Sharing Our Faith Together

Worship for 11 April 2021 - Women’s Fellowship Anniversary

by Janet Patmore 11 April 2021

We are delighted to have today's service prepared by Janet Patmore at the invitation of our Women's Fellowship.

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Hymn: Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord

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What's in a name - Introduction

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We share an Easter prayer written by Revd Michaela Youngson.
When everything was dark and it seemed that the sun would never shine again, your love broke through. Your love was too strong, too wide, too deep
for death to hold. The sparks cast by your love dance and spread and burst forth with resurrection light.

Gracious God, We praise you for the light of new life made possible through Jesus. We praise you for the light of new life that shone on the first witnesses of resurrection. We praise you for the light of new life that continues to shine in our hearts today.

We pray that the Easter light of life, hope and joy, will live in us each day; and that we will be bearers of that light into the lives of others. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession
Lord, we have followed your cross to Calvary. We kneel now before that cross and lay our burden of sin, the wrongs we have done, the loving actions we have left undone, the sins of thought and word and deed. In the silence we search our hearts and ask you to cleanse us and put a right spirit within us. And as we see your arms stretched out in welcome we hear your words of grace to us all. “Your sins are forgiven.   

And we say the Lord’s Prayer

Reading: John 20:19-31

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Talk - associated notes below

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What’s in a name?
I think you’ll agree you’ve got to feel sorry for Thomas. Why?   Well, first of all he’s called Thomas. Now apologies to any Thomases listening- it’s a very nice name – But when it comes to meanings it disappoints. Cast your eyes around the disciples- there’s John –meaning God is gracious, Andrew, manly, valiant, Simon Peter, the rock. And what does Thomas mean? -  its Aramaic meaning is –the twin. Again apologies to any twins listening but I would have thought that if you are a twin, most people would have got the message. Do you really have to be called TWIN?  And then as if to rub it in, he is referred to as Thomas called Didymus.  Didymus - which is the Greek word for twin. So he’s TWIN twice over, TWIN squared Poor Thomas .                                                                                                                                                     

And then- can it get any worse? -he earns another nickname. He goes down in history as Doubting Thomas.                                                                                           

But does he really deserve that name?  I don’t think so.  Far from being the epitome of doubt, Thomas travels that journey of struggling, developing belief which leads to absolute faith and commitment. 

Let’s go back to the start of that journey. Thomas was called by Jesus to be one of his chosen twelve. There are no details given of his call but we know that Jesus recognised in him something, some quality that made him call him to that special group of disciples and we know that Thomas responded to that call and committed himself to travelling with Jesus, to learning from him, to taking risks alongside him.

In those three years of travelling Thomas is not mentioned much. Unlike the impulsive, blustering Peter, he seems to keep a low profile and yet, at certain key moments, when a new step of faith confronts the disciples, it is Thomas’s voice that we hear.

Listen to him first as the story of the raising of Lazarus unfolds. Jesus had been under attack from an angry rabble of Jews in Jerusalem, asking him to tell them plainly if he was the Messiah. Jesus responds that he has told them, not in words but in works, and they have not believed. “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me,” he says, “but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”  And Jesus affirms unequivocally “The Father and I are one.” At this the crowd threaten to stone him and arrest him for blasphemy, and he makes his escape, with his disciples, across the Jordan to a place of relative safety. It is there that he receives the message that Lazarus is ill. But surprisingly he does not set out for Bethany at once. He waits. He waits because he perceives that here is the way God has prepared for giving his disciples fresh insights into faith. And so it is after a delay of two days that he prepares to go back to Judea. The disciples try to dissuade him, reminding him of the danger from the hostile crowds but as Jesus alerts them that at this point Lazarus is dead and he must go to him, it is Thomas, who rallies the disciples, saying “Let us also go, that we may die with him."   Whether he said it with blind fervour, or with strained resignation we do not know, but it was he, doubting Thomas, who encouraged them on, back to Judea where they witnessed not just healing, but resurrection from death, where they heard Martha testifying “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” and where we are told that many of the Jews who had come with Mary and seen what Jesus had done believed in him. Thank you, doubting Thomas – you were the voice that urged those disciples in the direction of belief.

Now fast forward to that upper room- the last supper.  Jesus is striving to prepare his disciples for what is to come –for his betrayal, his death and their physical separation from him. He promises that that he is going ahead to prepare a place for his flock, that he will return to take his people to that prepared place, that in the fullness of time they will all be together in his father’s house. All very mystifying – enigmatic promises which evoke a stunned silence. But then comes that positive, matter-of-fact statement from Jesus  that seems to move us from a vague future into the practical here and now, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Now here is a statement that the disciples can legitimately question and it is Thomas who pounces. “Lord. We do not know where you are going so how can we know the way.”    A reasonable question. Thomas is the voice of one struggling to get a straight answer that will allow him to make sense of what he is hearing. And what he gets, what he evokes from Jesus is one of the most precious, treasured statements of the gospel. “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me you will know my Father also.”                                                                                                                                   

Thank you, doubting Thomas. You voiced our lack of comprehension and you received for us those words of assurance.

