‘Peace be with you’ – a sermon from Sunday 12 April

John 20.19-31

This story comes at the end of John’s gospel, and starts on the evening of the first Easter Day.

When it was evening on 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.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

If you’ve watched any TV drama over the last few years, especially the American imports, you’ll be used to the bit at the beginning where a gravelly voice says ‘Previously on 24’ or whatever you’re watching. Then there’s a quick dash through of scenes from previous episodes which you need to know about if this week’s instalment is going to make any sense. And of course, as the series goes on, this bit gets longer and longer until you start not bothering to switch on until five minutes after the opening titles. And now on some of the reality shows they’ve even started doing a mini-version after every commercial break, just in case you’ve forgotten. Actually I’ve got a theory that it’s really because it means they can get an hour’s TV out of 40 minutes of material by repeating it over and over.

Anyway, just in case you’ve been sucked into this, Previously in John’s gospel… Remember last week? Cross, darkness, tears. Then last Sunday we read about the women going to find Jesus’ tomb empty, Peter and John coming to see and going away puzzled, Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus in the garden, then running back to tell all the others ‘I have seen the Lord’. That’s where the title music started at the end of last week’s episode to end on a cliffhanger.

Now the screen shows the caption ‘Later that Sunday’.

All day, the disciples have stayed locked in a room, probably the same one where they’d shared the Last Supper on Thursday night. They’re confused and scared. Confused because they’d only just started to absorb what had happened on Friday, and now they couldn’t work out who had stolen Jesus’ body, or why. Scared because they didn’t know whether the police would be coming for them next. And while they’re trying to work out what to do, how long they need to lie low before they can escape quietly back to Galilee, Mary Magdalene is grinning and dancing, insisting ‘He’s alive! The Master is alive, and I’ve seen him, I’ve touched him!’ They’re trying to be understanding, ‘Yes Mary, of course you did’ while she’s driving them to distraction. They’re remembering that she wasn’t always mentally stable before she met Jesus, and probably thinking that the shock has got to her.

At some point in the afternoon it’s all got a bit much for Thomas, and he’s gone out for some fresh air, or maybe he’s been sent for the chips. For whatever reason, he’s not there and suddenly Jesus is. ‘Peace be with you’, he says, and suddenly everyone’s trying to avoid looking Mary in the eye while she’s waiting for an apology. Straight away he gives the disciples a mission and a power – ‘as the Father has sent me, so I send you’ and he breathes the Holy Spirit into them so that they can bring forgiveness to the world, to carry on what he’s started.

Then he’s gone, and I reckon that’s the moment Thomas comes back in with the chips, and says ‘did I miss something?’ Then he’s got a whole week of all the others grinning and laughing and saying ‘He’s alive’ while he’s sat in the corner thinking it was bad enough when it was just Mary. ‘Yes, I know you all think you saw him, and I wish it was true, but it isn’t. Dead men don’t come back. I would love him to be alive, but unless I see him and touch him I won’t believe it. Now will you please just calm down!’

Then the next Sunday Jesus is there again. And he brings just the same greeting. ‘Peace be with you’. And Thomas doesn’t need to touch what he sees. He knows. He believes. And he goes beyond any of the others. He kneels. ‘My Lord and my God.’ He knows that this means Jesus is more than he had ever imagined. He worships. He trusts. He is changed forever.

There’s a bit in drama series I find even more annoying than ‘Previously on…’  ‘Next time on…’ and then they ruin the suspense by showing you what’s going to happen. But John isn’t here to build suspense. He goes on to say what’s going to happen next. Not just to Jesus and the disciples but to you. ‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.’

So, if this good news is meant to bring you life, you probably need to do something about it. So I’m going to ask you to do one thing.

If you’ve shut yourself away because of something in the past that’s too painful to face, or because you’re afraid of the unknown future, know that Jesus is there with you in the room, and he says ‘Peace be with you.’ Ask his help to face whatever frightens you, open the door and get back out there.

If there are people you’ve cut yourself off from who care about you, get in touch. Accept the help and support of others who want to give it.

If you’re one of those who comes to church once in a while, or tends to get distracted by other things, make it a priority to be here each week. You never know when God might turn up, and you don’t want to miss it.

If you’re not sure about all this Christianity, then know that that’s ok, and there’s no point in pretending that you believe when you don’t – but ask yourself what it is you need to know or to see to be able to worship. And if it’s really just that you’ve never pushed yourself to make a decision to follow and worship Jesus then today would be a good time.

If you are a Christian then perhaps you need to do one more thing – to be sent into the world with the good news of forgiveness and love from Jesus. Is there someone you know who’s carrying guilt, or fear, or shame? Help them to find the forgiveness and life that Jesus brings.

If you think that it’s too late to come to God or to answer his call on your life – or if there’s anything in life that you haven’t done and think is now impossible, remember that Jesus came back, and met with Thomas. God is the God of second chances, so your mistakes and missed opportunities haven’t gone forever. Maybe there’s something to get started on again.

For a moment imagine yourself in that upper room as Jesus comes to you, and ask his strength to do one thing in the power of his love and life…

If you’ve resolved to take a step of one sort or another, can I encourage you to tell someone about it today? Especially if you’ve decided that you want to take a new step deeper into faith, please get in touch, and I’ll do whatever I can to help you. But don’t do nothing. That’s not the point of the story.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

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