19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
That Sunday evening service in Jerusalem didnt start out too well. It had been a full day for the disciples really the end of a rather harrowing, disappointing, and frightening week. Everything had fallen apart the night Jesus was arrested. His followers were gathered together but possibly for self-preservation rather than for the faith or the cause. At the end of this day after the Sabbath the disciples of Jesus have heard all sorts of rumors. Some of them have been down at the tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea and have noticed that the body of Jesus has been removed. Some of them have reported seeing Jesus alive again. There are reports that the leaders of the Sanhedrin and Roman forces are still rounding up followers of the Messiah. All of these wild reports contribute to the confusion. For now this group of men who once had dreams of restoring Gods kingdom are resolved to do nothing more than wait and hide. And so the Sunday evening gathering of this proto-church in Jerusalem begins in silence and fear among a remorseful band of disillusioned souls closed in behind a locked door.
Everything changes when Jesus arrives. His appearance is not expected and there isnt much warning because it seems that Jesus doesnt arrive through the front door like he used to. He just arrives and once the group is convinced that this is Jesus in the resurrected flesh they are overjoyed. Jesus interaction with his disciples calls our attention how He interacts with us and how we interact with one another through his presence. I call your attention to three things that happen in on the evening of Resurrection Sunday: 1) The Peace of Christ and the Marks of Christ, 2) The Spirit of Christ and the Sending of Christ, and 3) The Grace of Christ and the Church of Christ. Each of these has a blend of spiritual and practical concerns that we should meditate on as we consider what it means to be his disciples.
The Peace of Christ and the Marks of Christ
Jesus first word to his disciples is a greeting, "Peace, be with you." There hasnt been a lot of peace among this group up till now. They are an anxious, guilt-ridden, frightened bunch. Peter has publicly rejected his Teacher to save his own skin. All the in-fighting over who gets to be second-in-command seems so petty at this point. No body wants to be a part of the inner circle right now. Some in the group have different ideas about what ought to be done. (Thomas is off doing his own thing at this point and others have already packed their bags and headed off to the country). Some are thinking about Marys claim to have seen Jesus and others are probably thinking she is grief-stricken or insane.
So, Jesus brings PEACE. Not the cheap imitation peace derived from self-preservation and maintained by a door latch. This is a real peace that overcomes the world. As proof of this peace, Jesus shows them his wounds. Of all things he shows them his wounds. Have you ever wondered why Jesus still has those wounds? He is resurrected after all. One would think that resurrection might also include a complete healing right? If God can resurrect Jesus from the dead he can certainly mend wounded flesh without a scar right?
I find it rather interesting that the risen Jesus still bears the marks of his crucifixion, and I dont think it just an accident. Theres something we need to recognize in all this: before there is a resurrection there must first be a death. Death is a prerequisite for resurrection. The resurrection doesnt erase the reality of the crucifixion it redeems it and transforms it. Without the resurrection, the crucifixion is nothing more that an unjust tragedy. Redefined by the power of the resurrection it becomes much more. Now the cross is the way of hope. Now suffering is not the final word. The risen Jesus can show us the wounds he suffered unjustly and still bid us peace. Now keep in mind that suffering isnt simply erased or swallowed up in sunshine and sugar. No, thats escapism and saccharin optimism and the gospel is much more than that. Suffering, fear, weakness, loss, and shame are transformed by Gods power so that a new way to real peace, joy, and hope is made possible.
If we participate in Gods mission the peace of Christ should be ours even thought we may be scared and scarred. We refuse to hide behind a locked door and ignore this angry world because we have been brought near to Christ and witnessed his transformed suffering. We share this witness with the angry wounded world.
The Spirit of Christ and the Sending of Christ
Throughout Johns gospel it is crystal clear that Jesus has been sent by the Father.
Jesus is sent to reveal the father, to teach and to gather disciples. And even in his prayer to the Father before the crucifixion, Jesus makes it clear that he will send his disciples just as God sent him (John 17:18). But look at this group he intends to send out! When Jesus appears among the disciples the air is stuffy and stale with anxiety, distress, and regret. So he brings the fresh air of the Holy Spirit which enables them to breathe in peace. Real peace and not the cheap imitation manufactured by their urge for self-preservation.
So heres the question: "How do you send a timid, fretful, remorseful, group like this? Answer: With a lot of help! That help is the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus' departure from the sanctuary and peace of oneness with the Father must have been in some way like our trial of leaving the zone of presumed safety behind our locked doors - whether they are physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. Jesus could not have been sent into an place less friendly. The risen Jesus sends his disciples into a world that may be only slightly friendlier and only a little less perilous. The toxic atmosphere of the curse still pollutes the air of this world, but the fresh wind of the spirit is blowing some of it away.
