Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 April 2020.
• First Reading: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32 (Day of Pentecost, Peter’s address)
• Epistle: 1 Peter 1: 3-9 (Although you have not seen Him, you love Him)
• Gospel: John 20: 19-31 (Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit)
They were gathered together behind locked doors, numb and yet bemused by the rumours.
With the crucifixion of Jesus, the heavens had just fallen in on them and yet there were stories being told, strange tales of the highly unexpected.
Meanwhile they were afraid of being seen or of their Galilean accents being heard, for they feared recognition by those who had demanded Jesus’ death.
In our own day there are opinions that are felt but silenced and there is the disapproval of the on-line mob to terrorize the unwary or the all-too-outspoken.
I do not think that this group of disciples were in any condition to hallucinate about anything however those of an informed medical disposition may wish to offer an opinion.
And then He was there, just where that vacant space used to be. Unmistakable, speaking, comforting and yet challenging at the same time.
His presence resonated and glowed. Yet His first words were ‘Shalom’ – peace. This is not the peace of the hesitant ceasefire or the reluctant peace after a riot. It is the peace of plenty, fulfilment, completeness, healing, blessing, renewal.
It is the kind of peace that God loves to give: pressed down, shaken together and running over. Welling up to eternal life.
It is the peace of new life, and new purpose.
And perhaps it is that new purpose that was to be central. Having convinced the disciples that His presence and life were real, Jesus was wasting little time in redirecting the disciples’ mission.
In His High Priestly Prayer of John 17, we see how completely and intimately Jesus identified Himself with the disciples:
“All Mine are Yours and all Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them”
“… for their sakes I sanctify Myself”
“I in them and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Now there was something new for Jesus was entrusting the disciples with the same kind of mission that had been entrusted to Him by God.
“As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
For all the trauma of the last few days, Jesus was regathering and redirecting the disciples. He was authorizing them to preach the good news and the day of Pentecost would see them empowered to act, and to act mightily.
It is easy to comfort ourselves with Thomas’ apparent doubts as a way of avoiding Jesus’ new commission.
Personally I am inclined to think that Thomas’ difficulty was more about grumpiness at missing out on the first appearance of Jesus than a critical loss of faith.
In this Jesus definitely met Thomas who was still with the disciples a week later. He had not gone off into the desert of his own doubts. And so he put himself into a position where Jesus could indeed meet him according to his own needs.
Our own days are also beset by doubt and confusion. The only thing more taboo than a discussion of death is the discussion of what happens after it.
The idea of condemnation seems to be more satisfying that the message of forgiveness. The presumption of guilt more comforting that the presumption of innocence.
The enthronement of science above God is itself undermined by the scientific principle that life and the universe are indeed ordered so that data can be collected and accessed, theories made and solutions produced in the expectation that they will withstand rational scrutiny: that is to say that they will be assessed on the basis of an accepted standard of what is reliable and what is not.
Our own day is a time of the self-made, and that the self-made can themselves demand audience with God on their own terms as if God was under any kind of obligation or higher law.
But there is another story, this time of God’s unquenchable and inexhaustible desire to create. Where else was the dynamic sense of ‘Shalom’ going to come from?
It is this same desire to give, to bless, to renew, to rejoice and exult and to multiply that was present in His action in raising Jesus from the grave.
It is with the same sense of excitement that God has passed Jesus’ mission to the disciples in every generation and in every land.
For many who are discouraged by the state of the church today, Jesus’ commission is there to be renewed and obeyed. It is His task and not our invention.
That is why He also stands among us, even when dispersed in our homes and isolated from direct contact with one another, and still says: ‘Peace be with you.’