Reading: John 20:19-31
I was talking to someone about how short this week was.
It seemed shorter for me. Tuesday was a write-off. I did mindless things like fixing stuff.
I didn’t even have the energy to tidy my desk though. That seemed too much.
I’ve often wondered why they call this Sunday “low Sunday” – this and the one after Christmas I think. Maybe the preachers are just flat from being flat out.
So we had this conversation – what if you just put a video on and watched in instead of a sermon?
Or if the preacher got up and said – “nothing to say today”.
Which reminded me of this story.
In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”
Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”
Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”
This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”
So, another friend and I looked at this passage for today.
There are so many choices. Things we could look at.
- Like why the door was still locked a week later. When most of them had seen Jesus the first week. And why does one translation say the door was locked the first week and shut the second? (NRSV). Is the same word. Do translators have too much power?
- What was Jesus doing when he breathed on them? Was this John’s description of Pentecost? (Genesis 2:7)
- Do we really have the power to forgive peoples’ sins or not to forgive them? Is this where the Catholic idea of absolution comes from?
- Is this the actual birth of the church?
- Was Thomas really a doubter? Or was he just someone with Sherlock Holmes kind of talents.
- Did he have a twin? Was his twin like Thomas? Did he believe or doubt? Or she? Could his twin have been Lydia of Philippi who traded in purple cloth? (Acts 16:19)
- Why did Jesus keep saying “Peace be with you”?
- What about verse 30? What were those other signs that are not recorded?
- Do we have life in his name? Is this the abundant life he spoke about before in John 10:10? Is it abundant – “life to the full?” Or are we actually riding on empty?
(I love the Bishops Bible that preceded the KJV – “I am come, that they myght haue lyfe, and that they myght haue it more aboundauntly.” (1576)
SOME THOUGHTS THEN
Last week we saw how Jesus called Mary by name – and how that opened her eyes to see he wasn’t the gardener.
This passage records these two visits by Jesus in a locked room a week apart.
In the first visit he breathes on them symbolically. The word for WIND and SPIRIT are the same here.
This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.
It follows their commissioning – As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.
Before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost – without a fuss – he turns the disciples into apostles – sent ones.
And empowers them.
If you are a reader of the whole of John’s gospel, you would join the dots.
From chapter 14:
Joh 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Joh 14:18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Joh 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
In chapter 15:
Joh 15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.
And chapter 16:
Joh 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
All of these verses sound a bit more dramatic than just having Jesus breathe on you.
You can understand why some people think this is a first instalment of some sort. Because Pentecost is far more dramatic isn’t it. And life changing.
I mean if you carry on from our Messy Church talk on Friday about Peter – you would have to add that Peter preached that ONE big sermon in Acts 2 that was the launch of a new bold person in every possible way.
TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:
- “Doubting” Thomas.
Was he really a doubter?
Think about John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.
This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).
They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:
Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”
Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life
Apart from his track record of courage, one thing gets my attention today:
It’s this – that Jesus was deeply and personally interested in him so much that in the second appearance he speaks to him directly. He recognises Thomas’ need.
And I think translations which say “stop doubting and believe” get it wrong.
It literally means – “do not disbelieve but believe”. Don’t be an unbeliever. That makes him no different from the rest. The rest of the disciples. And us. We all have these journeys as we come to faith.
2. Peace be with you.
Do you need His peace?
We’ve talked before about the power of grief.
Jesus repeats this peace greeting because they would have been slow to recover from this terrible and unjust Good Friday death.
Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.
You don’t walk away from that kind of event feeling peaceful.
They needed some assurance. And so do we.
He still speaks to us – don’t live in unbelief. Trust me.
Here – let my peace uphold you.
And we too are sent – commissioned – to go in His name and share his peace.
And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.
W receive it. We celebrate it. We model it. We extend it to others through grace.
And we don’t always dish it out too quickly because we have to remind each other that our sins as human beings are actually serious. Deadly serious. Serious enough for Jesus to die for them.
It’s no surprise that ‘repent’ was part of John’s preaching (the baptiser), Jesus’ message, and Peter’s and the other apostles.
We have to turn away from our old ways and turn back to God again and again.
He says to you too today:
Don’t stay in unbelief. Trust in me (Jesus).
Peace be with you.