Yesterday I picked up a takeaway (Friday night treat) from The Swan, our local pub, now a shop with trays of fresh vegetables and fruit, milk, eggs and tins along the bar. It’s a lifeline – thank you, Bill and Sara.

When it came to paying for the fish and chips, although I was standing in the same room as the person taking the payment, we completed the transaction online. We stood metres apart throughout. And at the end, she didn’t hand me the bags from the kitchen, but put them down on the floor and stepped back, for me then to step forward and pick up. These are the new kindnesses, epidemic etiquette.

Like a perfect takeaway, the Church of England Lectionary can deliver just what you need just when you need it – today’s gospel reading is an example:

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 20:19

This is a gospel passage for us if ever there was one. As we recognised in an earlier reflection, Jesus’ disciples at this point are in lockdown. They are holed up, frightened, in an upper room in Jerusalem, behind closed doors. Yet, despite all their precautions, Jesus comes in and stands among them: neither death nor locked doors nor social distancing regulations will keep him away.

He is uncontainable.

Or is he? Thomas poses a challenge. For all of us, I think. Because Thomas himself is a container. He feels he must keep his beliefs bounded by good sense and due diligence. There are conditions to his believing. He demands to see evidence of Christ’s resurrection.

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.

John 20:25

Plain good sense, surely? But in the end, even Thomas’s empiricism and investigative procedure will not contain Jesus; he cries out, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Not a rational conclusion, but a cry of awestruck wonder. And actually, even John’s gospel itself bursts its banks at this point in the story:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

John 20:30

John can’t contain it all. And he ends his gospel with the words:

If every one of these signs were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

John 21:25

The gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – is uncontainable.

And John doesn’t just tell us this, he shows us. By breaking his own rules, his own stylistic standards, by letting the gospel – so to speak – slip from his fingers. The whole of John’s gospel thus far has been written in the third person: He did this, He said that, Jesus wept, and so on. But here, right at the end, John breaks all his own rules, as though the strict conventions of the genre in which he’s writing cannot contain the staggering enormity of his message: he addresses, finally – you.

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 20:31

No worldly authorities or lockdowns or sciences or docrtines will contain and limit the gospel. History cannot hold it. This is not for the people of Israel, not for the apostles, not for bishops, priests or deacons; it’s not for members of the Church, it’s not even for Christians: it is for you. Personally. You.

The implications are shattering. It’s when we think as paid up members of a club, accepting the rules and principles and orthodoxies of a set of containing conditions, when the doors of our minds are neat, Thomas-tidy and locked up – that we are furthest from God. We become Pharisees.

It reminds me of a poem by Yehuda Amichai, Israel’s greatest modern poet. Amichai says this:

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And the whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

from The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai

Which takes us back to Thomas, and his famous doubts. I don’t actually think it’s Thomas’s doubts that are the problem: it’s the opposite – his stipulations, his making committment conditional on proof, his simplistic ‘seeing is believing’ approach, his needing to be right. To have everything contained.

Thomas is not the archetype of a sceptic, but of a fundamentalist. He needs to know, to be right, certain, hard and trampled like a yard. Aiming for facts, he misses the Truth.

We’re living in lockdown, our doors are closed. But our minds and hearts needn’t be; with God’s grace they can easily be ploughed open with doubts and loves. Look up, and he’s standing right there.

Peace be with you.

Colin

Below is a link to an uncontainable piece of music. To record Small Hours, John Martyn set up a pair of amplifiers on rafts in the middle of a lake in Berkshire. He played in the open air between 3am and 6am one dawn in the long hot summer of 1976. In the background you can hear geese honking, a goods train rumbling by. Music as meditation, as prayer, as peace.

God,
whollyy uncontainable,
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer
eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to whom no door is closed, nothing hidden,
dig up our worlds of convictions and certainties,
break in on us in the midst of our fear and anxiety.
When we thirst for evidence – have mercy on us
when we crave certainty – have mercy on us
when we make demands – grant us peace
through your Risen Son our Lord
standing in the midst of us.
Amen

Posted by Team editor