Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B - Mucknell Abbey
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Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B

The Community here at Mucknell is, as with any group, made up of diverse individuals with varying opinions on just about everything! As such, sermons posted on our website represent the ideas of the preachers who wrote and delivered them, not necessarily those of the entire Community.

Sunday 7th April, 2024

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week…

St John deliberately includes us – his readers – in this story.  He pointedly does not tell us who was there (except that Thomas wasn’t).  And Jesus’ words in response to Thomas’ confession at the end make it clear:

‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

That is us.  It is as if we were to see ourselves in that room too.

…and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews,

The disciples were not looking for Jesus.  Their charismatic leader had been executed.  They were grieving for him on this first of “first days of the week”.  They are terrified the authorities may come for them next.  They were confused and frightened, in disarray.  Numb.

We may not be frightened for our lives, as the disciples were, but like them we carry with us sadnesses, loss and grief.  We too can be frightened and anxious…about the future…or about someone, or something.  A myriad of emotions, burdens, strains come with us to church.  We cannot – and we shouldn’t – park them at the door, put on a radiant smile and pretend everything is OK. It is easy to lock ourselves away like that…for fear.  But all of those things, shame, guilt, anger, tiredness, confusion, things we do not easily show or speak, they can come here.  They can “be” here; they can be real here, in church, on the first day of the week.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

How long had he been standing there?  How long before they noticed he was already there?  They were not expecting him.  They were not looking for him.  (Do we “see” him when he comes?)  It is easy to miss him.  It is easy to consign Jesus to the margins, amongst all the rubbish in our lives.  Easy to forget, to be distracted and preoccupied, fretful.  But Jesus won’t stay there, on a garbage heap outside the city walls.  He keeps turning up in our midst and speaking Peace.

Peace?  Seriously?  How?  The disciples’ reactions could well have been astonishment, terror, anger, the thought “Am I going mad?” but not “peace”.  I mean, it’s a nice idea.  We all subscribe to peace.  But you cannot just turn it on like a tap when we are in the depths of grief or frantic turmoil.  How can there be peace?  In Ukraine or Gaza?  Not even the warring factions inside myself just stop because someone says “Peace”.  The “stuff” we all carry doesn’t go away when someone – even Jesus – says “Peace be with you.”

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

Hang on!  Is this a different kind of peace?

These scars on Jesus’ body, they are the marks of real suffering, pain, abandonment, death.  This peace is not an absence.  It is not a negation of violence and affliction and suffering.  This is no superficial sticking-plaster platitude “peace”.  This is a peace comes from somewhere else and Jesus’ scar tell us that there is no anguish or agony that can defeat this peace.

We have seen it before, this peace, asleep in a boat in a violent storm.  This peace walked, confident and calm, through pressing, shoving, desperate crowds.  This peace saw the need of a single bleeding woman in the melee.  These scars, in hands and side, tell of another, different peace.

It is a peace that endures, sustains.  It a peace that deals with death – every kind of death.  That cynical negativity that is all around us.  It is so much the acceptable norm, that we fall into it without a second thought.  Derogating and diminishing. Everyone’s doing it.  The mocking derision that is “just having a laugh”, that is “only a joke”, bolstering my superiority at another’s expense.  The sarcasm masquerading as dry wit.  These things have their good side, when “humbug”, the B.S. needs exposing and when everyone is genuinely laughing, of course they do.  But defences – when they are weaponised stockades, bolstering self-preservation, well defended walls we barely notice – then they are just as destructive of God’s life, for us and in us, as any handful of 2000 year-old Roman nails.

Jesus…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.

The disciples’ grief and fear were dispelled by Jesus’ presence, his words, his scars.

This peace, this wounded, risen peace, goes on and on, insistently, whispering in the silence of the dawn in our hearts that suffering and death are not the last word.  This peace stands in our midst and asks that we should not let suffering, degradation and death be the last word.

The disciples were just taking this in when:

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’  

There is yet more to this peace?!

‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’

Sorry, Jesus?  Run that by me again.  What did you just say?

The disciples have barely got their heads round the fact that Jesus, the actual Jesus, is standing in the room with them (the locked room, remember) when he is supposed to be dead, and in the very next breath he is sending them.  And not just, “Would you mind just popping out on this little errand for me?” but,

‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’

We are to go and be Jesus to the world.  In all our broken, grieving, messiness, with all our scars,

we are to speak this peace.  We are to carry his presence, his words, his scarred reality to the struggling, lost and needy, sent as he was sent.  We are to proclaim the peace of Jesus, crucified and risen.

This is the movement of the resurrection. Jesus speaks, gives, heals and in the same breath, he invites, calls, sends.  Breathing in and breathing out.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’

This peace has all the cosmic power of the breath of the Spirit moving over the waters of creation, exploding galaxies into being, propelling planets into infinitesimally balanced orbits.  This peace has the life-giving potential breathed into the dust of the earth to make human beings, with each microscopically woven cell intricately held in life.  He breathes the breath and peace of God into us afresh.  It is not my peace or your peace.  It is his peace for us.

So what do we do with it?

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The resurrection peace is not a static thing.  Peace is still to be propelled outwards, still to go on weaving new life.  We are sent to open up (as Jesus opened up) the possibility of peace and joy to those trapped in the turmoil of grief and loss.  We are to open up (just as Jesus does) the possibility of a future to those trapped in the depths of despair, for whom tomorrow is blank darkness.  We are sent to bring the forgiveness of God (just as Jesus did) into a world that can barely believe it.

And if you are worrying about that bit about retaining people’s sins, take heart from Prof David Ford, who led our pre-Lent retreat.  He told us that in the original Greek, before the translators got hold of John’s Gospel and tried to help it make sense in English, that verse is literally:

“If of any you might forgive the sins, they are forgiven them.  If of any you might retain they are retained.”

The word sin is not there in the second half of the verse.  So the translation might better reflect the original if it said:

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. Whoever you hold fast is held fast. (or they have been held fast.)”

The second half of the verse is not necessarily the opposite of the forgiveness of the first half; it can be confirmation and reinforcement of that forgiveness.  The whole of St John’s Gospel speaks again and again of the endless abundance of God’s mercy: gallons of wine at Cana; baskets of leftovers from a few loaves; unconquerable peace – that is not the peace the world gives.

This is what we are called to by the resurrection, the endlessly innovative improvisation of God,

opening new possibility into the future by forgiveness; the imaginative and inventive life of the Creator, lighting up the darkness.

Too big a task?

It starts in this room, on the first day of the week.  It starts with these disciples, in all their neediness.  It starts when, with doubts and questions and astonishment, we can say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God”.  It starts because the crucified risen Jesus is already in the midst before we notice.

And you probably didn’t notice either, that in this story Jesus is never said to depart.  With the breath of the Spirit of Peace, the Lord is here.

Sr. Alison

Image: LeCompte, Rowan and Irene LeCompte. Christ shows himself to Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54879 [retrieved April 12, 2024]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/maryannsolari/5119341372/.