The risen Jesus brings peace. John 20.19-31
Three times, in our readings, the risen Jesus says to
his followers: ‘Peace be with you’
The risen Jesus brings peace
He brings peace to disciples who were terrified.
The disciples are meeting together in lockdown.
They are not afraid of infection, but they are afraid for their safety. The authorities have arrested and executed Jesus and who knows who is next on their hit list.
They are scared for their life.
And the risen Jesus comes to them and he says ‘Peace be with you’:
Peace be with you, because I have risen from the dead
Peace be with you, because death is not the final word
Peace be with you, because eternal life can begin today.
Metropolitan Anthony writes a penetrating and helpful article about Death, and I’ll put the link to it on the web version of this sermon on my blog (slog?).
But he begins by saying this:
“Death is the touchstone of our attitude to life. … If we are afraid of death we will never be prepared to take ultimate risks; we will spend our life in a cowardly, careful and timid manner. It is only if we can face death, make sense of it, determine its place and our place in regard to it that we will be able to live in a fearless way and to the fulness of our ability. Too often we wait until the end of our life to face death, whereas we would have lived quite differently if only we had faced death at the outset.”
The disciples were afraid of death – to which you might respond and say, ‘well they had every cause to be. I’d like to see you in the same situation.’
I assure you, I wouldn’t be in a locked room. I would be on the first camel out of Jerusalem.
But what is astonishing is to see the change in these first followers of Jesus: and it is virtually an overnight change.
From hiding in a locked room, we find them publicly preaching the message of Jesus everywhere, even in the temple – despite the fact that they know that they will be arrested and beaten and maybe executed.
Within the first year or two, Stephen is stoned to death, and James – the brother of John – one of the three who was closest to Jesus, was arrested and executed, and yet they continue. And then, as serious persecution really does begin to bite, they do not retreat. Instead they do move out to other towns, but they do not keep silent. They continue to preach the message of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.
The difference is that the risen Jesus has appeared to
They realise that death is not the end.
They do not need to live their lives in the fear of death.
Because Christ is risen from the dead it does not mean that life will go well for us.
It does not mean that we will not be touched by fear, confusion, sickness or tragedy.
I read in one commentary that Jesus says, ‘Peace’ to show them that the worst that they had feared has not happened.
It doesn’t always feel like that.
What we think is the worst can happen.
I remember regularly visiting one woman whose daughter was in a bad place, and she was terrified that her daughter would commit suicide. Well, the worst did happen. Her daughter did commit suicide. And yet even though it did happen, the mother survived.
So, if you are in that dark place, in that locked room, where it seems that the worst might happen, or has happened, remember that God did not save Jesus from death. Jesus suffered the cross, and the shame and the pain. He died. It seemed as if the worst had happened. That it was all over. Death, evil, nothingness, pointlessness had won.
But death and meaninglessness have not won.
And we don’t need to be afraid.
Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, begin to face up to the reality of death.
The Psalmist writes:
‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me’ (Ps 23:4)
‘With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?’ (Ps 118.6)
The risen Jesus says to us, ‘Peace be with you’.
He is here. There is hope.
The risen Jesus brings peace between us and God.
Jesus appears to the disciples and he gives them a task:
‘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’ (John 20:23)
That verse has been understood in different ways.
But please note what it is that the Church, the people of God, are called to do first of all.
It is not to save the planet.
It is not to fight for justice or gender equality or anti-wokism or whatever cause currently floats your boat
The first thing that we are called to do, as the people of God, the thing that unites believers, is that - when we are in Christ and led by the Spirit of God - we are called to declare with authority the forgiveness of sins.
That is why, in our services, one of the key moments – to which part of the service leads up to – is that point when the minister, as a representative of God’s people, announces the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus came and died to bring peace between human beings and God.
He came to bring people who were separated from God by sin back to God. He came to reconcile sinful humanity with God, who longs for a restored relationship with them.
Jesus, on the day of his resurrection, appeared to Mary Magdalene.
And he says something very significant to her.
He says, I am going to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.
Up to now Jesus has only spoken about my Father and my God. Now, after his death and resurrection, he can speak of your Father and your God.
