April 16, 2023
Second Sunday of Easter, Pastor Jen Hackbarth, April 16, 2023
The resurrection story in the Gospel of John doesn’t end after Jesus appears to Mary. The resurrected Jesus connects personally with his close companions, and this takes time. The move from crucifixion and grief to new life is not automatic. The disciples need support and reassurance before they dare to hope for something more.
Resurrection is a transition and it takes time. Jesus appears to Mary immediately before our reading for today, and it takes time for her to recognize him because she can’t fathom in her wildest dreams that she is seeing her beloved friend and teacher, risen from the dead. Jesus tells her to announce to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” so she does.
You’d think that this announcement from Mary would have elated the disciples. It might have; we’re not sure. But later that day, John tells us they are huddled in a room behind locked doors. They have every right to be afraid. They just witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and death, and as his closest followers, they could easily be next in line. They have no idea what to do next.
Everyone in this story of resurrection is experiencing a jarring time of transition, including Jesus. Everything they’ve known is gone and everything in front of them is new and different. And they can’t go back.
The resurrection doesn’t reverse the crucifixion, but it does mean we can’t go backwards. The resurrection is a new and complete state. We have no choice but to get used to it. Even good change can be hard.
Jesus has to get used to his newly resurrected body, and Mary and the disciples have to get used to seeing him in this new way. Everything has changed.
At the start of our reading for today, Mary has just proclaimed to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” and told them all the things the risen Jesus said. Yet…the disciples are still terrified. They heard the good news, yet they still need more reassurance; their fear is too great. The change is too scary and the future is too unknown.
I can relate to the disciples in this moment. When anxiety takes over, especially during times of transition, logic goes out the window. In those moments, it’s hard to hear reassurances from others, even from people we trust.
Jesus mysteriously arrives in the locked room, stands among the disciples, and says, “Peace be with you.” Now, there are a million different things Jesus could have said to them.
“Here I am!”
“Why are you hiding? You should be shouting this news from the rooftops.”
“Why are you afraid? You’ve heard the good news of the resurrection.”
“Get over yourselves. Why aren’t you happy?”
How many times have we said these things to ourselves? But there is no judgment from Jesus, only reassurance. “Peace be with you.” This is not peace as the absence of conflict, but this is shalom. Jesus is blessing them with wholeness and well-being. They no longer have to live trapped by fear, even in this uncertain time.
Jesus reassures them by showing them his hands and feet. He is the same Jesus they know and love, even if he is different. Then he says again, “Peace be with you.”
It’s only after he blesses them with peace that he sends them, and he doesn’t send them alone into a new future. Just as Jesus and God are one, the resurrected Jesus and his disciples are one—this is how close Jesus is to them. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them, just as God’s breath over the waters in Genesis brought forth creation. They don’t have to manage this transition alone. They have the Holy Spirit and each other.
Thomas was absent from Jesus’ first appearance, and he didn’t believe it when the disciples told him what they’d seen. Thomas needs more reassurance, and he blatantly asks for it. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
An entire week later, the disciples are still trying to comprehend all they’ve seen and heard. Jesus again appears to the disciples who are still in the room with the doors shut. And again, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” He offers his hands and his side to Thomas, who quickly realizes this is his Lord and his God.
All Jesus does in these resurrection stories is reassure people who are in transition and fear. All the people in these stories move at their own pace. It takes all of them a bit of time to comprehend what has happened. Mary needs to hear his voice and the disciples need to see his scars. Thomas hears the news and struggles to believe it for a week, even though his trusted friends keep trying to convince him that they’ve seen the risen Jesus.
Yet over and over again, the resurrected Jesus meets them where they are, providing love and reassurance. He meets Mary in her weeping, the disciples in their fear, and Thomas in his unbelief. He gives them good news and the Holy Spirit to sustain them.
John O’Donohue wrote a beautiful book of blessings called “To Bless the Space Between Us.” In his blessing for the in-between or interim time, he writes,
“The path you took to get here has washed out; The way forward is still concealed from you. The old is not old enough to have died away; The new is still too young to be born.”
It’s like being on a foggy bridge. The way you came from and the way forward are concealed, but you know you can’t stay on the bridge forever, so you keep moving forward.
Yet Jesus promises us we are not alone on the bridges of our lives. We have a faith community and the Holy Spirit to support us.
It’s ok to hope for more, even in times of transition. May we be blessed by the presence of the resurrected Christ among us and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Amen!