THOUGHT FOR THE DAY Monday 13th April 2020
Before you read on, why don’t you take a moment to turn to John’s gospel with me – chapter 1, verses 1-18. As you do, pray that God will speak to you through this passage and make His word relevant to you today.
Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Normally we would have gathered to celebrate together in church. We would have sung hymns at the top of our voices and wished each other happy Easter with a hug or a handshake. For many of us, Easter is normally a welcome time to catch up with family: Grandparents spending time with grandchildren, a chance to catch up with siblings, cousins and parents. Egg hunts, roast dinners and a house full of people… Not so this year.
Apart from being Easter Sunday, yesterday was also my Dad’s birthday. As my family lives in Denmark, I only see them twice a year. For months we had been looking forward to a great family reunion in London over the Easter holiday where we could share meals, exchange hugs and spend time together. Instead, I sang Happy Birthday to my Dad over WhatsApp as he opened the card and the present I had sent him in the post.
At this time when we can’t be together, words become more important to convey our care. Words on the phone. Words on Zoom. Words shouted over the fence to the neighbour two doors down. And still, words alone have their limitations. They feel like a pale substitute for the real thing.
An hour after my conversation with Dad yesterday, Mam sent a short video of Dad wearing the shirt I had sent him. The video enabled me to watch as Dad felt the fabric with his fingers, telling me how soft and pleasant it was. While the words (and the image) conveyed something, our ability to share the experience was limited. I could not at that moment touch the fabric with him.
In verse 14, John tells us that “The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us”. John wrote his gospel in Greek. In that language, the meaning of “word” is much richer than merely ‘building blocks for sentences’. The Word, Logos, is what holds everything together. It is the order, yes indeed, the very fabric of life.
For centuries, God had spoken. God had spoken in creation. God had spoken through the prophets, to men and women chosen to pass on the message about God’s commitment to us. God continued to re-dial our number, to reconnect with us, to work around the glitches in communication, our slow and failing ‘internet connections’ and our endless distractions. God could have left it at that, but He didn’t.
He came to us in person. God, who is eternal spirit, became a physical human being, so that we could see in Jesus what God is really like. The Word became flesh. The very fabric of life became tangible. Love walked around on two feet and touched people. Ate with people. Bumped into people. God is not virtual; God is love in action.
Love that touches a leper with a hand of flesh and blood. Love that reaches out to a dead girl and takes her by the hand on a particular day in a particular location. Love that accepts having a nail driven through a hand as real as yours and mine, with the same nerves, the same blood vessels, the same reflexes to avoid pain. Love that offers to Thomas not only His hand, but His side too, to touch and feel for himself. God is love in action.
For some of us, lockdown is difficult, perhaps especially for those of us who live on our own. Words are not flesh and phone conversations are not cwtches. If only we could hold on to someone. If only we could see each other.
On Easter morning, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene to stop clinging to Him as He has not yet ascended to the Father. Later, He tells Thomas “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. There is something here about how precious Jesus’ real, physical body was to these two disciples – and probably to the others, too – yet at the same time, Jesus appears to challenge the way they relate to Him after the resurrection. He seems to want them to see a bigger picture. A reality in which Jesus will be even more present with them than He is in the physical body the disciples have become so familiar with.
Before Jesus’ crucifixion, He told the disciples that He would be going away so that He could send them the Holy Spirit, the Along-Sider, which was given to them at Pentecost. This way, Jesus could be with them always and everywhere.
The Spirit of Jesus is given to every believer. We, too, can be with Jesus always and everywhere. Perhaps that is why Mary Magdalene was discouraged from clinging to Jesus’ physical body. Because something even better was in store for her, and for us all. Perhaps that is why we are all blessed. We have not seen, but yet, we have believed, and have received the Spirit of Jesus, who lives in us, teaches us, and transforms us.
That’s not a pale substitute. It’s the real thing. It is God’s love in action.