It is because of Jesus’ death that the barrier of your sin which separated you from God has been lifted. The door is open.
Trust Jesus, trust in what he has done.
Listen to the word of God when it says that ‘If you confess your sins .. God will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’.
Listen to me, or any other minister, when I say that your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
Receive the forgiveness of sins
One of the things that I have started to do here which I have come to treasure is to hear confessions – it was not part of my tradition back in the UK. I’ve been impressed by often how honest people are. But I have also occasionally been struck by people asking me what penance they need to do. That rings an alarm bell with me.
If a penance is understood in terms of thinking what must I do to make God forgive me, then it is completely wrong. It is me trying to justify myself to God. Jesus’ death on the cross did everything that I need, and all I have to do is trust him and receive the forgiveness that he won for me.
But if penance is understood as taking the next step, as a forgiven sinner, to put right at a human level what I have done, then it can be helpful. It begins with asking the Holy Spirit to give me the strength to do what is right and loving, and then it might include, for example, saying sorry or thank you to another person, giving back somethingI have stolen, making myself accountable to others for what I watch or which websites I browse, ending a wrong or even adulterous relationship, or even if necessary handing myself over to the authorities
Jesus appears to his disciples. He breathes on them his Holy Spirit. And he tells them to pronounce and declare the message of peace, the message of the life and teaching of Jesus: the forgiveness of sins.
Because of the resurrection the door to a relationship with God is open.
The risen Jesus brings peace to people who are in doubt.
Thomas was loyal to Jesus. When Jesus decided to go to Jerusalem, Thomas says to the others, ‘Let’s go with him so that we can die with him’.
But Thomas was also very earth bound. He was a no-nonsense man. When Jesus talks about ‘Going somewhere to prepare a place for us’, Thomas says, ‘Where Lord?’. He needs an address.
So when the other disciples say that they have seen Jesus, Thomas says, ‘I’m not going to believe unless I see the evidence for myself’.
I thank God for Thomas.
Many of us can identify with him.
He loved Jesus. He so much wanted it to be true. But he did not want to be let down again, and so he says, ‘unless I see .. I will not believe’
Jesus in his mercy comes to Thomas
It was a light bulb moment for Thomas.
The earlier Thomas would have found it quite easy to
say to Jesus, ‘My lord’ – kyrios – where lord means, ‘sir, my boss’.
But in saying ‘My Lord and my God’, he is taking it to a completely different level.
He is recognizing that there is a world that is far beyond the world that can be seen, the world of physical addresses, of flesh and blood -and that Jesus is the key to that world, the door to that world.
And he is recognizing that the one who he has followed is in fact God, who is beyond earth, on earth, God in human form: that he is ‘the Word who was with God in the beginning and who was God’ – as John writes at the very beginning of his gospel.
He is recognizing that Jesus is far bigger than any person, than any force.
He is recognizing and acknowledging that Jesus is bigger than death.
Of course, we doubt.
Of course, we want evidence.
And it is good to look at what evidence there is - John wrote his gospel so that we would believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
But because of the resurrection, because Jesus is alive, he will come to us – in the way appropriate to you.
He will almost certainly not come to you in the way
that he came to Thomas
He may come to you in a vision or a dream – it happens, but not that often.
But he will speak to you – to your mind (your reason) or your heart (your longings and desires) or your guts (that inner sense of something) – or all three.
Metropolitan Anthony writes in the same article I mentioned earlier that his life changed when as a 15 year old he read the gospel of Mark. And Jesus came to him.
And when Jesus does come to you, then our response is either to shut our eyes and walk away and say we are not interested (Thomas could have done that) or – even if at first it seems a little forced – to worship: to declare a truth about Jesus ‘My Lord and my God’, to join in with the people of God as we say the creed, pray a prayer that God’s people have prayed (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God), say a psalm or sing a hymn.
And as you confess the truth of the resurrection, and as you – by faith – begin to pray and do what you confess, so I pray that you will know the peace of God which passes all understanding.
Christ is risen from the dead
And he brings peace.