Reflection on John 20:19-31
I had a parishioner at St. Laurence in BC who used to give my sermons titles. This one should be called, “Everyone Fails. Praise The Lord!”
One of the things we know is that it is only when we experience the truth of our own errors, and acknowledge those errors, that we can understand the slippery nature of wrong. No one wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “I’m going to be cruel and selfish today. I’m going to be a naysayer just to ruin the day for any lurking Pollyannas.” Many very wrong events and words are motivated not by evil intentions but by believing that what we do is for the good. Sometimes that is a rationalization for fear or doubt or laziness, but the results are rarely what we expect. What is also common is the very high standard we hold for others, forgetting that they are just struggling along too. We would like to hide our errors, our insecurity, our secrets, unaware that those tender spots are the crossroads to real contact and freedom.
Thomas and Peter are the famous doubters, but you will notice that in this narrative, all the disciples are hiding out. What they really fear is not so much their own arrests as their own feelings of guilt and loss. It seems to us a brief time time since the crucifixion, but in real time, it could have been weeks or months or years. For them, the death of Jesus has become their truth…and their undoing. In that loss, they have been forced to face themselves, and they have forgotten that Jesus has called them to life in abundance and they are to share this good news with everyone. A tricky task from the shadows and closed doors. No one can tell someone else when it is time to leave the tomb or the prison of fear and doubt, but the stone has been rolled away, the door swings open whenever we are ready, just as it was waiting for those disciples. Maybe the door had always been open but their disappointment hid it from their inner vision.
Rowan Williams wrote: “There is no hope of understanding the Resurrection outside the process of renewing humanity in forgiveness. We are all agreed that the empty tomb proves nothing. We need to add that no amount of apparitions, however well authenticated, would mean anything either, apart from the testimony of forgiven lives communicating forgiveness.” The resurrection was an experience of forgiveness. The disciples had all abandoned Jesus, becoming complicit with his murderers. The fact that the resurrection was happening to them was an experience of forgiveness for them.
Why does John tell this story about a group of seemingly failed and faulty disciples? Why not make them heroes? Does Thomas speak for all of them in their quite legitimate doubt and fear? But they are hung on the cross, blind to the light streaming through the open door. What they misunderstand for awhile is that to remember the life of Jesus means to remember compassion and forgiveness, healing and grace.
This is about a process, punctuated by events, both tragic and joyful. Our growth as human beings requires times to bring ourselves to the cross, and let us see each other there, standing around a table at the heart of the world. All who have ever lived, we stand together, bound by the Spirit that weaves around and through us, keeping us in Life. Jesus stands at the empty centre, beckoning to us to release ourselves to life. The breath of forgiveness cannot be just for us. The holiness of that life giving breath is Spirit and it cannot be contained or withheld. Once inhaled, it must be exhaled to bring peace and healing to others.
To understand the message of the cross is to see it as all roads leading not to Rome, that symbol of violence and oppression. That is what the cruelty of the world wants us to think, but at the centre is the empty tomb, the open door, the breath of life, that sends us out on the roads again, with love in our hearts, compassion on our lips and healing in our hearts. Peace at the centre where worlds begin and end, forever and forever.
Spring Song by Lucille Clifton
The green of Jesus
Is breaking the ground
And the sweet
Smell of delicious Jesus
Is opening the house and
The dance of Jesus music
Has hold of the air and
The world is turning
In the body of Jesus and
The future is possible.