Give and Forgive
Following Jesus’ resurrection, the community of his disciples is in transition, changing. Everyone – the religious leaders, the politicians, the Romans, the people of the city, even Jesus’ disciples – is wondering whether the movement Jesus started has a future. Can this community survive without Jesus?
Just after the crucifixion, the future of the Jesus community is very much in doubt. They meet together behind locked doors, a frightened and fractured community. Some of those who had followed Jesus don’t even show up. Some are on their way out of town. Some, like Thomas, one of the 12, are … who knows where? Early that morning, some of the women of group reported that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Mary had told them that she had seen the Lord, alive, raised from the dead. Peter and John had run to the cemetery and saw the empty tomb for themselves, but no one really knew what to make of it all. By evening, they seem a community gripped more by fear than surprised by hope; more confused than at peace. Then Jesus comes and appears among them.
Jesus blesses them: with his presence, with his word of peace, with the time he spends showing them the marks of his crucifixion, marks now born by a living, breathing Jesus. First, Jesus gives them his peace. Then Jesus breathes new life into this fearful group of disciples. His breath fills them with Holy Spirit. He literally, inspires them. Next, Jesus re-enlists them into God’s mission. The mission Jesus has been commissioned to do is now the mission Jesus sends them to do. They are to announce the peace of God, the coming of God’s kingdom; they are to forgive all, just as they have been forgiven.
Their encounter with the living Christ transforms that group. Yet, not all of the disciples were present. Not even all of the 11 were there. Thomas wasn’t there that night. For Thomas, there has been no Easter. The disciples go -- just as they were sent by Jesus. They find Thomas and tell him that Christ is risen and among them once again. When they tell him what’s happened. Thomas wants Jesus to do for him, what Jesus has done for the other disciples. He wants to see Jesus. He wants to see the marks of his crucifixion. He wants to believe. God help his unbelief.
Jesus answers Thomas’ prayer. He comes to Thomas and patiently shares the signs of his death and resurrection; shares the joy and peace; enlists him in God’s mission. And that’s the point: connecting him to Jesus. The disciples witness to the resurrection. The disciples announce Jesus’ peace. They give God’s forgiveness. But it is meeting the crucified and risen Jesus among them that changes his life. It’s God at work calling and gathering; giving peace and forgives; inspiring and sending.
It’s that for us, isn’t it? Within, this assembly, we have encountered the crucified and risen Christ – in the word of forgiveness, the word and witness of scripture, in the sharing of peace, in the meal, in and through each other. We can tell stories of how we were locked in fear, closed off in confusion, doubt and unbelief, but then some how, some way Jesus surprised us. As much as we may love St. Paul’s and its people, it’s the connection Jesus makes with us, the peace and forgiveness he gives, the promise, the life, the Spirit, that Jesus gives that means everything to us.
But not every one of us is at the same place in our relationship with Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t minister to us all in the same way. No matter what the calendar says, Easter doesn’t always happen at the same time for everyone. At some time or another we find ourselves on the outside looking in. Something, some shock, some hurt, some loss of faith or trust or love, something happens and we’re out there on our own. But Jesus understands us. He knows us. He sends people to find us, invite us, welcome us in, but Jesus also promises to meet us, to walk with us, to be and abide with us. That’s God’s promise and plan, why the Father sent Jesus – to be God with us. Risen from the dead, Jesus is with us always. You see, God love you.
So, we can see the community of Jesus’ disciples – that’s us – is a changing, multidimensional community. We are different people, from different backgrounds, with different ideas and ideologies, different traditions, different gifts and passions. We gather weekly, but not all of us. Some drift and some are devout; some cool and some seem on fire for God and God’s mission. Jesus loves and knows us all. What keeps us together? Jesus. Our connection to each other is Jesus.
That’s the vision, the great revelation at the beginning of the Biblical book of Revelation: the crucified and risen Jesus lives and walks among the churches, holds them together, inspires them, sends them. Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, is the witness to what God is doing in this world. We live from him. Our lives, our ministry points to him. That’s why, there’s no reason to fear, as individuals, as a community.
That’s what the disciples are learning by the time we hear about them in Acts. They witness to Jesus. They tell what they know: Jesus died, and now he is alive, offering change, forgiveness, reconciliation, a new creation. They speak boldly. They speak in Jesus’ name. The question going forward from these humble beginnings is the same one we face today: Can this movement continue without Jesus. The answer is simply no, it cannot. But the witness of the disciples is that Jesus is not dead, but living. His ministry continues. God mission goes on through him. The movement endures because Jesus lives.
We belong to Jesus. Where he is, there is life and salvation. Wherever we may meet him. And the life and salvation, we’ve been given, we’ve been privileged to give to all with simple words and deeds that say – “Your sins are forgiven … in Jesus name.” Amen.
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