19th April 2020

(Note: the newsletter can also be downloaded as a PDF.)

The Parish of Christ Church, Lancaster

A vibrant inclusive worshipping community

Sunday 19th April 2020

Low Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Collect (Prayer for the week)
Risen Christ,  for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred: 
open the doors of our hearts, that we may seek the good of others and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, to the praise of God the Father.

Acts 2: 14, 22-32
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,

“I saw the Lord always before me,  for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;  therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;  moreover, my flesh will live in hope.  For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,  or let your Holy One experience corruption.   You have made known to me the ways of life;  you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

“He was not abandoned to Hades,  nor did his flesh experience corruption.”

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Psalm 16
Refrain: The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not fall
1  Preserve me, O God, for in you have I taken refuge;  ◆
I have said to the Lord, ‘You are my lord,
all my good depends on you.’
  All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land,  ◆
upon those who are noble in heart.
3  Though the idols are legion that many run after,  ◆
their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,
neither make mention of their names upon my lips.
4  he Lord himself is my portion and my cup;  ◆
in your hands alone is my fortune.
5  My share has fallen in a fair land;  ◆
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not fall.
6  I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel,  ◆
and in the night watches he instructs my heart.
7  I have set the Lord always before me;  ◆
he is at my right hand; I shall not fall.
8  Wherefore my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices;  ◆
my flesh also shall rest secure.
9  For you will not abandon my soul to Death,  ◆
nor suffer your faithful one to see the Pit.
10  You will show me the path of life;
in your presence is the fullness of joy  ◆
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not fall.

1 Peter 1 .3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

John 20:19-end

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

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. 

This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

For an audio recording of today’s Gospel reading and reflection, go to http://www.christchurchlancaster.org.uk/sermons.

Reflection (from Pat Allen).

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week…” What a day that had been! Early that morning, Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb where Jesus’ body had lain, only to find that it was empty. Peter and “the other disciple” had run to the tomb and had seen for themselves. Then Mary had had her encounter with angels, and with the risen Jesus. She had returned to the disciples to declare “I have seen the Lord”, and tell them the words that Jesus had spoken to her.

If Mary expected to be believed, and her message greeted with general rejoicing, she must have been disappointed. There seems to have been no response to her announcement. Indeed when Jesus appears that evening he finds the disciples huddled and fearful in a locked room. Jesus gives them his shalom, his peace, and shows them his wounds.

The disciples have to have their own encounter with Jesus; Mary’s word is not enough. Jesus appears to them and they rejoice when they see the Lord (20:20). However for some reason Thomas is not present that Sunday evening. We are not told why; perhaps the lockdown was getting to him, or he was out for his daily exercise! When he returns the disciples say to him the same words that Mary used, “We have seen the Lord,” but Thomas has to see for himself. So it is very unfair that Thomas has been tagged with the epithet “Doubting Thomas”. All of the disciples doubted, and all needed to see the evidence that Jesus had risen and was really present with them.

The following Sunday the disciples are again gathered in the house, and this time Thomas is with them. Jesus again appears, and invites Thomas to feel the wounds of the crucifixion.  This is the scene so often depicted in paintings, with Thomas sticking his finger into the wound in Christ’s side (there is a particularly horrible and graphic one by Caravaggio!). However Thomas doesn’t do this in the gospel account. Instead we hear his great confession of faith: “My Lord and my God”. This is not about believing in some particular doctrine, it is not about being convinced intellectually that the resurrection is factual, it is a statement of trust and relationship. And Jesus’ response: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe” is not a rebuke, it is a blessing on all who make the journey of faith without having seen the physical evidence, including all of us, so distant from those events in time and place. Faith is not knowledge, it is, as it says in Hebrews “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

It is only in the fourth gospel that Thomas gets a speaking part. In the other gospels he is only mentioned in passing, in a list of the disciples. In John’s gospel, he is specifically mentioned three times.  In chapter 11 Thomas shows himself to be a disciple who is committed to following Jesus. He encourages all of the others to go along with Jesus to Jerusalem, knowing the dangers that could lie ahead, if necessary to die with him.

