Commissioned

Many of us have been there, or have at least practiced for handling a threatening situation.  Frightened by something going on around us, we lock our doors and windows, sheltering in place.  We separate ourselves from others, unsure about who we can trust.  We focus inward, afraid of the unknown.

That is where we find the disciples in this morning’s passage.  They are sheltered in place.  They know Jesus is no longer in the tomb, Peter and the other disciple verified that to be true.  They know Mary has seen the resurrected Christ and that he has commissioned her to tell the other disciples that he is alive.  Yet even with this knowledge of Jesus conquering death, they are afraid.  Afraid of the information they have, afraid of those who caused the crucifixion, afraid of accepting that Jesus truly lives, and maybe afraid of moving forward.

Then without fanfare, without a need to knock at the door, or to come through a window, Jesus is in their midst.  Greeting them with the words, “Peace be with You.”  Words he will use repeatedly as he reveals who he is to his followers and as he offers a life giving alternative to the fear which has forced them into hiding.  Words of grace: no reprimand, no commotion, no room for doubt.

Followers encounter the presence of God in the risen Jesus and that presence calls them to live with a sense of peace, not fear.  Calls them to experience the reality of peace that he shared with them at the Last Supper: “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (14:27)  A peace now experienced as they talk with the risen Lord.

It is a peace that gives them, and us, courage at points throughout our lives “where we fear that God’s goodwill for the world’s well-being is a pious dream, out of touch with the chaos and hatred of everyday life.  For the one who offers the words of peace is the very one who has endured the brunt of that chaos and hatred, yet now stands in their [and our] midst – risen, indeed!”[1]

With this peace comes a call to action.  Once the Disciples recognize him as their Lord, Jesus offers peace to them again, immediately followed with the proclamation:  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  He commissions them to leave their fear-filled, inward looking, locked room, and to take Christ into the world.  He provides them with the peace, the example, the evidence, and the breath of the Holy Spirit needed to fulfill their commission.

This passage in John indicates however that Christ knew this commissioning would not produce instant acceptance by His followers.  He comes to them a week later, showing Thomas, who was absent the first time, the places he was pierced.  Gently giving Thomas what he needs to comprehend what has transpired and to prepare him for fullfilling his part of the mission.  The response of Thomas is to recognize the one before him as his “Lord and God”.

Identifying those to whom the disciples throughout the generations are sent, the risen Christ tells all those gathered with Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

None of us gathered this morning have seen in the sense that the disciples gathered in that locked room saw.  Yet, all of us have the opportunity to see as the Holy Spirit reveals the truth of scripture to us, have the opportunity to experience the risen Savior in each other, to have the grace-filled peace of God’s presence in all the joy-filled, as well as chaotic and difficult times of our lives.

In this passage we are all commissioned to reflect Christ in our day to day lives.  Through study, conversations, prayer, and openness to the Holy Spirit we all have the resources available to move us from the locked rooms of fear into the challenging connections outside of our personal space, where we must go so others can experience the risen Christ through our faith and actions.

Some of us came to believe through the faith stories of others.  Some through Christ-filled actions of love, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  Others through a combination of these and others forms of God’s grace extended to us in some way by a person or persons of faith.  Those connections are not possible if believers stay locked behind closed doors.

As I considered Christ’s call on our lives while reflecting on this passage from John this week, forgiveness emerged as an incredible life-giving, peace sharing, power given to each of us who believe.  As Jesus sends his disciples, us included, into the world as the Father sent him, he says,23”If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Out of context, that seems like permission to evaluate each other’s behavior, to determine who will be forgiven, who will be left outside of our circle.  It may seem permission giving to hold a grudge or to walk away from someone who disagrees with us or hurts our feelings.  We may see it as a way we can seek revenge without breaking any laws.

In the context of all that happens in the days and hours before this power is given to believers of the resurrected Christ, I don’t think it is any of those things.  Instead I think it is the power to love as Christ loves: patiently, sacrificially, radically different than the world loves.  To forgive as God forgives, not holding grudges, not keeping a record.

Each of the eleven disciples gathered in that locked room had a different life story, each had denied, questioned, been slow to understand, looked with different expectations as to how Jesus would institute God’s Kingdom.  They would sometimes disagree in the years to come as to exactly how to share the message and yet they shared the peace, grace, and Spirit endowed on them by Jesus the Christ and were connected in his teachings, his life, death, and resurrection.  Forgiveness was a critical part of their carrying out the commission they were given.

Jesus gives each of us the power of forgiveness.

There were so many times on his earthly journey Jesus could have refused to forgive: the religious leaders who sought to undermine his ministry, the people who found fault with whom he kept company, those who refused to listen, his disciples who denied access to the children, his disciples who argued over who would have a place of honor, his disciples who fell asleep when he asked them to watch with him, his disciples who denied him when afraid to acknowledge him would cost them their status or safety, his disciples who needed help believing Jesus is now the risen Christ.

Jesus shows us how to use the power of forgiveness – patiently reaching out until we accept forgiveness – never giving up on us – coming back as many times as necessary until we understand and believe – just as he did for Thomas.