If the disciples who received the peace of Jesus and beheld his wounds needed such power to be sent out for the mission, dont you think we need it all the more? You have this same empowering
The Grace of Christ and the Church of Christ
Christs peace and the Holy Spirit. These are the mysterious keys for unlocking the anxiety and fear that hinders us from being gathered up and sent out into Gods mission. They are gifts of the risen Lord and I am happy to let the Lord keep these keys in his pockets as we enjoy the privilege of following him through the barriers and barbed wire of this angry world. But there are other keys on the key chain - the ones that lock and unlock forgiveness these are keys that Jesus wants us to carry. After giving them the Holy Spirit, Jesus says this to his disciples: " If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
It would be a mistake to assume that Jesus is saying that he cannot forgive anyone we refuse to forgive. That sort of authority is just not ours. But Jesus makes it clear that we have to take responsibility for using the keys of grace. One translation puts it like this ..." If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Do we really want to retain sins? Heres our choice - We can unlock the chain bolt of guilt, shame, bitterness, and remorse; or we can lock it down tightly and retain sin. Its a good strong lock too. IN fact we can retain all our sins yours, mine, and everyone we know and in time we will all be bound up in sin because we are not using the keys wisely. We begin to think that we are hiding out behind our protective locked doors when in fact we have just been locked awy in the prison cell of sin and death. We had better use these keys wisely.
Heres the implication for mission: The Father sent Jesus to save and not condemn. We are witnesses to the power of God to create new life and transform pain, suffering, and sin. So why would we want to retain sins? As Anne Lamott says, thats like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Why retain sins, why bind them on ourselves or someone else when Christ has given us the key to let it loose? Our mission as the church of Christ is to reveal the grace of Christ; to participate in his mission to preach freedom for captives.
Further Reflection on John 20:19-23
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you! After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Have you ever just wanted to lock the door? Have you ever wanted to just disappear into a locked house and insulate yourself and your family from the world? I cannot say I have ever been the target of religious persecution nor have I been on the run from the authorities. My situation isnt that close to the apostles situation. But I have felt like retreating into my own safe environment and containing my family therein. I do not mean a spiritual retreat or a getaway from the stress and grind of the work week. No, I mean a bona fide hermitage from the world. And yes, though I am reluctant to admit this, there may be just a bit of fear fueling that feeling because the world can be a scary and dangerous place.
The fear and danger come in a wild mix of varieties. Theres the schoolyard bully who threatens you when you are young. And even though he no longer scares you when you are grown you fear what he and his ilk may do to your children. Theres the reckless, inconsiderate speed demon that races down your street to avoid a stop light. He or she gives no thought to the life that may be stopped in its tracks because they cannot be bothered to stop. Theres the drug dealer in the neighborhood who may be inviting more evil and terror into the community. Theres the disgruntled supervisor who can take your career away without breaking a sweat. Theres the other person targeting your spouse with attention. This predator seeks to devour your home and heart. Theres the unforgiving, heartless, faceless super-conglomerated corporation that will ruin your credit and force you into financial bondage for 151 years because you failed to easily understand their microprinted "legalese." There are those who are offended by your well-intentioned and heartfelt efforts to praise your Creator in the simple worship of everyday living. You mean them no harm but they launch a pre-emptive strike and make it clear that they will incarcerate you in a category so constrictive that it will define you before all others. It is a fearsome and perilous world out there. Gather the children together. Bring your family together. Gather them in! Lock the door! Everybody huddle together on the big couch and lets turn on some soft music and read a book. Its not so bad. Its safe in here. Let's check the lock one more time.
Because of the resurrection, Jesus has a mysterious ability to move past locks. Not simply the chains, hooks, and latches of the front door. He can also move across the padlocks and deadbolts of our minds and hearts. When Jesus appears among us in our hovel of safety he may find the air stuffy and stale with anxiety, distress, and regret. So he brings the fresh air of the Holy Spirit which enables us to breathe in peace. Real peace and not the cheap imitation manufactured by our urge for self-preservation.
Jesus' departure from the sanctuary and peace of oneness with the Father must have been in some way like our trial of leaving the zone of safety behind our locks whether they are physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. Jesus could not have been sent into an place less friendly. The risen Jesus sends his disciples into a world that may be only slightly friendlier and only a little less perilous. The toxic atmosphere of the curse still pollutes the air of this world, but the fresh wind of the spirit is blowing some of it away.
Peter is finally bold enough to leave the locked house if only to go fishing (John 21). But he still needs a little more time breathing the pure air of the Holy Spirit to help him think clearly and realize that he has chores to do before he goes fishin'. Namely, he needs to feed his masters sheep. Working in the sheep pasture sounds rather peaceful, but it can be dangerous work. There are predators out there. Even though the day will come that Peter will be "lead somewhere he doesnt want to go," he isnt going to be troubled by it because he has peace knowing that the Lord has already sent him out of the ersatz safety of his own making and gave him the real peace and serenity of the Spirit.
Christs peace and the Holy Spirit. These are the mysterious keys for unlocking the anxiety and fear that compels us to gather up our loved ones and lock out the world. I admit that I am not familiar with their mechanics and I am not deft in their usage. They are gifts of the risen Lord and I am happy to let the Lord keep these keys in his pockets as I enjoy the privilege of coolly following him through the barriers and barbed wire of this angry world. But the other keys on the key chain, the ones that lock and unlock forgiveness, are keys that Jesus wants me to carry. He makes it clear that we have to take responsibility for using them. I can use either key and he wont interfere. I can unlock the chain bolt of guilt, shame, bitterness, and remorse; or I can lock it down tightly and retain sin. Its a good strong lock too. I can bind it on all those bullies and villains who want to ruin me and mine. But I am not the only one who has copies of these keys. Some of you have that same set of keys and you may be binding them on me. The cleverness of these unforgiving dead bolts is that I think I have locked myself in a safe room away from you but you think youve locked me away where you do not have to deal with me. We had better use these keys wisely.
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