This is now the fifth Sunday upon which we have not been able to meet in Church, and we are all forming new habits and probably losing track of the days of the week, Sunday and Church-going being the hub around which the rest of the week revolves. Accessing whatever form of worship appeals to us at a fixed time, is probably quite a good habit to establish during these extraordinary days, but we are all choosing to structure our lives during this temporary situation differently.
Today is traditionally known as “Low Sunday”, after Holy Week and Easter Day have formed such a central focus for the Church’s attention. The Gospel reading from St John (chapter 20: 19-end) spans both Easter Sunday and Low Sunday, as Jesus appears to the disciples on two occasions, eight days apart. The counting of days always included the day you are in as well as those to come, in the reckoning of the Scripture writers, so the three days from Christ’s crucifixion to his Resurrection - Friday to Sunday - we might reckon as Jesus rising two days later. Likewise, a week later, in the case of these two Sundays is “eight days later” (verse 26) rather than what we may think of as seven. The crucial point for the Gospel reading today is that Thomas was absent on the first occasion, but present at the second.
The restrictions of the present time, in view of the risks of coronavirus infection, are presenting us with lots of new thoughts and new patterns of doing things. It also make us dwell on what inhibitions we are developing as a result, with distancing becoming habitual and face to face meetings rarely, if ever, possible. Thus, Thomas’ self-imposed inhibition to his faith in Christ (“Unless I see his hands and the imprint of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe”) becomes especially interesting to ponder. The “why?” of not needing the sign he demanded on one Sunday, when he actually saw Jesus the next Sunday, is something that we speculate about. He certainly placed a barrier to his own acceptance of Christ’s resurrection on the first occasion.
Why this seems relevant to me today, is on thinking about how our worship is working or not. All of us would agree that on-line gatherings are not the same as the real thing, but are they facilitating our worship or are they an unhelpful filter? They are an attempt to fulfil what we can manage in no other way, but, however they are managed, are they working? Helpful feedback (thank you for sending it!) says, "Yes", but I have some sympathy with the view that praying alone with our Prayer Book and Bible at home is all one requires, until such time as the churches are open and we may worship together again. However you feel about it, we shall continue to do what we can and provide services online, and prepare ourselves for a major celebration when we can meet to share the Eucharist once again. In the meantime, let us pray for each other and build one another up in the faith in the risen Christ that sustains us each day, seeing beyond the filters and inhibitions and enforced separations, to him whom Thomas recognised this day as, “My Lord and my God”.