Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Throughout this time of global pandemic, I have so missed seeing people face to face. Whilst it has been marvellous to be able to Zoom and see people on the screen or phone someone up and hear their voice, nothing beats being in the same place as another person and having a good chat. Despite the necessity of social distancing, the last year has reminded us in so many ways that we are deeply interconnected with one another. As human beings we are created by God in relationship and for relationship. We are not created in order to live locked down lives, apart from one another, jumping into the hedge or onto the road if we see someone coming towards us whilst out for a walk. We have lost a way of living and a way of loving which before the pandemic we took for granted. There are so many heart-wrenching stories of isolation, fear, struggle, illness, bereavement and death. Yet alongside these there are many wonderful stories of neighbourly concern and connection as people have tried to help one another practically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually too.
In her book, Encounters, Bishop Rachel reminds us that ‘whereas so much of the activity of human encounter is severely changed during a time of viral pandemic, the God of relationship is unchanged……’ In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 3:12- 19), Peter speaks about this unchanging God of relationship, ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors’….who has ‘glorified his servant Jesus’. In the bible, we see this same God, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Leah and Rachel inviting us into relationship, friendship, in and through Christ Jesus.
Sadly, many of us know very well that grief and shock can do strange things. So it is for the disciples. In our Gospel reading, Luke tells us that the risen Christ stands among his ‘startled and terrified’ disciples. Understandably, recent events are all too much. They are so frightened that they think they are seeing a ghost.
Jesus sets out to prove who he is: ‘Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ (Luke 24:39) Jesus asks for food and they give him a piece of broiled fish which he eats. This really is the Jesus who was crucified, died and was buried. This is the risen Christ who has a task for his followers. They are witnesses to all that has taken place and so they are asked to share all that they have seen and all that they believe with others. They are to take the message of salvation throughout the world. ‘Peace be with you, ’Jesus says to them. ‘Peace be with you,’ Jesus says to us as well. Jesus’ greeting communicates the gift of shalom. Jesus offers shalom which is well-being, wholeness and salvation for all.
There is a theme running through many of the stories about Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection. They simply do not recognise him. Wearing masks as we have to do at present, we may have some sympathy. It’s hard to recognise one another. We can’t read each other’s expression and it’s often difficult to hear what someone is saying. If we can’t recognise each other, or hear each other, how best can we help others to recognise and to hear the call of the risen Christ? How best can we find ways to share the transforming good news of Jesus Christ at this time?
As we reopen our churches and continue to emerge from lockdown, several people have asked me when things will go back to normal. In particular they are asking when social events might resume and services each week in both St Swithun’s and St Mary de Lode plus of course the PCC’s commitment to keep the weekly online service going too. The theologian Walter Brueggemann writes that after a period of disorientation brought about by a crisis, we need a period of reorientation. I suggest that we are in that place of reorientation. We are encouraged to discern together sustainable ways of moving forward with parish life such that we can continue to worship and to share our faith with others. The vision for the future of the Church of England emerging from this pandemic is that we will be simpler, humbler and bolder. What might this mean in our context?
Let us pray for faith to recognise and proclaim the risen Christ in our midst, for hope to be woven through these days and for love to underpin all who we are and all that we do together. Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Rev Canon Nikki Arthy, Rector