He was also a disciple with an honest question. In chapter 14 Jesus says, as part of his farewell discourse, that he is going to prepare a place for his friends, and Thomas says “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”, leading to Jesus’ famous reply “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

So I think it would be more appropriate to call him “Honest Thomas”: honest and sincere in his commitment to follow Jesus; honest in his questioning that leads him, and all of us, deeper into the faith of Jesus; and honest about his doubts.

After the Paris bombings in November 2015, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told an audience in Bristol Cathedral that there were moments when he wondered “Is there a God? Where is God?”.  There were very mixed reactions to this confession: many people said “Oh good. That makes me feel a lot better!”, but there were other quite shocked reactions, some (in the press) verging on the hysterical, that a senior churchman could make such an admission.

But Archbishop Justin’s confession of doubt only makes him human. He may be the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he is also a man who knows anguish, rage, incomprehension and the cold bareness of grief. He lost his baby daughter in a car accident when she was just seven months old, a tragedy he has described as “utter agony”. In that interview in Bristol, the Archbishop referred to Psalm 88, which, he said, is “full of doubt”. “Oh Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?”

Faith cannot block out that darkness, or doubt. When on the cross Jesus cried out “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (a quotation from Psalm 22). So if, perhaps in the midst of events like the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, or natural disasters such as pandemics, or our own private tragedies, we have ever felt like crying out “Where are you, God? Are you there at all?” then we are in extremely good company: the psalmists, the disciples, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Jesus himself.

Just as courage is persisting in the face of fear, so faith is persisting in the presence of doubt. Faith then becomes a commitment and a practice. Doubt is not just a vulnerability; it can also be a strength. Doubt acknowledges our own limitations, and challenges our understanding. Certainty is very dangerous; absolute certainty, with no room for doubt, is the hallmark of the fundamentalist, the extremist.

Peter Enns, an American Old Testament scholar, has written about the “benefit of doubt”1. Doubt, he says, is “a gift of God to move us from trusting ourselves to trusting him.” It makes us tear down our idols, our ideas of God that we feel safe and comfortable with. We have to die to ourselves, and that may include our ideas about God, just as Thomas had his devout biblical faith challenged and expanded by his meeting with the risen Christ. And often, that is what God wants to do through an experience of doubt. It’s not there to destroy our faith, but to expand it. Enns says:

When you go out into the world and say “it’s not working,” maybe that is a signal. It’s not God who no longer works, it’s your idea of God that needs work. Maybe you are for the first time being called, as C. S. Lewis put it so well in the Narnia books, to go “further up and further in.” That’s where doubt plays a powerful role.

There is a tradition that Thomas the Apostle took Christianity to India, first to Kerala, and then travelling across the subcontinent to what is now Chennai, where he was martyred. There is no direct evidence for that, although the origins of the Syrian Church of India, sometimes called the Saint Thomas Christian Church, are certainly very ancient.  What is certain is that the doubting disciples huddled in the locked room that first Easter day found the courage to follow Jesus’ command to go out and spread his message far and wide.  So let us follow honest Thomas, live in the doubt and the questions, and go on the journey.  Amen.

[1] The original article unfortunately seems to have disappeared from the author’s website. A shortened version can be found at:
Peter Enns (2011) Why It’s Good to Doubt God [Online], available at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2011/10/why-it%E2%80%99s-good-to-doubt-god/ (accessed 16 April 2020)

Prayers for the week:
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father

Heavenly Father, we rejoice in the resurrection of your Son.  Whatever trials we and all your children may suffer, you are there in the midst of them, even when doubt and fear seem to overwhelm us.

Loving Father, we pray for your church throughout the world.  We rejoice especially with our Orthodox brothers and sisters as they celebrate Easter this Sunday.  Through the pandemic, may all Christians show the face of Jesus in sharing Your love with all people.  Give wisdom and imagination to all church leaders.  Bless our Bishops Julian, Philip and Jill, and inspire and strengthen Revd Carol, as she leads us in these exceptional times.  We thank you for her ministry, and for that of Pat, our Reader, as they use their gifts to support us and to grow your kingdom here.