With this power we stay connected to one another and to God.  With this power we can fully realize the Peace and Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

Just as Jesus the Christ commissioned the Disciples and empowered them with peace, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit, He commissions each of us.

He calls us to stop fearing the things going on around us, to open the doors and windows of our hearts to reach out to others, and to embrace the unknown with the confidence God is already there.

I am not suggesting that we stay in abusive or bullying situations, that we jump into the middle of a fire-fight unprepared, or that we stop teaching our children about stranger danger.

I am suggesting that Jesus models a way for us to share God’s love with the world and that it starts by accepting our commission, leaving the safety of our locked mindsets, and recognizing the power of forgiveness in completing our mission.  I think when we do, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will experience the Peace Jesus brings in new ways and others will be drawn to join us on the journey.

[1] Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2: Sunday, April 23

By Name

John 20:1-18

As we gather this morning, light has pierced the darkness.

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark.

She may have come before dawn because she wanted to apply spices to the body of Jesus as soon as possible after the Sabbath was over.

Possibly because she wanted to minimize how many people would have an opportunity to see her come, fearful of those who had killed her Lord.

Regardless of the reason, she came as darkness filled her physical and spiritual reality that morning.

She discovers the stone is rolled away and quickly goes to share the news and to share her understanding of what has happened with the other disciples, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

As the two disciples, hearing what she discovered, run back to the tomb, there is an urgency, a deep desire to make sense of what has transpired.  They find the empty tomb.  They see the evidence that something unusual has happened as they witness burial clothes lying as if Jesus body had passed through them.  John’s gospel says one of them believes, but doesn’t indicate what he believes.

It seems that by seeing for themselves, they both must believe that what Mary shared with them is true.  Jesus is no longer in the tomb.  But it seems to be just one more fact to add to the story.  There is no experience that would lead them to understand the significance of that reality, and seemingly satisfied with confirming that the tomb is empty, they head back to where they are staying.

It isn’t enough for Mary.  She stays in the garden weeping.

Maybe as her tears fell she was remembering all that has transpired since she met Jesus –

his healing voice that brought her to wholeness when demons kept her from fully participating in life;

all she has heard as she traveled with the Disciples as both a follower and financial supporter of Jesus,

how her life had changed because of what she had learned from this one of a kind teacher,

what she witnessed as Jesus was crucified and buried,

the reality he cared about her when no one else did, when there were so many reasons not to.

Then, needing to make sense of it, to know more, she bends down and looks inside the tomb.  She hears angels speak to her “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she says, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

Nothing makes sense.  If she can find him, maybe some of the darkness in her soul will lift.

Then she turns and bumps right into the One for whom she is looking, but she doesn’t recognize him.  It doesn’t fit what she understands to be true, this man is alive so it never occurs to her that he is Jesus, she is looking for what her physical senses tell her she needs to find, a lifeless body.

So she asks this man, thinking he is the gardener, if he has moved the body and if so to where, so she can provide the necessary care.

Then, in a single word – her name – Jesus brings light into her darkness.

Immediately she recognizes him.

As she realizes she is in the presence of her risen Lord, sorrow and confusion are replaced with unspeakable joy.

When he explains why she can’t hold on to him, he gives her a message that is personal and transforming.

“To my Father and your father

To my God and your God.”

In the speaking of her name – the commissioning of her to take this message to others – Jesus calls to each of us by name.

Lorraine, Ruth, Tina, Kester, Phil, Trinity, Kurtis, Matthew …

Diana, Guin, Peter, Char, Nancy, Georgia, Jackson, Jim …

Jesus calls everyone in this room, everyone in this community, everyone in his creation – saying: – because the tomb is empty, because I came, died, have risen, and now return, my Father is your father, my God is your God, and nothing will ever be the same.

It is news that must be shared, must be experienced, must be personal.

He knows everything about me, He loves me, He lived for me, He died for me, He ascended to the Father for me, He forgives me, He transforms me.

If the empty tomb stays just part of the story of an amazing historical Jesus the darkness remains and dawn is hidden.   It is only something we believe happened but it is not transformational.

Mary heard her name – recognized what Jesus the Christ had done for her, and responded immediately to His Call to share that experience with others.

There was no hesitation, no fear, no looking back.

We can know the words, be able to recite the words, even believe the story we share today, but until we respond to our name, recognize it was for each of us, all of us, that the tomb is empty, the dawn will be a pretty thing to look at but not something that fills our spiritual being with Light brighter than the Sun.

I share this morning with the assumption that all gathered here know and believe the story to be true

I hope we have each heard our name and know that what we celebrate today is personal and life changing.

I Pray we recognize we can’t hold on to that experience, to our understanding of God’s work in our unique life’s journey, that we need to go share our experiences with others and love others in the way Christ loved us – who, knowing everything about us – flaws and all – died and rose that we may have life abundantly.

Not just a part of history, this mystery is part of today, this Easter morning, and everyday.  As Mary ran to tell others – may our joy be so great we share it in all we do and say, in all of our relationships, and that each of us can share her message, “I have seen the Lord!”

 

Father God, The dawn has broken and the sky fills with light from your created Sun and our hearts with the light of your begotten Son.  May we hear our names and share the transformational news – “He Lives, He Lives indeed!”   Amen