Jesus appears: John 20:19–23
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service over the Internet.
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Our reading today comes from John 20:19-23.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.
Like us, the disciples were in lock-down. Like many of us, they were afraid of what might be beyond those fastened doors in the world beyond. Whilst our natural fear is about whether coronavirus might be lurking, their fear was from the people that knew them, other Jewish people who did not share the faith that Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Son, come to set God’s people free. Like us, the disciples did not know how long they were going to be holed up together in that room. True, they were together but what were they going to do with all this time? What would they do when food supplies ran out? Where was God in this whole mash-up?
The next bit of the story goes on to say that Thomas wasn’t with them. If it had been today, perhaps he’d volunteered to and queue up at Morrisons, a mask over his face to prevent him from being recognized by those out to get him. Perhaps he just needed to get away from all the stress of the grief and the loss and needed to be alone out on this daily exercise. The other nine disciples sat in a room confused about the reports that Mary and then John had given to them about Jesus being alive, maybe livid that they thought that both Mary and John might be in some foul-tasting joke, and then John tells us almost as if it were nothing out of the ordinary that Jesus came and stood among them.
Just like that, the leader of the group that they had been spending the last three years with, who they’d seen brutally executed just three days before was now standing in their midst offering them peace. “Peace? What kind of peace do you expect me to have, Jesus?” we might imagine the disciples to think. “We thought you were dead and now you are somehow here, real, in this room. By the way, how is it that you did that really neat little trick getting here whilst the door was locked? We’re locked-down in here because we’re scared enough. Now you come here claiming peace, can I just catch my breath?”
Characteristically, Jesus meets his friends where they are. He knows they are fearful. He knows this is a massive shock to them even though he told them. As with many normal folk in what Tom Wright calls The Long Story of God, there’s a history of God and his messengers offering peace . Not necessarily a sign of a greeting but as an assurance. Remember the angels as they met the shepherds on that first Christmas, “Peace, do not be afraid.” Shalom is the translation of peace, is the Hebrew greeting. It means so much more to the disciples in this moment. As Bruce Milne reports, “This is a considerably richer notion than the mere absence of stress which tends to be our understanding of peace today.”
In its Old Testament context, shalom means well-being in its fullest sense. Shalom is life at its best under the gracious hand of God. My guess is in meeting in their great surprise Jesus was wishing his disciples peace, shalom, wholeness in every part and he bestowed total and immense wholeness upon them. In our new unfolding world of the now, may we know such peace in every part. May we know that there’s followers of Jesus in this day in this part of the world. Wherever we’re watching this, may we know this shalom wholeness for ourselves, directly from God the Father through his Son. On Thursday evening, we clapped for our carers, every one of them doing a great job, and yet every one of them made in the image of God.
I wonder , even if someone doesn’t know that they are made in God’s image that they can still imitate something of God through their lives. What’s the point of God having deposited something of his creation that does not even show a little bit of his care, his creativity, his compassion. It made me wonder this week whether people who are doing shopping for folks who are self-isolating at home are actually being Christ-bearers without knowing it. Each human is made in the image of God and so no matter how dimly they may or may not be aware of God creating them, it doesn’t mean they cannot bear his image, does it?
For his disciples in that lock-down room, Jesus was saying to his friends and so he says to us, “Peace, you can do this.” For some of us deep inside, we’re thinking, “No, I can’t. You don’t know how hard it is for me to be cooped up and not allowed out and having to be with this person, perhaps, day in, day out.” For each of us who doubts, perhaps Jesus is saying to us nudging by his Spirit, “Who told you you can’t? Receive my peace. Receive this wholeness of life in as much its fullness as you can bear. Receive my Holy Spirit who is the comforter, the one who comes alongside, because this too will pass.”
We trust in Jesus to always be with us as Matthew’s Gospel ends with, “To the very end of the age.” So We’ve being reminded of the disciples in lock-down because of their fear of others around them. We know that fear of who or might be around perhaps with this virus and so we stay indoors. In doing so, we obey our leaders, an act of faithfulness. Yet like the disciples, we are reminded that perfect love casts out fear. The deep, deep compassion of Jesus who offers us the gift of his Spirit as a guarantee that he’s with us, never leaving us, and preparing us for what lies ahead.
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