Jesus’ Appearance To Disciples

Jesus’ Appearance To Disciples

John 20:19-31 (NRSV)

Can we even begin to imagine what those seriously discombobulated disciples were experiencing in that first week after Easter? They would have been remembering how, on that awful last night, Jesus had been so mysterious… almost like when they’d been arguing about who was his favourite and he’d washed their feet. But this time, it was while breaking bread and pouring out wine that he’d spoken about death and love, and then about betrayal just before taking them out into the night to pray. Then the shock of their fellow disciple Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, followed by news of his suicide later that night. But the violence of the soldiers and the vitriol of the temple officials who seemed so filled with hate! And Jesus’ arrest! That same Palm Sunday mob who just days ago had shouted their HALLELUAS were now demanding for Jesus’ to be flogged, crucified – the horror of the cross. Their very real guilt of having run away, & now the fear that they may be next.

And now Mary and the others’ outrageous claim that they’d seen Jesus alive again.

Surely that was just the result of their desperation & grief? Yet they seem so certain.

Jesus’ physical presence radically transformed those gathered together that night – moving them from cowering-fear to purposeful, celebration-delight! Whatever happened was powerful enough to compel this terrified little huddle to become the instigators of a world movement dedicated to the inexorable expression of Christ-suffering-justice-&-love that has changed everything …and not finished to this day! That Margaret Meade quote we all know so well was born right here in that locked room: ‘…never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has’. This is that original group!!!

Sure there have been atrocious abuses of the name of Jesus Christ over the centuries, but, thank God, that’s not all here has been. Our civilization has been formed by so many expressions, acts, movements of poured-out for-others love more powerful, more sacred, more life-giving, holy, than anything we could ever have come up with on our own! And all beginning, somehow, on that one night.

As they huddled together behind those doors locked for fear of the Jewish authorities, the risen Jesus appeared among them and, after declaring ‘Peace/Shalom’, and after demonstrating his physical presence to them, his pierced hands and side, he did just as God did with Adam in the creation narratives, we’re told Jesus breathed sacred breath onto & into them: “PEACE…Shalom!”  He was announcing how all of that which was once created as whole & in God’s image, but which had become fragmented as the result of our own broken humanity, is now, in Him, being revealed as restored – whole! SHALOM!

Suddenly. We can imagine how all the parts came together for them and they could see how & where it all belonged, where they belonged, and it was right here in him! With him! For him!

As well as Him, through them, for all of creation!

Ever experienced a time of wholeness like that …even a glimpse perhaps …when everything seemed just to come together – perhaps even despite difficult circumstances? In his book The Universal Christ Richard Rohr quotes the experience of artist & poet Caryll Houselender as she rode a subway, where suddenly she was given to Jesus in everyone and everything. Was this something of their experience as well?

But then there’s Thomas! I find myself so easily identifying with him, as I suspect do most of us! It’s no coincidence that scripture names him as Didymous (The Twin) as most believe that WE are supposed to be that other unnamed twin. Thomas and his doubting represents us! When confronted by a clearly ecstatic rest of the disciples who were just blown away by their encounter, Thomas remained unimpressed: ‘Guys, I want to believe, but unless I have the same experience as the rest of you, I cannot…  It was only later, once he was given the opportunity to have that experience for himself, that he was able to change his mind: ‘MY LORD & MY GOD!’

And that’s when Jesus says a very interesting thing: ‘You believe because you have seen, blessed are they who believe but who have not seen! I don’t believe he is saying that there is a very special reward for those who are able to believe without evidence, I think he’s saying something infinitely more profound! While there are those of us whose belief needs always to be built on substantial logic and evidence, there are others, those who are given – just to know! He’s describing those whose deep, gut-level faith is not necessarily needing to be girded up by evidence, but whose very life and everything they stand for is instead girded up by their faith. That’s only possible because they’ve been especially blessed with faith to begin with! It was 4th/5th C St Augustine of Hippo who described how when it comes to the deepest spiritual realities of his life, ‘I don’t understand in order to believe, I believe in order to try to understand. And more, I believe that unless I do believe, I will never come to understand’

We are gripped captive by our small ego selves and our own obsessive need for self-preservation and self-satisfaction. But all our chasing can ever generate in us is fear and greed, demanding all sorts of impossible satisfaction extremes. …like trying to slake our thirst with salt water. The way of living & believing revealed to us by the risen Jesus Christ is quite impossible to achieve in and on our own. We need Him and his inspired breathing of Holy Spirit ‘SHALOM into us. It’s then that we -like Adam – come alive – as the present-day evidence of the risen Christ to a world that SO DESPERATELY needs to see that evidence!

Oh, may that be our reality! May we stop locking the doors of our souls – our deepest truest selves – for fear of anything! Because, as Caryll Houselander ‘saw’ that day on the subway:

CHRISTOS ANESTI! Christ truly is risen! He is with us, we are not alone, and he is longing to empower us as he did those first disciples, longing to use us to bring an awareness of his risen presence to others, wherever and however that may be.

May it be so

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Easter Sunday