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From Fear to Joy

Scripture - John 20:19-31

Christ appeared among his disciples with words of greeting & support: “Peace be with you.” Christ is with us now, offering these same words of greeting & comfort: “Peace be with you.”

Jesus’ work in the world is not done. He now sends us to be his Spirit-filled hands & feet in the world.

In John’s gospel, the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ has taken place. John recounts for us Jesus’ resurrection & the various encounters he has with believers. The first encounter comes with Mary Magdalene as she prepares to anoint Jesus’ body. Mary, following Jesus’ instructions, runs back to the disciples to inform them that she has seen Jesus.

In our reading, the disciples are huddled in a room in Jerusalem. It has been three days since Jesus, their leader, was crucified. They are cloistered in this room because, we are told, they are afraid of the Jews. There are two reasons they might be afraid of the Jews. First, they were, after all, followers of this man whom the Jewish leaders hated, hated enough (along with the Romans) to have killed. They were “guilty by association.” If you & I were a follower of a radical leader like Jesus, one who was challenging the status quo & reinterpreting everything that people believed, we would have been a little scared too. Second, the disciples were scared because they had received news earlier that day that the tomb where Jesus had been laid was now empty. The stone had been rolled away, & the only thing left inside was the burial clothes.

The Jewish religious leaders had placed guards & sealed the grave up nice & tight, just so this sort of thing might not happen. The religious leaders were afraid that Jesus’ disciples might steal Jesus’ body & claim that he had been raised from the dead. By this time in the day, it was certain that the Jewish religious leaders knew that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. It did not matter that Mary Magdalene had claimed that she had seen the risen Christ. The Jewish leaders would still accuse the disciples of stealing the body anyway. There were good reasons to fear.

So now, as night was falling on Easter Sunday, the disciples were held up in a room in Jerusalem, afraid of what might come next. I am sure that there was hope amid this fear. Hope that what Mary had seen & reported was true. But still, fear persisted. Fear persisted in the absence of the One who had promised them peace, the one who had promised them a new way of life.

Then, as they were discussing all that had transpired, all that had happened over the last few years, as they discussed what in the world they might do next, something happened. As they sat in fear, suddenly, Jesus appeared right in the middle of their conversation. The disciples stared in disbelief. How could this have happened? The door was locked! How did this man get in? The fact that Jesus came through a locked door should not be overly stressed. It is, according to some scholars, a signal to John’s readers that Jesus’ resurrected body had been transformed, but it is still Jesus’ original body, as his wounds will display. Jesus has, at the same time, his original human body, but a body that has been transformed by the resurrection.

Then Jesus spoke. He spoke with a calmness & assurance that only Jesus could speak. Peace be with you. This simple, ordinary greeting shatters the silence. Peace be with you. In the midst of fear, dread, amid the hopelessness of the death of their leader, these words suddenly drive away, with great force, the fear that had previously pervaded the atmosphere.

The questions about what to do next slowly faded away as Jesus began to reveal to these men the wounds & scars of his crucifixion. These wounds & scars are no longer open & cause pain. They have been transformed. Jesus shows his body to his disciples to prove to them that it is indeed him who hung from the cross three days ago. But it also proves to the disciples that something decisive has happened.

The sin, pain, & death that Jesus had suffered were nullified & done away with. What humanity tried to do to Jesus to kill his message of salvation, love, & selflessness was ineffectual. Pain could not hold the power of God. Death could not hold the power of God. Death had been conquered. Jesus was alive. The disciples begin to rejoice! Their fear has been dispelled. Now that the power of God is more powerful than that of the Jews, of death, of anything humanity could do to them, the disciples can now rise to a new level of faith & action.

A few moments of rejoicing, of embracing pass. Jesus speaks again. Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he stopped talking, he took a step back, drew in a deep breath, & slowly exhaled over the room: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. Immediately everyone in the room remembers what they had learned as a little child: that God breathed into Adam & Eve & gave them life. Surely this means that some kind of new creation is happening.

What the disciples had been—scared, feeble, weak, & faithless —is not what they now are. Jesus has given them the Spirit of God, & they have been changed. They have been remade. And they have been sent. Any time the breath of God or the Spirit of God is given, things change.

Well, a week passes, & the disciples again gather together on the first day of the week. They are all there this time, gathered in the room in Jerusalem. They are gathered in the very same room in which Jesus had appeared to them a week earlier. Thomas, who had not been present the previous week, expresses his doubts about what had happened.

Now, Thomas is not a bad guy. He is not particularly faithless. He merely wants what all the other disciples have already had, an encounter with the Risen Christ. Jesus, however, has a way of knowing what we need. As Thomas & the other ten discuss the previous week’s events, suddenly, Jesus appears. Joy once again fills the room at the presence of their risen Savior. Once again, Jesus greets his followers: Peace be with you. As before, he gets right to the point. He instructs Thomas to touch his hands & his side. Do not doubt but believe.

In one of the most remarkable confessions in the Gospel of John, Thomas exclaims, My Lord & my God! It is a confession not just of Jesus’ position of leadership over Thomas. It is a confession of Jesus’ deity. This very same man that Thomas had been following for all this time was indeed God. Thomas sees it now more clearly than he ever has before. But Jesus, in his calm, gentle way, does not harshly chastise Thomas. He does not cast Thomas out for not believing what he had not seen. No. Instead, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who have not seen but yet have believed.

This is a fantastic story. It is so simple yet so meaningful & profound. Amid our fear about the future, amid our sinfulness & brokenness, the risen Christ comes to us & commissions us. Jesus’ words, As the Father has sent me, so I send you, are spoken to us here today.

God has enlisted us to continue the work that Jesus Christ started through his life, teaching, death, & resurrection. We are to be ‘little Christs,’ if you will. The breath that Jesus breathed on the disciples, Jesus now breathes on us. The Holy Spirit that creates men & women & makes them new, Jesus now breathes on us. This breath now comes to us to fill us with new life, supply us with new energy, & fill us with a new ability to go out into our world & be like Jesus for the salvation of those around us.

This is what the Resurrection means for us. It is our salvation.

But it is more than that. It is the beginning of Christ’s work through us to participate in redeeming the world.

Let us pray. The Alpha & the Omega works in our doubts, bringing us into a deeper relationship with God. The beginning & the end of all things works in our weakness to transform simple faith into a deep & abiding awareness of God. May our doubts be transformed into faith, & may our fears give way to courage, as we share Christ’s good news with the world. Amen.

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