28 April 2019
When Jesus was raised from the dead, he was not the same as he had been before. There was another dimension to him. When he accepted the journey to the cross, he put aside his divinity so that he could die as a human. He suffered pain, and didn’t ask angels to deliver him from it. He died just like any other human would. But Jesus was not only fully human, but fully divine. We can see this in what happened after his resurrection. He appeared in the midst of the disciples, even though the door was locked. He had taken up his supernatural, his divine self, and the rules of physics wouldn’t get in the way of him being where he needed to be.
Can you picture it?
The disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews. They didn’t want to be taken away and crucified as Jesus had been. They would have been in despair, wondering where it had all gone wrong, depressed and devastated. Mary Magdalene had told them that she had seen the Lord, but they couldn’t understand, couldn’t accept that he was really alive. The wonderful future that they imagined, with the Messiah leading them to victory over the hated Romans, all a dream that was now gone.
The door was locked. No one could come in unless they opened it. They were far too scared to let anyone in unless they were sure it was safe. Jesus knew this and didn’t knock on the door. He just appeared in their midst! ‘Oh hi Jesus – oh whaa??’
Peace be with you, he said. Remember that Jesus had spoken of peace before, – his peace was not going to be like the world’s peace, but a deeper peace. This peace settled their hearts, restored their joy and resolve, and started them on a new path. Only after Jesus had spoken his peace over them did he show them his pierced hands and sides. ‘Yes, it’s really me, not someone who looks a lot like me but isn’t, it wasn’t a trick and I was really crucified.’ This is what was meant by showing them the evidence of his crucifixion. He really had suffered a cruel and tortuous death, but now had triumphed over death once and for all! In his wounds we see more evidence of his divine power – he was alive and well in spite of great gashes in his hands and side. A normal human being would have been suffering greatly with wounds such as these. The divine nature of Jesus could bear the wounds as a witness, without them affecting him.
The disciples were overjoyed to see Jesus – can you imagine all the questions that would have been whirling around in their heads? Jesus said again, peace be with you. This stilled their wonderings so they could hear what he said next to them. ‘As my Father has sent me, so I send you.’
This was a huge thing to say to them. It was commissioning them to take up Jesus’ work in the world, to be his hands and feet and voice, to carry on the message and live it out. They weren’t being told just to remember and celebrate Jesus, but to do his work going forward.
It’s a bit like ANZAC day commemorations. Yes, we are grateful for the sacrifice of those who have their lives, their youth, their health so that we can live in freedom. But if we don’t work towards maintaining that freedom and peace, their sacrifice was wasted. We commemorate so we can move forward, learning lessons from the past as to what we must never allow to happen again. Why then is there so much war? We still have work to do, working for peace.
This is the world Jesus came into, and gave to us. A world where there is still war and hurt, loneliness and sadness. It’s not enough to remember what Jesus did. Like the disciples hiding behind locked doors, we too are being given a commission from Jesus to carry on his work. To love as he loved us, to treat others with the same consideration we would like to receive. Above all to tell people the good news that death has been conquered, it’s not the final story.
When the disciples heard that Jesus was sending them, as the Father had sent him, they had no time to panic about not being up to the job. Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit. In the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek, the words for breath, spirit, and wind are the same word. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them, and gave them the help they would need to go on.
He gives us that help too, if we take it up. The Holy Spirit is our guide, our advisor, our friend. Before doing anything that might need assistance, it’s good to ask the Holy Spirit to be with us. This is prayer, and prayer at the beginning of the day is a good way to open yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pray that you will be open to its leading, sensitive to its nudges, emboldened by its presence. We do not need to minister to the world in our own power. It would be too hard because after all we are just human. But we have a divine helper.
Jesus went on the tell the disciples that if they forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. Remember that they knew that only God can forgive sins. This didn’t mean they were being told they had God-like powers. This is about working with the Holy Spirit. We too are told by this passage that if we forgive sins they are forgiven.
Have you ever held a grudge against someone, to the point where it was beginning to dominate your thinking? Have you then forgiven them, and felt the incredible freedom of no longer holding something over someone? That’s what forgiveness does – it forgives the other person, but it also sets us free from the heavy weight of unforgivingness and judgement.
Jesus then told them the flipside – if we retain the sins, they are retained. This is about not ignoring sins, it is about warning the world that sin is real and needs to be dealt with. As 21st century disciples we are guided here to not ignore the bad side of life, but to speak out against sin and injustice. Sure we can forgive sin, but if we really want to help our world live in freedom, we will strive to call it out. Forgiveness doesn’t mean sweeping it under the carpet. People who come up against the justice system might be forgiven by their victim, but they still need to undergo appropriate punishment.
We can continue Jesus’ mission in the world by doing more than commemorating him in communion on a Sunday morning. It’s a good place to be, and being fed by word and sacrament and Holy Spirit sets us up not just to feel like we have done our religious duty – that would be empty and a betrayal of Jesus life. We are sent into the world, just as the dismissal has it, to love and serve the lord. This is a 24/7 commission – in everything we do, we serve God and we love our community.
Jesus appearing to the disciples in the locked room shows us how to go on – we can be amazed at his resurrection, and accept his peace, and receive his Holy Spirit to empower us to be his gospel in the world.