When Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon in 1969, it must have felt like the strangest thing to experience a place where no-one had ever been before. What will it feel like for us as we launch out into a changed world after lockdown?
Here is the first of a series of excerpts from Bob and Mary Bain’s new book, ‘Launching after Lockdown’.
AN UPPER ROOM LOCKDOWN
Jesus brings peace to our fears and is with us. Our faith in him is fact-based, supported by the first hand witness accounts of his resurrection.
NORMAL LIFE HAD STOPPED
It was in the build-up to Easter, as I prepared an online Sunday message for a group of churches in my home region of Northumberland, that I began to see, and be amazed by, the parallels between what we have been going through in this pandemic, and the experience of the first followers of Jesus, just a few days after His death. The resurrection had happened but they hadn’t really understood what it all meant yet. Their main feelings were that everything that had become normal life for them over three and half years of being with Jesus, had suddenly ground to a halt. They had walked and ate, adventured, and lived their lives with Jesus throughout that time, and now he had been brutally taken from them. Suddenly everything had changed – there was a sense of loss and also a very present feeling of danger too. Just like Jesus, they also might be grabbed hold of by the authorities, and suffer a gruesome death at their hands.
FEAR LOCKS US IN
In John’s gospel, chapter twenty, we can read about the way the disciples reacted to their sudden change of circumstances and the threat that they now faced. Their knee-jerk reaction was absolute fear. All former courage and brave posturing had instantly vanished from them, and basic survival mode had kicked in. They rushed inside, closed the doors, and locked themselves in – ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 20:19). This has been our situation too. There has been a very real threat from Covid-19 in this pandemic. Our knee-jerk reaction has been to lockdown and isolate in order to minimise the danger of death. Sensible survival measures have been implemented, sometimes painfully slowly, but there has also been a lot of fear. As we have heard the stories of what has happened to others, and the daily death numbers, nationally and globally, fear has gripped our communities.
JESUS IS HERE
For the first disciples of Jesus, locked away in an upper room, the presence of Jesus, suddenly standing among them, was a big shock. They hadn’t taken in the promise which he’d made to them of His resurrection. He’d said he would be back, raised from the dead, but none of their plans had factored in that piece of information. Their strategy on how to handle what had happened had gone as far as a lockdown. This was very understandable in the circumstances, but Jesus had been left out of the picture. Their strategy had been entirely based on fear.
Then suddenly he comes and stands among them, in the middle of their fear, and says ‘Peace be with you.’ (John 20:19, 21) He knew these were the first words they needed to hear. Jesus hadn’t abandoned the first disciples and he hasn’t abandoned us either. He comes and stands among us.
No wonder the disciples needed to hear those words, ‘Peace be with you’. Perhaps this figure standing among them was a ghost? But he showed them his hands and side, and then they were convinced He really was there with them – raised from the dead; and they were totally overjoyed (John 20:20)! What a turnaround in feelings! Their emotions were all over the place. Luke says, in his gospel, that they were ‘unable to believe for joy and amazement’ (Luke 24:41).
The joy of those first locked-in disciples wasn’t all froth and bubble, based on wishful thinking. Jesus had shown them his hands and feet, and they had touched him. Luke’s gospel records that he even ate some fish in front of them in order to convince them (Luke 24:41-42). Ghosts don’t eat fish. We may not have been there that day but there is a factual base to our belief that Jesus rose from the dead. The gospel accounts are there to reassure us that his resurrection really did happen. He was able to convince even doubting Thomas, when he appeared to them again a week later; this time with Thomas present. ‘Jesus said to Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
When Jesus saw Thomas, a whole week had gone by since his first appearance to the other disciples. A week can be a long time in lock down. The disciples were still processing. He was there before their eyes, and they could still hardly process it. We can almost hear them exclaiming, ‘Unbelievable!’
In our lockdown we have been having our own experiences of processing what has been going on. There has been a lot to take in! Jesus is saying to us, ‘Stop doubting and believe. I have risen from the dead, and I am with you now.’ He wants us to have confidence that he is not a myth. There are the facts of history – we can read about what the disciples witnessed – the empty tomb and the folded grave cloths, and the multiple witnesses who saw him alive and risen. Paul has a long list of them, for example, in 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen, including five hundred who saw Jesus at the same time!
