Second Sunday of Easter (23 April 2017)
JoAnn A. Post
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.”
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.”
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.
Mimes. That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. Mimes. Not the French kind dressed in black and white striped prison pajamas with jaunty black chapeau perched atop their pointy little heads. For some reason, French mimes are always trapped in boxes, athletically, aesthetically struggling to breach invisible walls. Don’t mimes ever just walk around? Are French doors harder to find than American doors?
No, I’ve been imagining 1st century Middle Eastern mimes—grown men in flowing robes and dusty sandals, dark circles under their eyes and knots in their beards. I’m imagining Jesus’ disciples who had neither slept nor eaten in days. Anxious men imprisoned in a dark locked room. Imprisoned by choice. And by fear.
These dumb (as in mute) disciples were not searching for an escape hatch as they might have done in France. They were at each other’s throats, shouting silently at one another, afraid that any noise might alert the authorities to their hiding place. Mutely they accused one another of betrayal and weakness. “What do you mean you never met Jesus?” they hurled wordlessly at Peter. To which Peter mouthed, “But you ran away when they came for Jesus!” While others whispered, “Be quiet or they’ll kill us, too.”
That first Easter night was not the Zen-like harmonious refuge we’ve always imagined. The disciples were scared to death. Their leader was dead. Or was he? They only had each other. Some comfort. The religious and political authorities who had hauled Jesus off might soon be coming for them. That first night was chaotic, fueled with accusation and abject terror. They were speechless.
It was into that nocturnal nightmare that Jesus appeared. I’m guessing he’d been ringing the bell and banging on the door for a while, but the disciples didn’t know if it was Resurrected Jesus, or Roman Soldiers or Papa John. Jesus had to break in, since they wouldn’t let him in.
Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus was a loquacious man, using fifty words when five would have done. But there was a change in Jesus after he was arrested. Suddenly he had had little to say. The accused Jesus refused to defend himself. The crucified Jesus received his sentence silently. The resurrected Jesus was similarly taciturn, sparing in speech. Wading into the murderous scrum of his bedraggled disciples, Jesus whispered, “Peace.”
Or as I would translate it, “Knock it off.”
You’d think his miraculous appearance, his calm demeanor, his evident wounds, his simple teaching would have given the disciples courage, would have restored both their voices and their vocations.
But it didn’t. The disciples were too frightened. Too convinced that it was all over. So, a full week later (nobody knows where Jesus was or what he did during that week) Jesus had to perform the same Houdini routine again. Did Jesus ever get frustrated with his faltering flock?
Jesus again broke their speechless fear with an offer of peace. With the sigh of the Spirit. And with two additional instructions.
Forgive. (Or not.)
Get out of here. (Literally, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.”)
It is at that point that we become speechless.
Peace? With these people?
Forgive? I don’t think so.
“Go?” It’s simply not safe.
But the most wronged man in human history appeared to his disappointing disciples with three simple instructions: Be at peace. Forgive. Get out of here.
Too often we resemble the disciples on that first Easter night. And the second. We are quick to anger. Slow to forgive. Slower still to go.
Week after week we casually extend a hand of peace to one another, oblivious to the fact that Jesus’ peace is both a personal and a political act. In this time of global tension, the mark of the Easter church is a dogged determination to be at peace. Not to retaliate. Not to win. Not to posture. Not to preen. “Peace to you,” we repeat again and again and again. Our words might not halt hate crimes in America or stem the tide of terrorism in France, but one by one, heart by heart, our prayer for peace will spread.
At our Thursday Bible study one of us said, “You know the hardest part of Sunday for me is when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the part about forgive our sins as we forgive. I am so not there.” She is not alone.
Jesus said simply, “Forgive or not.” More literally, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
There are no caveats or conditions, no loopholes or lightheartedness. The risen Christ, abandoned by his own disciples and abused by his own religious community, said, “Forgive.” Something he’d already done. For them. And Pilate. And Caiaphas.
Forgive. Regardless of how you feel.
Forgive. Without expectation of an apology.
Forgive. Even if nothing changes.
And if we don’t, if we don’t forgive, if we retain? The sin just sits there. The one who wronged us eternally wronged by us. That’s a heavy burden.
What was the third thing Jesus said? 1. Practice peace. 2. Forgive each other. 3. I send you.
That’s easy. Of course, nobody stays here all week. We all leave the building eventually. “Going” is easy.
But Jesus didn’t say, “Go.” He said, “I send you.” Being sent is an entirely different thing from just walking away.
Jesus sends us into a world that preys on the weak, that betrays its friends, that competes like rats at the garbage can, that delights in the downfall of others, that remembers every wrong. Disciples don’t go out there willingly. Disciples are sent. We are sent.
Now you know why Jesus’ followers resembled speechless mimes more than the vocal disciples he needed them to be. They hoped that if they laid low, if they kept to themselves, if they kept their mouths shut nobody would notice them. They hoped they could feel their way silently back out into the world as though nothing had happened. But something has. Everything has.
Our Evening Prayer liturgy (ELW 317) concludes with a prayer that my husband and I have prayed at many critical junctures in our life together. It is the prayer of disciples tempted to silence, to smugness, to safety. It is an Easter prayer:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.
The resurrected Jesus appears in our locked lives with words of command. Be at peace. Forgive each other. Go where I send you. Even when you cannot see the way. Or the why. But he knows what he’s talking about. He’s already done it all. For us.