By Jessica Malay
This morning in Luke we again see the first meeting of Jesus with the disciples, and it is useful to take a moment and step back from our familiarity with this scene, and put ourselves there. Remember, at this point they have been made aware that others have seen Jesus. They know the tomb is empty. Mary Magdalen and the couple, Clopas and his wife Mary have already seen Jesus. And if St Paul got it right, Peter had a meeting with Jesus also as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.3.
We have no record of Peter seeing Jesus on his own, as we do with Mary Magdelan, and the Clopas couple. But we do know at that meeting, forgiveness must have formed a huge part. The two most prevalent themes of all the first meetings with the Resurrected Jesus are forgiveness and love. And all of these are set within very humble, very human settings and centre around eating. At the inn in Emmaeus Jesus reveals himself with the breaking of the bread, and in the upper room in our reading today Jesus reveals himself as alive, as a human being through eating the piece of fish.
All these meetings after the resurrection are human, but with a difference. They are love-filled moments that reveal what we as human beings can be and are destined to be. There is a gentleness and a humbleness in these very human meetings and I think it is important that when we read these meetings described we sit with them, in the company of the disciples in the quiet and the love.
In these meetings peace and forgiveness is made possible by infinite love. Even when Jesus shows the wounds he bears on his body, one feels that he has conquered the horror of those moments. Jesus’s self revelation, his willingness to humble himself so completely even through showing of the marks of violence on his body, takes them beyond the horror, beyond the violence. In John’s gospel that we talked about last week Thomas makes those really cruel comments that he will not believe unless he pokes his hands in Christ’s wounds – and here I think it's quite clear that the disciples told Thomas of Jesus showing his wounds to them. But Thomas takes it the wrong way, he has not seen Jesus and thus he can’t experience the peace and the reconciliation that the viewing of the wounds has effected in the other disciples. Perhaps this is why they are not too hard on Thomas. One hears the echo of John Donne in this moment of the disciples meeting with Christ: 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’
Jesus comes then bringing three gifts: peace, forgiveness, and love. He empowers his disciples to share these gifts around the world and through all time. He gives the Holy Spirit to them and continues throughout the centuries to give it to each person who opens their heart, and indeed does quite a lot of the heavy lifting to get that heart open. The holy spirit is that part of Christ that dwells continually within us. And it is that holy spirit that enables us to experience God’s peace, to practice true forgiveness and to look upon all people with love. We live in expectation that we will be more forgiving, more loving and more at peace. And we see that lived out in the Acts of the Apostles to a certain extent. We see Peter stand up in front of the crowds that he once cowered before, we see him proclaim Jesus…but perhaps most importantly, he forgave them, as he had been forgiven, and he invites them to join them – he even calls them friends, ‘And now, friends’.
And now friends, let us in this Easter time also forgive and love, sharing in the great peace that God has always intended for his entire creation.
By Jessica Malay
‘We have seen the Lord.’ What a joyous proclamation, a proclamation that brought into being the Christian religion. These people in the upper room, these disciples that in their entirety numbered a little over 100, that remained openly faithful to Christ in those early days, are our forefathers and mothers in faith.
'We have seen the Lord’, the question is, what did they see? This is the question that Thomas asks when he arrives in the upper room. I can imagine Thomas feeling quite angry at this moment of his return, the anger palpable in his response to his friends: ‘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’. This is a pretty strong statement, and a very offensive one. What he is actually saying of course is that he will never believe that Jesus lives. This is the same Thomas, remember, that said he would go and die with Jesus.
You can hear the pain of what he sees as Jesus’s betrayal of him. His sense that Jesus abandoned him, that Thomas’s own failure to live up to his commitments, his own knowledge of his weak faith hangs so heavily upon him, that it becomes too painful for him to believe that Jesus really was the Christ, because that would mean he had betrayed Christ. Like the other male disciples, he hid after Jesus’s arrest. Who knows where he was? He separated himself from the other disciples and hid away, likely terrified that he really would be asked to die for Christ.
When we do wrong to those we love, the pain is often so great that we turn on the very people we have hurt and hurt them more. Thomas is not only, yet again, betraying Christ, he is deeply wounding his friends in his attempt to cast doubt on their knowledge, their joy. He is attempting to bring them back to the despair he continues to feel. He tries to drag them down with him.
We do not know what their reaction to Thomas was, but clearly they did not cast him out. It's not a coincidence that John records the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to each of the men and women disciples just before Thomas enters. The Holy Spirit helped them to forgive Thomas, and helped them to draw Thomas back into their community. This is a good example, one of the great examples, of the way in which God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, never gives up on us, and empowers each of us to help those in pain and grief, empowering us to forgive and to continue to help even those that hurt us.
Whatever the disciples in the upper room did, they continued to support Thomas, they continued to invite him into their sure knowledge of the risen Lord. And Thomas does return, and Jesus greeted him, as he greets us, full of love. Thomas repents of his unbelief, he does not violate Christ’s body by insisted on touching the wounds – what a horrible thing to suggest. He sees Jesus, and just knows.
I have always envied those disciples of Christ who were graced with his bodily presence. What would it have been like to walk with our Lord on the roads and byways of Palestine? What would it have been like to sit at his feet and listen to his words? We all, I think, long to ‘touch’ Jesus, to experience his physical form near us. And doesn’t always annoy and offend us when people who are antagonistic towards the idea of Jesus Christ as our saviour constantly say, ‘I only believe in things I can see’ How very Thomas of them, and how very limiting, and how they deny that which Christ longs to give them, to have life and to have it more abundantly. And its our job, helped by the holy spirit, to continue to love them, and to show them our Lord Jesus Christ in our words and in our actions.
