Theme When Jesus appeared to his disciples
Sentence Let us give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Alleluia! (Colossians 1:12) [NZPB, 595]
Collect Jesus, we believe you; all we heard is true.
You break the bread; we recognise you,
You are the fire that burns within us;
Use us to light the world,
Through the power of your Spirit. Amen.
Revelation 1:4-8John 20:19-31
I am going to be a little lazy here and not write about each passage. The theme for the day and the season is clear, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each passage speaks to and about this theme.
If last Sunday was 'the day' of resurrection, a day to reflect on the momentous discovery of the empty tomb and the initial reactions to that, then this Sunday is a day to reflect further (or deeper) on the resurrection. We might, as one instance, reflect on what the resurrection means for individual believers (what inspires us, what challenges us). For another instance we might reflect on where the resurrected Jesus is today (e.g. the body of Christ on earth, the church).
But John's Gospel passage opens a wide open door to several possible sub-themes under the general theme of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Doubting Thomas, 20:24-29. We do not need to doubt the resurrection. Jesus was raised from the dead and presented himself for proof to his disciples, including doubting Thomas. Doubting Thomas accepted what his eyes (if not his hands) told him: Jesus had been raised from the dead. Will we trust Thomas and accept the Lord's word to him, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
2. Apostolic Commission, 20:21 (or 20:21-23). "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." With these words the Lord commissions his disciples for their work in the world. This work is a straightline continuation of Christ's own mission: they will serve as he has served; they will go where he has gone.
Simply as a post-resurrection commission this is both different (in words used) to the post-resurrection commissions in Matthew 28:20 and Luke 24:44-49 = Acts 1:1-8 and similar (in meaning) to the same commissions. In particular we might usefully observe that Acts in relation to Luke's Gospel is the disciples doing what Jesus did as they continue and expand the mission of Jesus.
The resurrection, in this perspective, is a validation of who Jesus is, the Son of God. But the resurrection does not mean the Son of God remains visible in the world: the risen Jesus does not 'hang around'. Rather the resurrection is the conclusion of Christ's physical presence on earth as Jesus of Nazareth. From now on he will be physically present in his disciples.
For us, the resurrection celebrations lead to the resurrection challenge: to go as, and where Jesus sends us.
3. Johannine Pentecost, 20:21-23. In Luke 24:44-49 = Acts 1:1-8, the commission to preach the gospel throughout the world is accompanied by the promise of the Holy Spirit's power. Here also, as John presents this first resurrection day appearance of the Lord to his gathered disciples, the commission of Christ is accompanied by talk of the Holy Spirit. On this occasion there is no promise of a future coming of the Holy Spirit but the direct gifting of the Holy Spirit as Jesus 'breathes' on them and states,
"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." (verses 22-23).
Some commentators call this the Johannine Pentecost!
(We could tie ourselves in knots trying to reconcile what John offers here with Luke's account of the promise and then actuality of Pentecost (e.g. is it a separate occasion, the same occasion told in a different way, were both Luke and John attempting to create a narrative explanation of the experienced power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers?)
The meaning of this occasion is clear: the risen Jesus will not remain but the disciples will; they will do what Jesus has been doing; the power to fulfill Christ's commission will be the very power of the Father and of the Son: the Holy Spirit (as already taught by Jesus, 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15).
The resurrection releases the power of God, the Holy Spirit, into the lives of those willing to be sent as the Father sent the Son. If we want the power we need to obey; if we obey we will receive the power!