Almighty Father, guide the leaders of the world to work together to limit both the spread of COVID-19 and its economic damage, and to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable and the poorest.  Give wisdom to local leaders coordinating efforts to support people in need.  Protect and strengthen staff in the NHS and care and emergency services, and all key workers, as they keep our society running under considerable pressure. 

In our parish cycle of prayer, we ask your blessing on those who live and work in Factory Hill, Troutbeck Road, and Wolseley Street, and we also pray for the work of the police and criminal justice system.

Creator Father, as we hear the birdsong and enjoy fresh air and clear skies, strengthen our resolve to limit our travel when the present restrictions are lifted, to protect your beautiful world.

Merciful Father, hold in your loving arms all who are sick, fearful, anxious, lonely or depressed, that they may be comforted by the knowledge of your presence.  We bring before you: Olive Niccolls, Youngblood McCray, Len Fletcher, Ernie Wilson, Pat Brooks, Freya de Lysle, Bill and Ivy Buckley, Michael Greenhalgh, Frank Jensen, and John Fowler and those whom we know to be in need of your healing touch.

Eternal Father, your Son’s resurrection showed that it is impossible to be held by death’s power.  We pray for all who have died, whether from coronavirus for other causes, and especially for the souls of:   Elizabeth Warren, Joan Ross, David Harding, and Doreen Harrison (priest).

May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Comfort those who mourn, especially if they have been unable to say proper goodbyes to their loved ones.  May they (and we) hear and know the promise of Your imperishable inheritance.

Therefore, rejoicing in the fellowship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Thomas, and all the saints, we commend ourselves and all creation to Your unfailing love.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen

Post Communion prayer
Lord God our Father,  through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him:
deliver us from the death of sin and raise us to new life in your love, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some suggested hymns you may like to follow at home:

Spiritual Communion
For many of us, receiving bread and wine at the Eucharist is the foundation of our Sunday service, and the way we know Christ’s loving, sustaining presence in our lives, and specially at the big feasts of Easter and Christmas. From ancient times, the Church has held a service called ‘Spiritual Communion’ especially for those who could not receive the bread and wine of communion, for example when illness prevented it. Spiritual Communion has much in common with a Eucharist – we ask God for His help and forgiveness, we pray for ourselves and for the world, and we ask Christ to bring us closer to the community of love that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the assurance that however ill or isolated we might be, Christ is there beside us, and we are part of His church family because of His grace and love, until the time comes when we can receive communion once again. As I pray the Eucharist each Sunday on behalf of the parish; thanking God for His many blessings and asking for His protection and care – you may wish to follow the Spiritual Communion service at home, using the day’s readings, prayers and sermon.

During the week, Morning Prayer is said at 8.30am and Evening Prayer at 6pm. You’re invited to keep these as times of prayer at home too. If you wish to follow th readings and prayers, the best way is via the Daily Prayer app, or the Church of England website. Paper copies are also available for the Easter Season, so if you’ve not already got one, please let Rev Carol know.

The Church of England also have the Pilgrim app available, which offers daily reflections, prayers and readings for the days between Easter and Ascension Day. Some of it is led by our Archbishops, and offers some great food for thought! Available via the Church House Publishing website.

Livestreaming Church
If you want to follow a service from the comfort of your sofa this weekend, did you know that the Church of England, and our Diocese have Youtube Channels? https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMZ_3qPsmiiP4-StDmTXrIw will be showing Sunday worship from our two Archdeacons.   Lancaster Priory are also offering prayer twice a day via their Facebook page.

Prayer from Home.
Our prayer life can change over time, especially when we are faced with new routines or anxieties. One way of talking with God may no longer feel like it is helpful. Christianity has a rich variety of ways to pray, some of which, like St Ignatius’ Examen, have come out of periods of isolation and suffering. I’ve put together a short booklet of some different ways to pray at home  (available on the website and as a PDF mailing) – you may wish to try a prayer experiment and test out a new way to pray, either alone or as a family!

Stations of the Resurrection.
On Fridays, it is traditional for Christians to remember Christ’s passion and death –  whether through fasting (Fishy Friday), or in prayer. As we continue into the Easter season, you may wish to use the Stations of the Cross (available on the website at http://www.christchurchlancaster.org.uk/stations) each Friday as an act of prayer and devotion, knowing that Christ suffers with us in the midst of this outbreak.

