Easter 2B – April 8, 2018
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
One of my professors at seminary said something that has stuck with me. She said that despair is one of the greatest temptations in the Christian life. It’s the temptation to lose hope. Once we despair, we lose hope and then joy leaves along with it.
And why are we tempted to despair in our relationship with God? Well, one aspect of the temptation is that we have expectations about how we will be faithful to follow Jesus, but then we see how faltering and unsteady our commitment to him is.
We should be better, we tell ourselves. We should be past this or that specific issue. We see the distance between where we think we should be and where we really are and that’s when the disappointment comes in. We then take the disappointment we feel in ourselves and then project it onto God and think that God must be disappointed in us, too. But I think one of the main truths of the resurrection, is that God loves us in ways that we cannot even begin to understand.
What changed the disciples’ lives and caused them to follow Jesus and proclaim him as Lord, even to their deaths, wasn’t just that Jesus had died and then come back to life. The heart of the resurrection is that the disciples came to know themselves loved and forgiven in a new way after Jesus rose from the dead. They could begin to see and understand the depths of Jesus’ love for them in ways they couldn’t have thought possible. And once they encountered the risen Jesus and his love for them, they then began to see that what he had said about the kingdom of God and the life he invited them into was also true. And these disciples, who hid behind locked doors for fear of the authorities, then became people willing to go to the ends of the earth and even die to share the good news about this risen Jesus.
But it didn’t happen all at once. That’s where I think we get in trouble and fall into the temptation to despair—we think that once the resurrection happened, the disciples all turned around and became these heroic figures. And then we look at ourselves and wonder why we aren’t like them, why we can’t believe and have faith as they did? Why do we continue to struggle with sin? Why do we doubt? And how long can God put up with our constant failures?
We will continue celebrating Jesus’ resurrection through the great fifty days that make up the season of Easter. It’s a season of joy and hope. But strangely, it can also become a season where we fall into despair because we think that we should turn around as the disciples did.
We lose hope when we struggle with our own doubts and fears and sins. But the good news of the resurrection isn’t about a stellar track record of the disciples. They doubted and struggled after the resurrection. The resurrection is about the patient and persistent grace of Jesus rather than a triumphant turnaround of the disciples.
In today’s Gospel from John, Jesus appears to his disciples and the first thing he says to them is “Peace be with you.” Now we have to remember that this is the first time the disciples see Jesus since they denied and abandoned him before his brutal death. Does Jesus even mention their failures? Does he berate them and scold them for their lack of faith? No, he greets them with peace.
This was a normal greeting in Jesus’ day, but this greeting takes on even more significance because earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus offers his disciples his peace, a peace he says that the world can’t give. He’s giving them shalom, the peace of wholeness and well being that exists when God’s creation is as it should be. The first thing the risen Jesus says to his friends, locked up in this room for fear of the religious authorities, locked up in their own fear and guilt and broken dreams—the first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.”
But we can’t forget another detail. Earlier that morning, Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Jesus and she goes and tells the rest of the disciples that Jesus has risen. So obviously, they hear her good news and then go out and start proclaiming the good news and living lives of perfect obedience to the risen Christ, right? Actually, no. They hear Mary’s good news about the risen Jesus and the next scene is later that day when they are all huddled up in fear behind closed doors in a locked room.
“Peace be with you.”
But Thomas isn’t there for some reason. And then Jesus appears again to the group and shows Thomas his wounds. Thomas then comes to faith in the risen Jesus, but there is a very important detail that’s easy to miss. It’s been a week since Mary and the disciples encountered the risen Jesus, and where are they again? Huddled together in a locked room. They had been in the same room, behind the same locked doors, a week earlier when the risen Jesus appeared to them, and here they are again, this time with Thomas.
There is no radical turnaround where the resurrection happens and the disciples instantly become heroic figures. Instead of a radical turnaround, the post resurrection disciples are a lot like us, they plod along and meander and sometimes get turned around. They doubt and struggle after the resurrection and so do we. The resurrection is about the patient and persistent grace of Jesus rather than a triumphant turnaround of our discipleship to him.
“Peace be with you.”
There’s a story about a Catholic woman who was having visions of Jesus. The reports reached the archbishop and he decided to check her out.
“Is it true, ma’am, that you have visions of Jesus?” asked the bishop.
“Yes,” the woman replied.
“Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession.”
The woman was stunned. “Did I hear you right, bishop? You actually want me to ask Jesus to tell me the sins of your past?”
“Exactly. Please call me if anything happens.”
Ten days later she called the bishop to let him know she had seen Jesus again. Within the hour the archbishop arrived.
“You just told me on the telephone that you actually had a vision of Jesus. Did you do what I asked?”
“Yes, bishop, I asked Jesus to tell me the sins you confessed in your last confession.”
The bishop leaned forward with anticipation. His eyes narrowed.
“What did Jesus say?”
She took his hand and gazed deep into his eyes. “Bishop,” she said, “these are his exact words: I don’t remember.’”
We sometimes despair and lose hope because we believe that God is disappointed with us, but Jesus keeps coming to us and telling us the good news that there is peace between us. We keep expecting him to berate us and recount all our failings, but he looks at us with his eyes of compassion and says: I knew the ways you would fail me before you did, and I loved you then and I love you now. I don’t remember your sins against you. You are loved and forgiven even as you hide behind the closed doors in the locked rooms of your life.
So, don’t despair. Live in the truth of the resurrection that you are loved and forgiven in ways that you cannot begin to understand.
Peace be with you.