“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.””
As we listen again to the stories of the resurrection experiences in these days following Easter, you and I are confronted by questions about what we as people can believe and what we can trust in.
Essentially, the same was true for the disciples. Whilst John does not record it in his account of the resurrection Luke tells us that when the first witnesses told the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead they thought that the women were telling idle tales!
So, the disciples not trusting in the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, told to them by the women huddled in a locked room, we are told, ‘for fear of the Jews’, or to be more accurate the Temple authorities.
This image of Jesus earthly followers huddled in a locked room denying the witness that had already been given them concerning Jesus’ resurrection should challenge every congregation as to whether we are being like the disciples - gathering in locked rooms.
As we gather on this day despite the fact the doors are open, and we are free to come and go, is it possible that for some of us our experience is exactly this: an experience that is closed off from the world around us. Are we locked in?
In coming into this space for worship do we cloister our religious experience?
Do we shut it inside? What are we doing in this uncomfortable hour of piety as we struggle with the notion that Jesus rose from the dead? Can we believe that he rose again or even more outlandish that he is God?!
Do we close off this hour because we are not sure how to make connections between what is spoken here and what occurs day by day: at school, in our family, in our work place and in social settings; on ANZAC day and during Earth hours, in economic downturns and the boom times?
Do we hide away because we fear being open about our faith: are we worried about being labelled a bible basher; a do gooder; a moral prig?
Do we hide away because we fear being told we are nutters that science outstrips religion in terms of truth and knowledge?
Or have we been so socially conditioned by our culture, which wants our spirituality to remain a ‘private matter’, that we feel we cannot cross those socially accepted boundaries of 21st century Australia?
Maybe one of these descriptions is true of you, maybe not, but if you can hear some echoes of the truth of your faith being locked up and huddled then at worst, all you are doing is reflecting the behaviour of those disciples who received the very first witness to the resurrection.
And here is the good news. Despite the fact that the disciples locked themselves away in disbelieving fear, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
Now when Jesus says “Peace be with you” this is a loaded term – it is both liturgical jargon and the common greeting “Shalom”. Set in the context of John’s gospel and the emphasis of Jesus’ high priesthood, Jesus words mean far more than “hi, how are you guys going” and have far greater depth than the standard answer for every Miss Universe entrant “What do you want most?”: “World peace!”
Jesus’ words of greeting are the affirmation that the work that God set out to do in and through him has been fulfilled. Humanity has been forgiven, the creation has been reconciled with God, forgiveness, love and mercy abound for all.
The miracle is not simply that Jesus is alive but that in him God has renewed all things and opened up the possibility of a new future for all people. This is the hope of the resurrection and Jesus’ words to his disciple invite them into an active participation in this future as he sends them out in the Fathers name.
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any they are retained.”
From being huddled and hidden, afraid and anxious, Jesus commissions the disciples to carry news of the forgiveness and new life to others.
I believe that this needs to be reiterated again and again that the core message that the disciples go not to judge but to forgive and pronounce new life to others.
So, if this is the experience of the disciples who locked themselves in a room what about we who in the 21st century cloister our faith behind the security blanket of the walls of the church.
The reality is that we do not have the same capacity to wait upon the confirmation of what we are invited to believe about Jesus. The resurrection appearance by Jesus among us is unlikely in that corporeal sense the disciples saw it.
The disciples were able to rely on their own sense of sight and touch and hearing when Jesus appeared among them as the resurrected Lord – this is not going to happen in the same way for us. We cannot rely on the same sensory experience to affirm us in our faith – but this doesn’t mean that Jesus is absent from us or that we cannot experience Jesus presence in our lives.
Remembering the experience of the disciples it was precisely at their point of denial of the resurrection and their hopelessness in feeling that Jesus was absent that Jesus came among them.
So, as we gather here week by week I wonder what you expectations are. Do you come expecting that you will encounter the presence of the risen and returning Jesus?
I personally do not believe that I or anyone else can make Jesus any more or less present by what I do as a worship leader, but the symbolism seen in our worship expresses just this trust and hope that through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus is with us.
Lighting a Christ Candle does not make Jesus present, it simply reminds us of our hope that Jesus is here with us and is with us at all times.
The building itself, whilst technically not holier than other places, is a sacred space in which our attention is focussed on God’s love and Jesus concern for us.
The readings and the preaching declare the good news, as we listen, not simply for entertaining and encouraging stories, but for the living Word of God, Jesus, to speak to us.
The bread and wine of communion bring to our hearts and minds Jesus acts for us but are also real food for our journey and bring about real transformation in our lives.
Even in each other we can acknowledge the presence of Jesus who has drawn us together into community. Looking at each other we see Jesus presence is here!
Being in this space with one another, whether we may treat it as a locked room or not, the possibilities open up and the potential is there that Jesus’ presence with us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will become manifest to us in real and life changing ways.
So, just as the disciples encountered the risen Jesus in their huddling in that room, so too in our coming together Jesus can break into our midst, even in spite of our attempts to domesticate and institutionalise our religious experience and keep it private.
In such encounters with Jesus we are changed and, we too, are sent with good news into the world. This is why the gathering in or call to worship is mirrored by a sending out as we are commissioned to go from this place to live as God’s people declaring the good news in word and action – bring God’s healing and forgiveness into the lives of others.
As you look around the faces of those gathered here with you, and think upon your own experiences of the risen Jesus, I encourage you to find hope in Jesus presence with us as a community and to remain open to where and to whom Jesus might be sending us to share the good news.
And remember this good news that we who have not seen and believe are truly blessed: let us rejoice in this blessing!