In recent years, a parallel act of worship has evolved, called the Stations of the Resurrection. It follows the same format, where prayers are combined with readings and times of reflection. However, it helps focus on the Biblical stories of people meeting with the Risen Christ – so that we too have a personal encounter with Him in prayer. They can be prayed as a whole, or by taking a Station each day. There is a booklet available on the website (and as a PDF mailing), and a video-meditation on the Facebook page – if you’d prefer a paper copy please let Rev Carol know.  You can also watch a video of the Stations of the Resurrection from St Laurence’s Chorley from 6 pm on Saturday 18th April https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClIIZiMeUxptpFFF1wd01gA

Children’s Corner
With a partner, take it in turn to put a random collection of objects in a pillowcase, and see who can guess what they are just by feeling them (eyes closed, no peeping!) We only know what some things are by their shape, or even taste and smell! How might you recognise Jesus if you met Him? What would He look like? What might He say or do that would make you know it really was Him? Think about how other people might know that you were Christian – not just what you wear, but how you act. You might like to decorate a sign for your mirror ‘Let people see Jesus in me’ to help you remember!

Help, Prayer and Support:
If you need a hand with shopping, medicines collection etc in coming weeks, or would like a friendly phone call, or if you are able to help others in the parish out, please contact help@christchurchlancaster.org.uk or call/text 07539 583638 and leave a message, or contact us via our Facebook page.

We will be praying daily for all who are suffering in the current crisis. If you would like us to pray for you, or for someone you know, for any reason, please email your request to prayer@christchurchlancaster.org.uk  or text the Prayer Chain on 07980 351855. Please ask the person’s permission if you’d like them included in the weekly notices.

Thank you!
With grateful thanks to all who have helped in preparing for Easter in recent weeks, whether making kit bags for the children, caring for the church building, keeping the website up to date and preparing Stations of the Cross.

From Canon Brenda Harding
Thank you all so much for  the beautiful flowers, cards and messages which Rev. Carol kindly delivered on Easter Day. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement! You have all been so kind and generous but really I should be thanking you for allowing me to minister at Christ Church and to share in so many special occasions, joyful and sad, over so many years. I have loved every minute and thank you from the bottom of my heart. Special thanks to Jacqueline for compiling the messages which I will always treasure.  Brenda 

Pleas of the week:
Do you Gu? If you have any of the glass pots left over from Gu puddings, or any small jam jars (340g or smaller, clean, no lids) please would you donate them to Rev Carol, at the Vicarage, or she can collect them, before Ascension Day (21st May) – as a Pentecost plan is being hatched!

Lancaster Foodbanks are still desperate for donations: please help if you can. You can leave food in the collection boxes in Dalton Square Pharmacy, local supermarkets, or take it to St Thomas’s Centre where the Olive Branch food bank is now based.

Please also see the letter from Lancaster CVS appealing for their Urgent Response Fund for local charities trying to mitigate the effects of  COVID-19.

Giggle (or groan) of the Week: (suggestions welcome)
Q.  What do you call a mischievous egg?

A.  A practical yolker!

Eco-Church Group Action for the Week
Use this time of isolation to learn how to make do and mend, and enjoy more home-cooked meals. 

Key contacts:

Vicar: Revd Carol Backhouse 942105 revcarolbackhouse@gmail.com

Lay Reader:  Dr Pat Allen 39552.

Churchwarden: Dr Paul Thompson 34949

Churchwarden: Mrs Jacqueline Stamper 64083 churchwarden@christchurchlancaster.org.uk

Parish Safeguarding Officer:  Ms Jane Lippitt 07930 979503 safeguarding@christchurchlancaster.org.uk

Children’s Church: Mrs Liz Mills 67005

Nightshelter Co-ordinator: Ms Jan Norbury 07547 717 060   coordinator.nightshelter@gmail.com

Hall Bookings: hallchristchurch@btinternet.com 07890 351855

Christ Church School  Ms Emma Simpson 60955 head@christchurch-lancaster.lancs.sch.uk