We also have our own growing experience of his presence through the Spirit in us. The lockdown has been a time to reflect on and process our own personal experiences with him.
WITH US RIGHT TO THE END
We shouldn’t be surprised then, by Jesus walking with us, supporting us in what’s going on right now. He said to those first disciples, ‘Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). Last time I looked on the calendar, the age to which Jesus is referring hadn’t come to an end; when it does, I am sure, he will wrap it all up and be the last one to leave. In the new language we are learning from zoom meetings, he is the one on the button who will end the meeting for all participants! He will be the last one left in the room! In all the upheaval of the circumstances in which we are now living, Jesus is there with us, saying ‘Peace be with you. I am really here. I’m not a myth. I’m not some kind of make-believe comfort blanket’. It’s very reassuring.
WORDS OF PEACE AND COMFORT
The peace that Jesus brings is like a strong force coming upon us and allaying all our fears. I felt this need for his peace early on in the lockdown, when I realised that one of our daughters who is a nurse, was interacting in her hospital with covid-19 patients but, at that time, was being inadequately protected. Bad images of my daughter catching the virus and dying, gripped hold of me. I’d just watched a short animation film which graphically detailed the way covid-19 kills people so that hadn’t helped me, and the media news was laying it on thick with fear. Resting back in the peace of Jesus and taking my fears to him in prayer, was the only way for me to keep calm. These words from one of Paul’s letters really helped me, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving make your requests known to God, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7).
PERSONALISE AND DECLARE GOD’S WORD
Two psalms were particularly an immediate blessing – Psalm ninety-one and Psalm one hundred and twenty-one. In the first few days of the pandemic it seemed as if everyone was bringing these two psalms out of their storehouse of good Bible passages. They are full of words of comfort and reassurance that God is looking after us and helping us, and are always worth a read at any time. So it was the words of these psalms that I personalised in prayer. I would read them out slowly and personalise them by changing the sentences into first person plural. So for example, ‘Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly plague’ (Psalm 91:3) became ‘Surely, You will save us from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly plague’.
As I have read these psalms they have become lovely declarations of God’s peace and protection over my family, and those for whom God has prompted me to pray.
There are things ahead out there into which Jesus is sending us; new circumstances which we will have to get to grips with.
SENT OUT FROM LOCKDOWN
When Jesus appeared to the locked in disciples in the upper room, he didn’t just reassure them once. He repeats, ‘Peace be with you’ a second time as well. Something was coming up next which was also going to need them to rest in his peace (John 20:21). They should have guessed! They had been on the move with Jesus for three and a half years, and had understood a little of how he behaved. At one time he had warned a would-be follower what would be ahead for him, as a lifestyle, if he did choose to follow Jesus.
‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Luke 9:58).
The disciples had lived an itinerant lifestyle never knowing where they might be going next. There had been nothing static about following Jesus. He was always on the move with purpose and direction. So what Jesus said next shouldn’t have been a surprise!
Jesus says, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20:21). They are paralysed by fear and behind locked doors, but instead of leaving them there, Jesus is giving them their marching orders! He commissions them for mission. They will be going in his name and authority, to the whole world. Jesus unpacks the mission further – they would be witnesses to His resurrection, not only in the city of Jerusalem but ‘in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
A NEW DIRECTION AND PURPOSE
The disciples were given a plan that is geographically huge, and way out there in terms of their emotional state at the time. No wonder they needed those words, ‘Peace be with you’. Jesus was giving them a wider tangible reassurance of peace for what was ahead. Rather than hiding away, he was sending them out.
I believe he is doing the same with us. He is there to reassure us in our fears with his peace, but he is also launching us out into a wider place. He is coming to where we are currently positioned and addressing our immediate emotional state, but he has new direction and purpose for us which will require us to move. Even as Jesus spoke those sending words to the first disciples, he is speaking them to us too. ‘As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you’…
Launching after Lockdown is available to buy on Amazon.