April 19, 2020
I’ll be focussing on John 20:19-31 in this reflection, but I encourage you to also read the other passages after going through this reflection.
In the midst of the disciples’ fear for their own fate and their confusion at Mary’s testimony, Jesus appears to them. “Peace be with you” says Jesus to his disciples.
Now, peace was probably the last thing they were thinking about at that stage. After all, they’d just been on a huge roller coaster ride which included:
They surely were so confused and scared, not knowing where to turn, or what to do, that peace was EXACTLY what they did need.
As the Risen One, Jesus still bears the scars of his crucifixion, the marks of his death.
Here Jesus offers them his peace, and his mandate, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (v21).
This peace that bears scars and this sending that will not avoid the cross, is now ours.
To top it off, Jesus tells them that he’s sending them out into the world with something called “the Holy Spirit” to guide and protect them. All was coming to a fulfilment. Jesus had assured them earlier that he would bring them comfort and joy (John 17:12-13). He would give them an advocate, "the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father" (John 15:26).
And with that Spirit, he would send them into the world to continue the work and spread the message so, in the words he used when praying to His Father, "that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23).
Now, in their presence, Jesus breathed on them and they were touched with the Holy Spirit.
At the time of the appearance of Jesus, the disciples were a closed, inward looking group, locked away in a closed room, but he turned them into an open team of missionaries, sent out into the world.
Could this time be the time that we acknowledge as the birth of the Christian Church?
The time when a body of believers first met and were told that their mission was to go into all the world and spread the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The disciples were told to go out and forgive people’s sins, just as Jesus had forgiven sins when he was in his 3 years of ministry around Galilee and Jerusalem. He even laid it on them that if they didn’t forgive the sins of others, then their sins would not be forgiven. Quite a responsibility for a bunch of simple fishermen, tax collectors and the like. Could they do the same work as Jesus had done during his ministry on earth? Would it work, or would the people just scoff at them, or worse still, stone them for blasphemy?
Speaking of scoffers, there were, and still are today, those who wouldn’t believe that Jesus and died and risen from the grave after 3 days.
In fact, even one of the 12, Thomas, refuses to believe that Jesus is alive, as he wasn’t in the room when Jesus first appeared to the disciples.
The words he uses are: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Not an unreasonable assertion, given the circumstances and one that you and I would probably make too.
Even the disciples seem unable to recognise Jesus the first time he appears before them. It wasn’t until he shows them his hands and side that they recognise him. Does that make Thomas a “doubter” - or a realist? He saw Jesus nailed to the cross and he saw him die. So, you really can't blame him for wanting a real encounter with a really risen Lord, just like the other disciples had encountered.
When you read through the resurrection accounts of all four gospels, you quickly realise that Thomas is not alone in his doubt. In fact, doubt isn't the exception but the rule.
None of them anticipates the return of Jesus and when he shows up, everyone doubts.
Jesus then appears a week later, in the same room and he doesn’t chide Thomas, but allows him to put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in the gash made by the centurion’s spear.
Then Thomas utters the words that show he finally understands: “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus then declares: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Isn’t that what “faith” is all about?
I mean, we weren’t there 2,000 years ago, yet we believe that the events occurred and were faithfully recorded and passed down through the ages. Like Thomas, we’d like to be able to have some physical signs of God’s presence. But, instead, we must rely on our faith and be part of the greater number who “have not seen and yet believe”.
So to all the scoffers, I say that there must have been a cataclysmic event that changed the scared, hiding disciples into bold advocates for the Gospel – the good news about Jesus. I believe that it was this meeting with the risen Jesus, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, that gave them the courage to go out there. Most of them ended up being killed for the words they spoke. Would they have done that if the Easter message had finished on Good Friday, with their leader being crucified? I think not.
I like to think of us as Resurrection people - that is - people who don't need to have it all figured out before coming to church, or before helping out a neighbour, or feeding someone who is hungry, or caring for someone in need. If we have to figure it all out ahead of time, then we'll never get started.
So, can you remember, when was the last time Jesus brought peace to you?
Close your eyes for a while now, so that you can feel the peace of God flowing over you.
We’re sent by God into the world, entrusted with the gospel message, called to share the story of Christ with all. The resurrection has changed everything and death itself is overcome. But we are not removed from the contest, nor are we promised the avoidance of suffering. Jesus is shown to truly be the Word of God and he will lead us ever deeper into life rather than away from it.
Go in peace to love and serve our God, and may the love of God, the breath of Christ and the encouragement of the Spirit be with us this day and forevermore. Amen.
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