With apologies for the late posting of this sermon from Sunday 28th April 2019
Following the battle of Waterloo, General Wellington sent a message back to London which read, ” Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.” But there was a problem with the relay stations due to fog and so the message received in London simply said, “Wellington defeated.” When the fog had lifted the full message became clear,
It must have been rather like that for the disciples after the Crucifixion on Good Friday, an event which must have seemed to them like a major defeat. Jesus had died a terrible death. They were very despondent and fearful that they too might be arrested, so they met behind locked doors ” for fear of the Jews.” v 19.
Then Jesus suddenly appeared. He gave them 3 wonderful things :-
First, Peace, He came and stood among them and said, ” Peace be with you,.” v 19. That must have meant so much to them at that time when they were full of sadness, disappointment and anxiety, emotions we often experience in our lives. Jesus is able to bring His peace into our hearts even when life is tough. Sometimes we need to go deeper with our relationship with the Lord, not least when facing the storms of life, and then we shall find more of His peace.
Secondly, Proof. ” He showed them His hands and His side.” v, 20. This may not be mathematical proof but it must have been pretty convincing. Even ” doubting Thomas” , who was not there on this occasion, became convinced when Jesus appeared again a week later and invited him to touch His hands and His side. v2 7. Thomas simply replied, ” My Lord and My God.” v 28,
The evidence for the Resurrection is very strong. The tomb was empty. The authorities could not produce the body. If robbers had entered the tomb they would have stolen the valuable grave clothes as well. If the disciples had taken the body they would hardly have suffered ill-treatment or martyrdom for preaching that He had risen again. The appearances of the Risen Christ , on one occasion to more than 500 people,( 1 Cor. 15;6) cannot be ignored, neither can the transforming effect that it had on those who saw Him.. A former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard, said that any impartial jury examining the evidence for the Resurrection of Christ, would be bound, in view of that evidence, to return a verdict that it did, in fact, take place.
Thirdly, Pleasure. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. ” v 20. I bet they were ! They had been through such a lot. This was light at the end of the tunnel, and what a light ! Jesus has promised never to leave nor forsake His followers ( Hebrews 13;5) and we need to hold on to wonderful promises like that, especially when we are ” going through the tunnel.”
But our gospel reading does not end there. We rightly rejoice at the spiritual blessings which the Risen Christ gives us, but with it comes a call to respond.
First , Jesus gave them a Mission. ” As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” v 21. We must not keep the good news of the gospel to ourselves. Every Christian is called to be a witness for Christ ( Acts 1;8) by the way we live and by the way we speak. The former Bishop of Norwich, the Right Rev. Maurice Wood, used to say, “The Church gathers for Worship then scatters for Mission. When the worship ends the service begins.”
Secondly, Jesus promised them the Means by which and through Whom they could fulfil this Mission. ” He breathed on them and said , ” Receive the Holy Spirit.,” v. 22, But He also told them to wait until they had received His power ( at Pentecost) before beginning their Mission. ( Acts 1;4). Canon Michael Green’s book, ” When God breaks in” gives us a wonderful insight into some of the ways in which the Holy Spirit has often worked in reviving power in different parts of the world in response to fervent ,persistent prayer.
Thirdly, He gave them a Message to proclaim. ” if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” v 23. Only God can forgive sins, but He can do it through the disciples who, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit, can declare God’s forgiveness to those who are truly penitent. The gospel message begins with a call to repentance and then a call to receive Christ into one’s life as a Risen Lord and Saviour, an inward step of faith which should be expressed outwardly in the sacrament of Baptism for those who are unbaptized, and then , for Anglicans, in Confirmation for those who have already been baptized.
So as we thank the Lord for the blessings of Easter, perhaps we should ask ourselves to what extent are we involved in the Mission the Lord gives us, developing and using the gifts He gives us individually? Do we need to be more open to the Holy Spirit, the Means by which and through Whom the disciples could fulfil their Mission? And to what extent are we sharing the Message of the Gospel with others, by the way we speak and the way we live?
19 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.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 20:19–24). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.