in God.
He is risen! Alleluia. Alleluia.