Our Holy Week worship services deeply inspired me.
First was our powerful Palm Sunday procession with Andrew working his drums and the palm branches brushing against the lights up there.
Good Friday touched me deeply.
So, by Easter morning I really got how that the first Easter was a pivotal moment in history that has made everything different between us and God.
But now a week has gone by and the dust has settled, so I have to ask, what exactly is different?
Well, the quick answer is, “Jesus died for our sins”.
OK, but couldn’t he forgive sins without his sacrifice on the cross?
I seemed to have read about him doing a lot of forgiving throughout the Gospels … so what’s different after resurrection?
And when he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, he seems like he took off before answering any of those troubling, persistent questions … questions like how a loving God can co-exist with war, hunger and oppression?
Absolutely, yes, everything is different … but once again God’s answers to us are different than we would expect, and to understand how we must realize that the resurrection is not the end of the story.
The bible doesn’t end with John 20 – we’re not even half way through the New Testament yet.
The Resurrection opens a new chapter, but the biblical message is not just that Jesus died for you sins, so go say the Jesus Prayer, be guaranteed of eternal life and then go on with life as usual as if nothing has changed … because everything has changed if you allow it.
The Resurrection is massive upheaval in the world order where everything is reset, and now we are left to choose whether to embrace the Post Resurrection reality or push on with life as usual.
Sometimes I think of it in terms of we have two parallel universes spreading out before us and we choose which reality we will step into.
Easter leaves us with no doubt that God loves you and me, personally, as just who we are, warts and all, so unconditionally that he would come to us, suffer for us and invite into a new intimate relationship with Him.
Life no longer needs to be tit-for-tat, we no longer need to recite past wrongs, we no longer have to dwell on where we feel slighted or betrayed, we no longer have to be weighed down with shame.
The Resurrection is Jesus’ gift to you saying that all the sacrifice ever needed has been done set things back in right order.
Forgiveness always begins with sacrifice, but then it brings the invitation to new life.
I don’t know where that is more vividly illustrated than in Ernest Gordon’s Miracle on the River Kwai.
The book tells how Scottish soldiers, forced by their sadistic Japanese captors to labor on a jungle railroad, had degenerated to barbarous behavior, until one afternoon something happened.
When they arrived at their workstations, a count revealed that shovel was missing.
The officer in charge became enraged, and he demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else.
When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot, and it was obvious the officer meant what he had said.
Then, finally, one man stepped forward.
The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and bludgeoned the man to death.
When it was over, the survivors picked up his bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check.
This time, no shovel was missing, in fact, there had only been a miscount at the first check point.
The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp: An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others!
The incident had a profound effect; an innocent man had willingly suffered and died so that they could live.
That brutal realization changed them and the men began to treat each other like brothers.
When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, now reduced to human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors, but and instead of attacking them insisted:
“No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.”
Sacrificial love has transforming power.
As we heard in the passage from John that Jae Ann read, when Jesus appeared to his disciples the first thing he did was promise peace.
Not a conquest of the Romans.
Not a theology lesson.
He offered harmony between people and within our own souls … based on the security of knowing that we are in God’s care now and forever.
It also forces a question upon us:
Why do we hold back?
What are we keeping enclosed in the tomb?
What relationships are we entombing in hurt or resentment?
John 20:21 Peace be with you.
But before we can say, “Cool!”, he moves right into a commissioning: Just as the Father sent me, I am sending you.
Send us to what?
John 20:22-23“Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
In the post-resurrection reality, the possibility of forgiveness is on the loose, and we are called to forgive, and then to be forgiveness in the world, and thereby to bring the peace of Jesus to everyone we encounter.
If the world’s greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
But our greatest need is forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.
Forgiveness is dynamic … we can’t just be passive recipients, God designed it so that we have to participate.
The ways to the world aren’t passive, either.
There is a lot that conspire to oppose forgiveness.
Sin and evil are always looking for scapegoats so that we inflame our anger and turn our backs on Jesus’ gift.
I just came across a note that was found in the clothing of a dead child at the Ravensbruck concentration camp.
This child wrote,
“O Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”
How different would the world be if those guards – and guards like them all around the world then and today – had embraced that prayer?
The Kingdom of Peace could have grown rather than a kingdom of evil nearly consuming around the world.
The same is true within our own soul, our own family, our workplace, and our nation.
The account of Thomas is an important part of that call to become a post-Easter community.
We are not told where Thomas was when Jesus first came to the disciples who had locked themselves away in fear, but their claims that Jesus had risen from the dead seemed pretty farfetched so Thomas simply asked for the same opportunity that they had had to see and to touch the Resurrected Christ.
John 20:25 “These jokers saw Jesus? Nah. I want proof! Let me poke his wounds, then I’ll believe.”
Maybe because we are secretly uncomfortable with how we each hold mixture of belief and unbelief, we may hear that passage as Jesus scolding Thomas – but that isn’t it at all.
Jesus knew that Thomas only needed the personal appearance that Jesus had already given the other disciples.
Jesus knows our every need, so he understood Thomas’ need and returned eight days later so that he could see and touch Jesus as the others had done.
Why eight days later?
Remember, in the Bible numbers usually matter a great deal so we have to ask why Jesus didn’t come back to Thomas six days later or nine days later?
Well, the eighth day is significant in the Jewish tradition for being the day of fulfillment of priestly ordination.
So, first century readers of John would quickly pick-up on the symbolism of Jesus coming to Thomas on the day of ordination.
Thomas’ response is the climax of John’s gospel as he becomes the first person to call Jesus My Lord and my God.
Everything in John had been pointing to this moment when we would finally get that Jesus is Lord, and here, through the freshly ordained Thomas, that moment arrives at last.
Tradition holds that Thomas traveled east for two-thousand miles into a very different land in southwest India where he established seven churches in a Jewish community that had been established there in the sixth century BC.
Returning to Jesus’ appearance to Thomas, John writes that even better things are in store.
John 20:29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
John has a specific meaning for the word we translate as “believe”, and it has nothing to do with dogma but has everything to do with relationship.
How you form, maintain, and mend all your relationship – with yourself and others) is how you live the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for you.