We who believe though we have not seen, are indeed truly blessed. But let's not for one moment think that we are superior. Jesus meets all of us, where we are, in our joys and in our despair. I have been reading the memoir of Charles Raven, a theologian and a naturalist, of the early 20th century. He describes the moment he met Christ as a young man, that moment that transformed him from a man of profound doubts, to a worshipper of Christ.
Charles was working in Liverpool, for the council in the Education department, in a year's break before he went back to Cambridge for his higher degree in about 1909. On one afternoon he went to visit a friend who was a curate in a parish in Stoke on Trent. Raven was clearly not impressed by this city, writing ‘For brute ugliness Stoke and its vast and dismal churchyard stand unique.’ Any yet it was here that he met Christ, he writes, ‘My friend was ill: I wandered up to his rooms alone, and the grim tragedy of the place struck me cold with misery.
My friend loved the country, and music, and all beautiful things: and he was living in this hell. I found him and behold he was not alone. No other other phrase will express it. Here walking with him in the midst of the furnace was Jesus…He had found that which together we had sought…in the mean streets, God…met me in splendour.’ (A Wanderer’s Way, p. 83). The rest of Raven’s memoir is a working out of what this meeting meant to him, how he was transformed, and how his life became, even in the darkest times in the trenches of France, a life more abundant.
I think we can all relate to the truth of Raven’s experience. How many times have we met Jesus and known it? How many times has Jesus stood with us as a presence that has upheld us in times of grief, and gifted us times of incredible joy? In those times, there is no other response, but Thomas’s response: ‘My Lord and My God’. It's good to remember as the country moves into a period of mourning, that Jesus is always with us, even when we are too angry and too hurt to see it. This is what Thomas learned, and was healed.
By Jessica Malay
Jesus is Lord of All. Today is Easter day, and it is a special Easter day even though we did not do what we used to do. There was no dawn service at Castle Hill, we did not process with the Easter Candle in our robes, there will be no hymns. There will be no common communion cup, no tea and coffees, no handshaking and joyous ‘peace be with yous’ . And yet, we sit together today and we know Jesus is Lord of All.
We have learned, as Mary and the other disciples discovered – that Jesus fills everything. There are no voids, no empty places, no absence. There is nothing missing. Jesus’s resurrection put an end to the emptiness that human beings have felt since they began to be cognisant of the world around them. As the gospel writer of John puts it so well: ‘On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’. That day was Easter morning and on that morning nothing, in the entire world, would ever be the same.
We often forget this. We are so used to living in a world where we know that God responds to our prayer, where we know that our sins are forgiven even before we ask forgiveness, where we know that Loving one another is the most important act we can perform. We know these things even if at times we find it hard to believe and accept them.
Before Jesus’s ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection people didn’t know this, they didn’t think this kind of relationship with God was possible. There was a barrier between human beings and God – a barrier of their own making. If you read the Old Testament, it's so clear that God wishes to be part of human life, but that human beings can’t quite fathom such a thing, and so they created carved images, rituals, and other ways that made them feel like they could at least in some way approach God. And this is true for all people in all places throughout history. But this was not God’s will. And it took sometime before people were quite ready to have the kind of relationship with God that God’ wanted for us, and when the most perfect time came, Jesus was born into this world, The Word was made Flesh, God’s will for each of us became so clear that it could not be ignored.
In the space of three days, the world changed. In the space of three days the veil was truly torn asunder for all people, for all time. Jesus lifted all of us, all humanity, into loving communion with the divine. Now, you might be thinking at this moment, actually I don’t know if that is true for me. Like Mary at the empty tomb, or the disciples in the upper room, or Clopas, and likely his wife Mary on the Emmaus road, they were not sure of anything that morning. In fact they thought they had lost everything at the very time they were gaining everything – the whole world.
And sometimes that is us, we think that no one is there for us, we doubt, we find ourselves, as the psalmist puts it, we are ‘like unto those who that go down into the pit’ – that age-old metaphor for depression and despair. Many of us have no doubt experienced this kind of despair over the last year, we sit like Mary Magdalen near the tomb weeping, thinking that we are alone, and bereft. And yet she was not. She just doesn’t at first recognize Jesus. Isn’t that what we are like as human beings…so caught up in our own thoughts, our own expectations, that we can’t see joy when it stands right in front of us. But then again, with a little help, we do see.
That is what this celebration of Easter is all about. It's not about us doing anything for God, it is about reminding ourselves that we are part of God’s divine love, as Paul puts it so well, that through Jesus Christ, ‘we live and move and have our being’. And we do not, indeed cannot, do anything to make this true for us. It simply is true, for every human being on this earth, that through our Lord Jesus Christ we are one within God’s love and we were all raised on that day. That is what we celebrate at Easter. That is what happened. And you know its much easier to accept God’s love, to accept that there is no veil between us, when we aren’t burdened with having to ‘prove’ his love over and over again to ourselves. When we just turn to our Lord and say with Mary, Rabouni!
As you know, one of my favorite passages from Paul, is Roman’s 8.39-9. It really speaks to me because it wraps up all those things we are afraid do separate us from God, and says they cannot. Paul was a man who knew despair and pain and grief and guilt and doubt. But her also knew that despite any particular feeling of the moment this one truth that flooded this world on Easter morning:
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things yet to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depths, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus Christ’s resurrection on that Easter morning made this understanding possible, not only was the veil ripped in two, it was torn away. Let us live in this Love today, and through each day of our lives, loving each other as Jesus taught us to love, remembering that every day is Easter day, every day we walk alongside our Lord and nothing can separate us from him.