The First Sunday after Easter (BCP) John 20:19–23

The Disciples are afraid, tempers are still running high – they fear a backlash from the people who put Jesus to death, they have been told by Peter that the tomb was empty; Mary of Magdala has seen Jesus. They are confused – not knowing what to believe, or whom to trust. Into the midst of their fear and confusion comes Jesus, saying ‘Peace be unto you’. The first gift of the Risen Lord to his disciples is peace. He who was prophesied to be the Prince of Peace, who has brought about peace through his suffering and death, speaks what he has enacted in his own body. He shows them his hands and his side, as a sign that it is really him, that he is really alive – the Resurrection is a reality, not a fairy story, not idle gossip, not something which people want to be true but isn’t. It’s real in a flesh and blood way. It too was foretold in Scripture, and Jesus has told his disciples before his death what was to happen. But now having seen they believe.
Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord’ the peace of God leads to Joy, the joy of new life in him. This is where true joy is to be found. It is reinforced by the fact that Jesus repeats the words ‘Peace be unto you’ as it is in Christ alone that our true joy and peace can be found. It is in his death and resurrection that our relationship with God and with each other can have its truest meaning and fullest expression.
Immediately Jesus says to his disciples, ‘As the Father hath sent me, even so I send you’ The disciples are sent, sent to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, sent into the world to continue the saving work. Here we see the birth of the Church: it is thanks to them that we are here, today. Then he breathes on them, he gives them the Holy Ghost, to strengthen them, to encourage them, to equip them to be sent out to share the Good News, and build up his body, the Church. They are also empowered: ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained’. In a moment which looks and feels a lot like ordination, we see men sent out to restore humanity, to restore their relationship with God and each other. It is through Christ’s death that such a restoration can take place, and here we see both ‘power and commandment’ given to men best understood as bishops. It reminds us that the Church is to be a place of healing and restoration. The fact that it is not always should encourage us to strive to follow this example, through the grace, the free gift of God working in us. We are sinners, and by God’s gift of his Son, we can be forgiven, redeemed, healed, and restored.
It is the most wonderful news, the greatest gift we could ever wish to receive. It reminds that, in the words of this morning’s Epistle ‘whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith’. We are regenerate, born again of God in our baptism, our sharing in Christ’s death, which overcomes the world; as we share in his death we also share in his new life. Our faith is in a crucified and risen Saviour, who loves us and who gave himself for us, who comes to us in word and sacrament, to feed us with himself, so that we might have life in all its fulness, life in him. It is the faith which we profess in the words of the Nicene Creed: orthodoxy rather than heresy concerning the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Church must always be reminded that in Christ it has overcome the world; it does not need to be conformed to it – to a liberal spirit of the age which seeks to remake the Church and the faith which it professes in its own image, where clergy are little more than social workers, and bishops little more than managers – how meagre, how small-minded that such a great thing should be reduced to this pitiful and wretched state. As sucessors to the Apostles they need to realise their vocation and live it out, rather than be be conformed to the ways of the world, favouring error over truth. The Church has been here before and no doubt it will again. We need to stay close to Christ, close to his word in Scripture, fed by his body and blood, believeing in the faith which comes to us from his apostles, and in the knowledge that he has overcome the world, and that we know his truth which has set us free rather than to be slaves to the spirit of the age, and sharing his peace and joy with the world, so that it may believe and give praise to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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