And now-fast forward again- the worst has happened-Jesus has been crucified. There is no mention of Thomas in the crucifixion scenes or on the third day. Is he dealing with his thoughts, his disappointment, his emotions on his own? When he next sees the rest of the disciples they are full of wonderful news. They have seen Jesus. He has risen from the dead. He can appear in locked rooms. He has breathed his spirit into them. And Thomas has missed this. He has not had this experience of the risen Lord. And, of course, it is his reaction to this news that leads to his name Doubting Thomas. For he cannot accept the words of others. He speaks those words “Unless I see the mark of the nail in his hands, and put my fingers in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side I will not believe.”

Language, particularly spoken language is a fascinating tool. Words alone do not convey meaning-our speech patterns, intonation and stress are all vital in carrying meaning. You can take a simple sentence and by repeating it,  stressing different words each time, come up with as many different nuances.   Listen again to Thomas’s words- putting the stress on the “I”s and the “my”s.  Unless I see the mark of the nail in his hands and put my fingers in the marks of the nails and my hand in his side I will not believe.” Thomas is not denying the disciples’ experience but he is saying that he needs to make this experience his own. He is no different from any of the other disciples. None of them accepted the evidence of another –why should they when they were hearing such a miraculous thing. It was only when they encountered the risen Jesus themselves, either in the garden, or on the road to Emmaus, or in the locked room, that they felt that absolute certainty of the truth. And Thomas had to wait another week for that revelation. And then the miracle happened for him. The same locked room. Jesus appears. And Jesus’s words to Thomas are an echo of Thomas’s earlier reaction as he invites him to see and touch those marks of the crucifixion and to make this resurrection experience his own. And Thomas’s response shows an absolute clarity of understanding because, unlike the others who have responded by saying “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas’ response embodies the full revelation – “My Lord and My God”. Not Doubting Thomas, but Believing Thomas. Believing Thomas who now knows for himself what Jesus meant when he said, “The Father and I are one.”   Believing Thomas who now knows for himself what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me.”    And, of course, it didn’t end there - for Thomas is named as one of the disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the Sea of Tiberias, when Jesus is preparing his disciples for the work ahead. He is presumably there at the ascension, hearing that great commission, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” And tradition has it that Thomas did indeed go beyond Judea and Samaria, that he took the message of Jesus to India and that he died there sharing his faith.

Not doubting Thomas then but Thomas, the man who could not base his belief on someone else’s experience.  Thomas who needed to experience that moment of truth for himself. 

And I feel that it is in Thomas that we have a pattern for our journey – from his original response to Jesus’s call, through his determination to stick with Jesus even when he doesn’t understand Jesus’s words or actions, through his honest questioning of Jesus, through his refusal to accept a second hand faith,  right to that moment when he meets the risen Lord himself and speaks those words of belief and recognition which resonate through history. For we too will have heard the call of Jesus, will have struggled with questions and doubts. And I believe it is through questioning and doubts that we grow and get deeper insights. But for each of us there must be a moment when we truly meet Jesus for ourselves and experience with Thomas that absolute certainty. It may be a gradual recognition, growing out of Christian background or nurture. It may be a sudden dawning, an epiphany moment, a response to a preaching call or mission. It may happen in a time of great joy for us or it may happen in a time of great sorrow or hardship when Jesus is the one who lifts us up and restores us.  It may have been in this time of pandemic that through our anxieties and fears, through our examination of values and priorities, through the compassion of friend and stranger, we have come face to face with the risen Lord.

And so, this Easter, with Thomas, not Doubting Thomas but Believing Thomas, we come to that place where we say, “My Lord and My God.”  Amen

And we sing that great affirmation of Faith. ‘I know that my Redeemer lives.

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Prayers of Intercession  
Loving Heavenly Father,   As in this country we begin to ease out of lockdown we pray for those countries where the pandemic is still at its worst.  We thank you for the skill of the medical professions, the dedication of all key workers, and we pray for healing around the world.  We pray for those countries where even in the grip of pandemic there is still warfare, persecution, civil unrest. We hold before you especially the situation in Myanmar.  We pray for peace around the world.  We pray for those countries where poverty and inequality compound the dangers of disease.  We offer to you the work of All We Can and the commitment of Methodist Women in Britain to supporting our Mission Partners worldwide. We pray for justice and a sharing of resources around the world.                                                                                                                       
Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer.

Loving Heavenly Father,  We pray for our own country, city and neighbourhoods. We thank you for outpouring of love and kindness seen in past months. We pray that we will continue to work together for the good of all, that something positive will have blossomed from the heartbreak of the pandemic.  
Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer.                                                                                               

Loving Heavenly Father, We pray for all those in especial need today. In the silence we hold to you all who are struggling in body, mind or spirit and pray that they will know your arms of love enfolding them.
Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer

Lord God,
We give thanks for the long life of Prince Philip, for all that he has contributed to our nation and beyond, and for his support of our Queen. We pray that he will be at rest trusting in the grace of God.
We remember before you Her Majesty the Queen and her family praying that they will know your comfort and strength in the days to come. In Jesus' name, Amen

And we bring our prayers together and commit ourselves to your work as we all join in the Women’s Fellowship’s special prayer (words below).

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Almighty God, who has called us to thy service in Christ Jesus, we pray thee that we, and all who are members of this Fellowship, may be living members of His Body;  that by our hands His touch may heal the world's wounds and by our lips His word of strength and comfort may be spoken.  May our Fellowship be as a city set on a hill that cannot be hid, and our light so shine that those who see may glorify Thee, our Father in heaven.  Amen

Our closing hymn:At the Name of Jesus’

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The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all Now and evermore. Amen