First preached as a sermon on the Second Sunday of Easter at Croydon Minster, also the Sunday of the Annual Parochial Church Meeting. Text: John 20.19-31.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Over the last few months the nation has become wearily familiar with the Speaker of the House of Commons, after another vote in the House, bellowing, (and I won’t do an impersonation!) ‘unlock!’
Well, this morning’s Gospel reading is saying the same thing: it’s time to unlock!
Unlock your hearts. Unlock your minds. Unlock your bodies. Open up. Then step out into the world in faith, hope and love.
As we gather for this Eucharist, today the Second Sunday of Eastertide, the day of our Annual Parochial Church Meeting, the Gospel tells us that doors that were locked can be flung open; there is nothing to fear in being witnesses to the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The disciples locked themselves away ‘out of fear’. The keys to the Kingdom that Peter had been given by Christ had locked the door; when really they are for unlocking.
So Jesus Christ unlocks the doors of that room, where the disciples were fearfully huddled, in a threefold way: through peace, forgiveness and faith.
Peace. First, he extends his hands: ‘Peace be with you’ he says. Shortly we will share the Sign of Peace, and in Eastertide the introduction to the Peace draws directly on this morning’s gospel scene: ‘then were they glad when they saw the Lord’.
The exchange of the Sign of Peace is not to prompt backslapping bonhomie, or to catch up on old titbits of news, or even enquire after someone’s wellbeing: that is the behaviour of the locked away, the introspective and the clubbish.
The exchange of the Sign of Peace acknowledges the Peace that Christ brings dispels fearfulness such that we disarm ourselves and look out beyond ourselves.
The gift of peace to the disciples also turns them into being apostles, for they are sent in peace, to bring peace, to be peace-full. An apostle is one who is sent: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (John 20.21).
That’s what the final commission of the Eucharist is about: ‘Go in peace’! Flow out from here like life giving water - unlocked - bearing peace on your way.
And that’s the second gift there is: forgiveness. Christ the Unlocker breathes the Holy Spirit upon the apostles with the breath of forgiveness. The apostles are to be a forgiven and forgiving community.
There is immense power in this. Jesus is not giving them a power to withhold forgiveness, or not, as if it were their own to bestow. Rather, the power to forgive sins goes with the power of being forgiven by Jesus. Without forgiving others you will never know yourself to be forgiven; without knowing yourself to be forgiven, you will never forgive others.
Forgiveness in the Name of Jesus unlocks: it unlocks intractable situations (reconciliation - personal, corporate, international - flows from forgiveness). Forgiveness unlocks tangled up lives that have turned in on themselves; forgiveness unlocks and releases.
Confession of our sins, not the retention of other peoples’ sins, unlocks and unblocks our relationship with God and other people.
Peace. Forgiveness. Faith.
Faith unlocks. Faith, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11.1). It is faith that gives hope for the future, for the future is filled with things not seen.
What can give us assurance is what was tangible for Thomas. In the wounds of Christ we see, feel and touch the passionate love of God for us and the world. In his resurrection, the wounds of crucifixion don’t go away but are transformed into glorious signs of Christ’s commitment to us.
Faith, then, unlocks our imaginations and opens us up to the capacity that God has for renewal and transformation: the renewal and transformation of our personal lives, our relationships, our church, our world.
Peace. Forgiveness. Faith. Three signs of the presence of Christ, the One Who Unlocks.
So what locks you in? For many people what locks them in is fear: fear of failure, fear of being exposed for being some sort of fraud; fear that being true to one’s own convictions will expose one to ridicule, embarrassment or shame.
If you’re locked in, someone else is locked out. Being locked in creates divisions. You can see that in individual lives, amongst self-identifying groups and communities and between nations.
All this can be true of a church community too. Churches can go into spiritual, and physical, lock down. (After all, that’s what the embryonic church, the band of Christ’s disciples, did). We can look in on ourselves. We can keep things ticking over. We can take comfort in the familiar and what we can control. We can ‘batten down the hatches’. We lock ourselves in and lock others, including Jesus Christ, out.
In that situation Christ calls: ‘Unlock! Receive my peace; be forgiving and forgiven. Have faith’.
I know that is our heart’s desire here at this Minster Church: to unlock and open up.
That is about our spiritual disposition, what you could call our culture, and it’s about physical posture, in other words, our practice, what we do.
I detect a great yearning for this church to establish itself afresh as the ancient and enduring spiritual heart of this community of Croydon, not in splendid isolation but working with all who seek the Common Good, to be a symbol of God’s faithfulness over the centuries, God’s commitment to the present, and hope and faith for the future.
There is a desire to unlock, roll up our collective sleeves and serve our locality because “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” (Gaudium et Spes, 1)
I hope that our annual report is a reflection of all the wonderful things that happen here and an indication of all that can be unlocked here.
In the coming weeks we will have a chance to do some self-reflection, through the short questionnaire that you’re encouraged to complete, through praying for our church and gathering on 15th June for a time when we can map out our vision as a church community.
That is not us being introspective or locked in, but being renewed to step out afresh, going in peace to love and serve the Lord.
In the coming months, leading to the autumn, the Church Council and I will be working on a new Mission Action Plan. That plan will have been deeply informed by our vision day in June. It will help us identify what you can call our ‘greater “yes”’, as we look towards God’s future with hope.
That Mission Action Plan will be our tool to unlock and open up our renewed vision, mission and purpose. There is so much we would love to do. Yet under God, a plan will identify the things that we say ‘yes’ to and embrace, and the things that, at this time, we need to say ‘no’ to. And it will ask us to identify the resources we need to realise it.
Knowing our ‘greater “yes”’ is what will unlock our energies and passions not for ourselves but for the sake of the Kingdom.
Unlocked living is about living life in all its abundance (cf John 10.10).
May that life, received in Word and sacrament, be an enduring feature of this church and all who pass through her doors, unlocked, for the sake of all people and the Kingdom, such that we go from here in peace, forgiven and forgiving, filled with faith to love and serve the Lord.