Fear and closed doors are no barrier to the resurrected Jesus.
Like many of you I have watched on television and read the reports of the dreadful slaughter and murder of Christians celebrating the risen Jesus during Easter Sunday services in Sri Lanka. The survivors’ stories of their loved ones being among the dead is almost unbearable.
Their grief is profound and physically painful. It feels almost voyeuristic to watch and listen from the comfort of our safe homes.
Churches and hotels in a few dreadful minutes became places of violence and horror. Our prayers are heartfelt and sorrowing.
This violence follows on from the bombings of Muslim men and women in their mosques in Christchurch a few short weeks ago. We struggle to understand the thinking and beliefs of those who direct and perpetrate such mass murders.
We ask God ‘why’? The temptation is to blame others, to add more hatred and vilification in this already troubled human world, to seek vengeance and justice without mercy.
I have some reflections I thought I’d share with you today here, in our much-loved Church in this peaceful part of Australia we call home on this the second Sunday of Easter.
John tells us the disciples are hiding in a house behind locked doors, desperately hoping they would not be discovered. The disciples clearly have not believed Mary Magdalene’s witness or testimony. They were fearful of the political and religious authorities and the consequences of their discipleship. Jesus was dead. The resurrection was not understood.
Nonetheless, Jesus appears among his disciples and his first words to them are ‘Peace be with you’. He says it twice. After showing them his wounds, Jesus then breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit.
After terror, violence and death, Jesus offers forgiveness and peace.
This peace is not the absence of conflict with the presence of quietness and rest with everyone getting along, but a very different gift. When you connect Jesus’ declaration of peace and his showing the disciples his crucifixion wounds, his announcement of his intention to send them away as he was sent by his father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit so forgiveness can be shared, we can conclude the peace Jesus offers has nothing to do with tranquillity and harmony.
Instead, Jesus invites his disciples into the same peacemaking activities he himself was doing which led him to the cross.
This peacemaking is not acceptable to the authorities. Jesus was not confirming the status quo. Jesus’ peace includes the marginalised, the poor and the outcasts. It turns the social order upside down, the first shall be last and the rich and poor are reversed. This is what got Jesus killed. His transformation of the society he was bringing into creation meant his final showdown with the authorities could not be avoided without abandoning the very people he came to save. And Jesus wasn’t going to do that.
Our calling is not to bring death and destruction to those we despise or fear, but rather to work with Jesus in God’s new creation and to bear this world’s consequences like Jesus as we live risen lives.
John also tells us about Thomas’ absence. Thomas was, I think one of the most realistic disciples and not susceptible to suggestion. He says to his friends:
‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
It is the stark evidence Jesus has died that Thomas is seeking. Jesus’ physical body bears the scars of his crucifixion in resurrected glory. The one who is raised really is the one who was crucified.
People today are waiting to see these marks of wounding and death. People are waiting to see a church acting as Jesus did, standing in solidarity with the marginalised, breathing and living the Holy Spirit into the world in love, ‘peace be with you’.
This story is not about resurrection faith in some general sense, where the statement, ‘I believe in the resurrection’, is something I can’t fully explain without embarrassment and awkwardness; it is instead a full-blown lived experience of Christ risen in our lives.
It is about whether the resurrection matters to you; whether the violence done upon Jesus matters in any way other than an intellectual appreciation of the story. Let us be very clear. Any claim God obliterates such horrors is an illusion.
When we listen to the Gospel reading today, Thomas’ rejection of a possible, pleasant, nice, cleaned-up Jesus who ensures we don’t have to deal with the horrors of our actions, is absolute. Thomas is having none of it. He will not tolerate a pretend, wishful fairy story. He will not stand for a resurrection explained as a metaphor.
The Word-made-Flesh must remain, solidly bearing real witness to mortal brutalities. The brutalities we inflict on others as we collude in worldly powers to maintain our comfort, must be confronted.
Easter jubilation is false if it forgets the grotesque and denies the ongoing, grim realities of the powers of death, which are transformed because our Lord, the risen Jesus is bearing them.
My own reflections make me wonder whether the world’s redemption could be so real if the wounding of Jesus was not so deep?
Let us ask those who have been killed and those who have survived. Let us ask those we have excluded, rejected, vilified and cast out, the poor, the broken and the foreigner. The world’s evil is monstrous, and if the Christ whom it killed is not scarred by it and bearing it in newness, like those around us, nothing else matters.
You may remember a story I told you a few months ago, about the monks of Tibhirine, murdered in Algeria in the 1990s and the way they approached their threatened martyrdom. The abbot of the monastery, Christian de Cherge wrote in his diary about forgiveness before he and the few remaining brothers in the monastery were kidnapped and murdered:
“And also you, my last minute friend
who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this “ADIEU”
to be for you, too,
because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves
in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.” (Foulcher, J., Reclaiming Humility 2015:304)
Jesus offers the disciples, together with you and I, the understanding of the forgiveness of sins, made possible through the resurrection. “Peace be with you’ Jesus says.
God is capable of taking the worst of human sin and all our experiences into God’s arms in such a way they are transformed and we are healed and made whole. Jesus holds our brokenness without covering it up, being ashamed or disgusted; and in love, heals us individually, as a community, and the whole of creation.
In this way we may finally forgive ourselves and forgive others, and maybe, in the service of God’s peace and justice, those who gave us our scars may see clearly the horror they have caused, and be empowered to repent and ask forgiveness so we may be reconciled in the risen Christ.
And in the service of God’s peace and justice, we who have given others scars and experiences of horror and betrayal, may be blessed enough to have the opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness so we may be reconciled with them in the risen Christ.
After all, it is only because Jesus remembers the crucifixion and the events leading up to it, that in the resurrection he forgives Peter three times his betrayal by his denials and Peter can now declare his love for Jesus. Jesus helps Thomas accept his realism and sense of betrayal into clearly seeing God as his Lord, and Mary’s grief is transformed into joy when she hears him calling her.
If we do not see Jesus on the cross as well as in resurrected glory, we will not see him at all.
As we pray for those around the world who have been murdered, wounded and excluded, we must see Jesus on the cross and his wounds in his resurrected body. We hear Jesus say:
“Peace be with you. 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.”
In forgiveness, we now can offer the peace of the resurrected Christ to all whom God created, when we remember God’s grace and mercy and Jesus’ offering of peace to us all.
Peace be with you.