A Reflection on John 20:19-23
(for the Day of Pentecost, June 8, 2014)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and 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. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ (John 20:19-23, NRSV).
John’s resurrection account lacks detail but certainly not the ability to make us question and wonder.
He begins with the disciples ‘locked’ away. Their fear-filled anxiety is manifesting in their actions. They hide because of what they witnessed: Jesus hand to Rome by the Jewish leaders.
The timing of this passage is of great importance. It is the ‘evening’ of the ‘first day of the week’. More specifically, it is this time on ‘that day’. These events occur on the same day Jesus rose from the dead.
Yes, here we have terrified disciples seeking the protection of a locked door after the tomb was found empty. The leaders they fear have done their worst and failed miserably. They killed. God raised.
But this transforming reality is yet to influence their perspective or alter their behaviour. They hide even while the resurrected Jesus is on the move.
And then everything changed: ‘Peace be with you’.
Jesus, astonishingly, is ‘among them’. He still carries the terrible scars but they now convey truly ‘good news’: the crucified and buried one lives!
Their response is joy. In what may have taken all of 30 seconds the resurrected Jesus has moved these men from paralysing fear to uncontainable joy.
And they fully embrace the call.
I have often wondered whether Jesus’ repeated ‘Peace be with you’ with the addition of ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ had a sobering effect. Who wants to be sent like one who carries such violent scars?
But of course this response is not the only possibility. They could just as easily ask: Who doesn’t want to be sent in the same way as one who lives even after death?
Considering the journey these men embrace from here I suspect the second question prevailed.
Of course we would be naive to think this resurrection hope came without challenges. These, however, are not highlighted here.
What is emphasised is that whatever this God-sending looks like it will not be an unaccompanied journey. The very breath of God – this Spirit of holiness – is theirs to ‘receive’.
And they will need this God-presence. After all, the misunderstood Jesus-message of radical, confronting, infuriating, and apparently rejectable ‘forgiveness of sin’ is theirs.