Today we’re going to talk about the specifics of that SECOND resurrection – the resurrection of the disciples. Of course, we’ll talk about Jesus’ resurrection too, because that caused the second resurrection. But specifically we want to focus in on the shift between fear to joy. That’s a shift we might like to learn more about – because it can happen for us too!
At the beginning of this story in John, chapter 20, the church was afraid. People were out to get them – the world was a scary place – and the assumptions they had about how life would unfold as recently as a few weeks before were all gone. Can you imagine that kind of fear? And how they responded was pretty normal – they locked themselves in. When the world wasn’t as they expected, when things got scary, they locked themselves in. They found a space they thought would be safe, gathered their people, and stayed there.
They didn’t venture out to interact with people who were different than they were.
They didn’t share their truth with their neighbors.
They didn’t listen to what was being said about the situation from anyone else’s perspectives.
They found a safe space, gathered their like-minded folks together, and locked the door. We might understand a bit about that in this present moment. We might even be said to eat, sleep, and breathe fear. We are afraid – very afraid.
John tells this story emphasizing several features.
It is the first day of the week. This is the last of the gospels written and Sunday has been established as The Lord’s Day in the early church. So this story picks up those features – of course they were gathered on the Lord’s Day – and of course, they were breaking bread together. That is, after all, what the church did on the Lord’s Day.
It is the same day as the appearance to Mary. This says two important things – it is SOON after the resurrection. The risen Jesus is in a hurry to connect with the disciples. And 2: the male disciples did not pay attention to Mary’s story of the resurrection or they wouldn’t have been so afraid. Maybe they were afraid to believe the good news. But she told them that the Lord had risen – and they’re still locked in and very afraid.
They are locked in and very afraid.
Of course, that is NOT the end of the story! Our fear can be overturned by the power and action of God. The entire situation, which created their fear, has been reversed! Jesus, who was put to death by the authorities, was raised by God from death to life! God reversed the verdict of the crucifixion. The crucified Messiah was raised to life by the power of God. Death didn’t win. The authorities didn’t win. And aren’t you glad?
In the Gospel of John, Jesus shows up despite the locked door. They went into hiding – but the Risen Lord found them anyway. He interrupts their grief, greeting them and reminding them of their mission. He tells them the same thing that God send messengers to say with great frequency. Actually, the most frequent command in the Bible – Jesus says it here: “Don’t be afraid. Fear not!” They can’t stay in a locked room, there is work to do!
In Peter’s speech, he reminds his hearers of the “signs and wonders” performed by Jesus. He tells them that human beings put Jesus to death – and God raised him to new life. And his work will continue through his followers. (Who are now raised to new life too!) They are the new community of Jesus and will work in the world to fulfill his mission! This is the really, really good news! Far from being a lost cause – they are raised to new life in the world! Like David in Psalm 16, God has rescued Jesus from peril. And as the prophet Joel promised, the church will exhibit the signs and wonders of God!
Jesus’ message was validated by God too. His message that God cares about the poor, that there is more to worship than the Temple system, and that our allegiance belongs to God, not the Empire – that was all validated too. The power structures of the day, and the social networks that banded together to protect their interests, cannot derail the Kingdom of God. The resurrection of Jesus promises that God will overcome our human sinfulness. As David Buttrick put this promise, “The kingdom will come, the promises will be fulfilled, the whole wide human world will be reconciled beyond all our separations, and God will be with us.”
God reversed the verdict of the cross, vindicated Jesus and his message, and offered the promise of the kingdom, or kindom, that would overcome the worst of human sinfulness and sabotage. AMEN!
But that’s not all… because the story is STILL not over. The resurrection of Jesus EMPOWERED the early church to carry on with his mission. John doesn’t have Jesus show up in that locked room just to alleviate the fear of the disciples. He showed up because they have a job to do.
They actually couldn’t do it until Jesus appeared and helped them understand God’s bringing new life. They were devastated – depressed. Anything but healthy, happy and joyful.
But now -- now after they discovered that Jesus was alive. That Jesus was right in all he had been saying and doing. NOW they were overwhelmed by Joy!
Perhaps you have experienced something like this…sometime when everything looked hopeless – and then you received the best of all possible news.
Maybe you had a biopsy, and had just about talked yourself through your funeral arrangements – and then the biopsy comes back benign.
Or after a long while of trying to conceive, you get the test back and it is positive. There IS a child on the way!
Or long after a loved one was listed as missing in action – you receive word that they are found and heading home.
IMPOSSSIBLY good news! More than you’d ever imagined! THEN you are ready to take on anything! You clean the whole house and plan a party to celebrate! That’s where the disciples were after Jesus appeared to them… ready to take on the world!
AND that is exactly what the Risen Jesus had in mind! He wants them to head out into the world to finish his mission! He empowers them for that task!
He comes to them with words of PEACE on his lips – so they know they have nothing to fear from him -- and then sends them out to share peace with the world. He breathes on them – and it was a common belief that the breath of a holy person conferred power. The word for breath here is the same one used for when God breathed life into adam, the human one. He is giving the disciples his breath, his spirit to do what he did – to forgive sins and offer peace.. That’s what forgiveness is all about here – they are to offer God’s forgiveness to others, because they have been given the spirit of Jesus – and forgiveness and love from God brings peace. Forgiveness is part of the message of the gospel – part of the glimpsing of the kingdom of God. And the peace which comes from forgiveness will sustain them no matter what is happening in the world around them. (It doesn’t mean life will be smooth or easy.) But it does mean that even in our failing, we can rely on God – God who raised the dead.
Their hearts were made glad – so they could spread that joy with the world. Then, as now, the world needs joy. Spread the news! Pass out the tambourines! Because the Risen Jesus is still present with his followers. And the God who raised Jesus from the dead is still with us – has our back. There’s really nothing to fear, not in an ultimate sense – we are RESURRECTION people! This is the church’s story – God raised Jesus from the dead and he is alive and among us!
364 UMH “Because he lives I can face tomorrow… Because he lives, all fear is gone; Because I know he holds the future, And life is worth the living just because he lives. This impossibly good news puts joy in our hearts and empowers us to carry out Jesus’ ministry. There’s nothing left to fear.
No more are we locked in by fear. God has reversed the verdict, reversed the condemnation. And with the new joy in our hearts, we can take on the world. The really good news is that God has chosen to love us, rescue us, and call us into mission… and the risen Christ goes with us, is always with us. That’s the heart of the matter – the heart of our faith. Thanks be to God.
1David Buttrick, The New and the Now, 57-58. 2 David Burttrick, The New and the Now, 59. 3 David Gray, Day 1 ministries