So, a different way of delivering a sermon. A few thoughts now, a few more tomorrow and a final musing on Tuesday. Our reading: John’s gospel chapter 20: and today verses 19-23. Jesus appears to the disciples behind their locked doors on the first Easter Evening.
What do you notice in the detail of the passage.
What I notice is the disciples’ fear. Of course they are frightened. They may well have heard Mary Magdalene’s account of meeting Jesus earlier in the morning. The news of the resurrection is being announced. They might have learned too of how Peter and John had run to the tomb and seen it empty save for the grave clothes laid out there, but they are frightened, and they have good cause to be. The Jewish authorities had come for Jesus – they might well be next but, all the same, they made the effort to meet together in the house. (That word ‘met’ suggests that they had been scattered but had gathered that evening).
Now, our doors are shut to others. We can’t meet together but our locked doors are as nothing to Jesus. He came to the disciples and he spoke ‘Peace’ to them. He comes to us with His peace. ‘Peace be with you.’
A couple of things we might draw from these verses
It’s OK to be frightened. Covid 19 is a real threat to us. We are right to ‘shut our doors’ and (out of love) to keep our distance from others. But Jesus knows our deepest fears and comes to us with words of Peace. In that room, that first Easter, he stood amongst his disciples: how do you picture that moment? How long He was visibly with them…I don’t know? But we can be sure he was the centre of their attention as he performed that remarkably intimate and charged gesture of ‘breathing’ the Holy Spirit upon them. For us…? Is there a time (early in the morning perhaps or in the quiet of the evening) when we can allow ourselves to seek out His presence? To hear his words of Peace, to draw strength from Him?
Jesus came and stood in the disciples’ house. He does the same for us….have we noticed?
We’re still in John’s Gospel, chapter 20, but today a thought or two focussed on just 2 verses (verses 24 and 25) but mindful of the wider passage
Thomas, Doubting Thomas. Everybody else had met with Jesus except him. We’re not told why. That first Easter Day perhaps it had simply been too dangerous for Thomas to make it to the house where the others had gathered. He is left ‘hanging’ for a whole week. It doesn’t seem fair.
Part of me wonders why Jesus didn’t just appear to Thomas separately. He had done so with Mary Magdalene why could he not help Thomas out with his doubts?
But Thomas does us a favour by insisting that he be able to see Jesus’ wounds for himself. This passage reminds us that the Jesus we worship carries the wounds of the Passion. As we make our way through the church year we focus on different elements of our faith: the incarnation at Christmas (the Word became flesh) , the universal embrace of God’s love at Epiphany as the wise men kneel in worship, onwards we go through the faithfulness of Lent, to Good Friday and Easter and we look forward to Ascension Day and Pentecost…but this passage (thanks to Thomas) reminds us that these things are all to be held together: overlaid ‘on top of each other’, they don’t just happen in sequence but altogether speak of the nature of God. So, after the resurrection the wounds Jesus carried are still there, he doesn’t just ‘wash them away’ and move on to something new. Resurrection ‘redeems’ the brokenness of the world, it mends and heals and transforms it…one thing it doesn’t do is pretend it never existed.
Which says to me; we are all going to emerge from this crisis carrying wounds that are real. For some they will be physical (pray for those who live with violence and abuse in their homes). For all of us (without exception) the strain of these days will take a toll on our mental health. Some will suffer bereavement and loss: of loved ones at a distance…or the loss of a job or a business it will take years to recover. Some relationships will not survive the intensity of these days.
Jesus carries this pain with us and for us. It’s real. It hurts. It matters. To have someone with us’ who understands’ however transforms our experience of pain and hurt. Thomas’s doubts underline then for us the extent of Jesus’ love.
And finally, a week later (in John’s Gospel chapter 20 verses 26-31), Jesus appears to Thomas.
I wondered yesterday why Jesus left it a week before appearing again to this disciples. I wonder too what the rest of the disciples were meant to be doing in those 7 days: Jesus had breathed his spirit on them, spoken to them about being sent but not given them a clue as to whom or to where they were to go….and so, like Groundhog day, here we are again, in the house, with the doors locked.
And yet again (just in case we’d forgotten) we hear His words of Peace, followed (this time) by Jesus’ invitation to Thomas to touch his hands and side.
What stands out for me here is the fact that Jesus himself highlights the difference between those who ‘have seen’ him and those, like us, who have not. The passage itself recognises that most believers do not see and touch Jesus in the way that these first disciples did. But it is clear that whilst our experience is not the same as theirs, their experience of sight and touch was real. John doesn’t solve for us (as if anyone can) questions we might have about the ‘resurrection’ body but he doesn’t give us the luxury or ‘get out’ of passing off the appearances as some sort of mass hallucination: if anything he rules this out in these words. They saw him: they sawJesus – the crucified one. They saw him alive.
What we do with the Easter story matters. Verse 29 of our passage says that if we believe (by which I think the word ‘believe’ also carries the sense of ‘trusting ourselves to this fact’) then we will know God’s blessing. The final verse of the passage says that what is on offer is ‘Life’ itself, a new kind of life, in his name.
Perhaps, in the stillness of today we might pray again for the gift of faith. ‘Lord I believe in you. Help my unbelief. May I know your presence and your blessing today and always.’
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