Appearances of resurrection
Mary (John 20:15)
Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbouni!' (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, 'Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." ' Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were 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 his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, '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.'
Jesus and Thomas
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, ‘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.'
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.' Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'
The Purpose of This Book
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The end of today's reading is the first end of the Gospel of John. (It looks like the author added what we call Chapter 21 later.) So if it's the ending of the gospel; it's important. It's the climax. We should listen.
The story is about the presence of Jesus after his death. It's meant to show us especially how we can see Jesus. We know this because of Jesus words to Mary in the garden: Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
So the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the locked room is after he has gone to the Father... it's after that event we call the Ascension. We think of Jesus's ascension as occurring some time later, because we read about it in Luke's story of Jesus, in the Acts of the Apostles, and we kind of roll all the gospel stories into one narrative.
But in John's story, Jesus has already ascended by the time he meets the disciples. This means that when Jesus came to the disciples in the locked room, they were in the same position we are, affirming an empty tomb, and listening to the witness of someone else who said they had met Jesus! This story of seeing Jesus is a story that applies to us; we are in the same situation.
The first thing it shows us is that we see Jesus in the community of the church. They are meeting together when they see him; Thomas, who is away, does not see him.
Jesus said, "Peace be with you," then when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." The word for breathing is used only here in the New Testament. It is the same word the Greek Translation (Septuagint) of the Old Testament of the time used in the story where God breathes life into Adam at the creation. Clearly, says John Petty,
the author of the fourth gospel is equating the breath of Jesus with the breath of God. Where the Lord God breathed life into a human being, the Lord Jesus breathes life into his church.
What is this new creation, the church, is about?
When Jesus says "Peace be with you," to the little church of disciples, this isn't just a greeting. The word he uses is Shalom be with you.
The Hebrew word, shalom, caught up within that single word the entire purpose of Hebrew life and belief. That one word encapsulated what it meant to be a part of the Jewish community. ... shalom captures the Hebrew vision of human society, the non-human world, and even the environment as a relational whole.
I'm quoting the lectionary commentary at Partners in Urban Transformaton. (http://www.piut.org/eastertide2A.htm) It goes on to say
"Shalom" occurs when "right religion" is being practiced - that is, when the beliefs, values and religious activities of the nation's leaders and people are bringing them together to build a society centered in an active, dynamic relationship with God and, consequently, a compassionate and caring relationship toward each other (Num. 6:24-26; Deut. 10:12-20; Phil. 3:10).
"Shalom" occurs when the people and their political systems are acting justly and mercifully toward each other. [In] a shalom society is ... institutions ...[act] justly ... while being particularly compassionate toward those who could be most vulnerable (Micah 6:8; Deut. 16: 19-20; 17:12-20; Col. 1:15-20).
One message of John's gospel is that the Judean or Jewish political, economic and religious hierarchy
were not committed to building a "shalom community".... It was because of their commitment to domination and control that Jesus both opposed them and worked to create an alternative society...."
So Shalom be with you is a command about the kind of community the church should be.
In this story the church is explicitly shown to be separate from "the Jews" for the doors are closed for fear of the Jews.
This reflects a great enmity between the early church and the synagogues- remember John is being written at least 60 or 70 years after Jesus death- when the followers of Jesus had been well and truly ejected from Judaism. But it is no excuse for anti Jewish prejudice or persecution by Christians today, or by the church at any time of history.
What is important is that we are being told about the kind of community in which we will find the presence of Jesus; John was convinced that there was a particular kind of community where the risen Lord was present, we can see that as a non Judean ruling hierarchy community- a Shalom community. There is no reason why a Jewish community cannot be a Shalom community. We can hold onto that truth about Shalom without getting into anti Semitism... which is anathema to living Shalom.
If you think back, you'll remember that Jesus didn't just say Shalom be with you. He also said As the Father has sent me, so I send you. This event in John's gospel is Jesus commissioning the disciples. If you like, it is John's version of The Great Commission. I think it means we are called to be the same bringers of Shalom in our time.
The next thing we see is Thomas's reaction. I have no problem with his skepticism... it matches mine! The thing is, in church on the next Sunday, he does meet Christ. The risen Christ comes to him in the congregation of the church.
Do not be unbelieving, says Jesus, but believing.
I don't really think it's about doubt; the word for be believing is pistos, Jesus says, don't be a-pistos. Don't be unbelieving, and I'll say more about belief in a moment.
When Thomas finally does see the risen Christ in this story he has no half baked approach to his belief. Thomas believes whole heartedly. He calls Jesus my Lord and my God, which is the term of address used for the Emperor in the Imperial Cult. This is a direct challenge by the church to the power of Rome. And despite the English translation "put" your hand in my side, the Greek word is ballo which is to thrust or throw. Cast your hand in with me!
I think John is telling us to be likewise in our belief. There is no room for equivocation here. The message might be that a church which is half baked in its belief will not find the Christ in its midst.
Having said that, let us just remember something about belief. Our culture understands belief as a head thing. "I believe this is true," means, "I intellectually assent to the truth of this."
That is not the meaning of believe as the gospels use the word.
There is a sense of head belief in the New Testament word. But there is also a sense of belief in the risen Christ which is about trust. Belief and Faith as trust is like floating in a deep ocean, way out of our depth, with nothing to keep us from sinking but our belief and faith in God.
You see I am mixing faith and belief together; they are the same Greek word.
Belief and faith also have the sense of faithfulness to God in the sense of doing what God wants! Lack of faith in this sense is like adultery! So for Thomas to believe, and for us to believe, is not just to talk about it, but to do... to be... a Shalom church.
Finally, faith and belief means the way we see reality. Belief in the God which Jesus shows us, is to have a world view that finds sees and acts on existence as life-giving and nourishing. It sees that God has brought us, and everything that is, into existence and sustains our lives. To use a traditional theological term, this kind of belief sees reality as gracious, and acts accordingly.
And in all of this is a pun on the word see, and a promise: blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. That is, those who have not seen, but who do see. That's us. We have not seen, yet we believe, so we will find the resurrected Jesus in our midst, too.
Part of the meaning of shalom is internal to the church. We can't do peace and justice in the world if we don't do it here! Jesus said "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." We are "to be characterized by the forgiveness of sins." We will not hold things against each other. We will allow people to repent, to do better, to become whole, not holding their past against them. (In this passage the church was also claiming the right to forgive sins over the monopoly the Jewish religious leadership had held.)
So, what kind of church will we be?
Do we want to be a respectable, powerful church?
Or do we want to be a Shalom church...?
a church that has uncomfortable people in it...
a church that will speak up...
for justice and peace, and what is right?
Jesus stands much more 'clear to the eye' in a Shalom church.
At Greenacres we are partly this. We are not just white comfortable anglo's. We are not a church that insists on things being "just so," and on being respectable. We have a refreshing freedom.
But we face the same questions that face all churches. How much will we support each other?
How much will we seek to live out the gospel?
How much will I find my friends here...
and how much will the people here find me a friend,
and a support, and not just a burden or a problem?
It is as we become family, community, and shalom-ful,
with all the struggle and pain that will bring us,
that we will find Jesus in our midst.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Informed by these sources among others:
My copy of The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg is published by eReader.com. Page numbers in an ebook vary with font and screen size, so I have not included them. Most of my references come from Chapter 4.
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