St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Low Sunday, 2016

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 Low Sunday is the Octave day of Easter. For a whole week we have been living in the wonder of the resurrection experience which is Easter Day.
 
I would now like to mention something which I am sure you all know. The Bible has two parts: Old Testament and New Testament. The New Testament has 27 books: four gospels to tell the life of Jesus, 21 letters to explain the meaning of Jesus for our lives, 1 history about the early church, and 1 apocalypse. All 27 of those books deal with Jesus as alive, risen from the dead and the central, living reality in the universe today. They deal with him as being very God and very man.
 
Today, on the week after the Easter experience when Jesus rose from the dead, it will be informative to look at the first appearance of the risen Jesus to his frightened disciples. What we should consider is: How did the risen Jesus act? What did the risen Jesus say? That first appearance to the disciples as a group is part of our Gospel lection for today.
 
First, let’s look at the first part of the lection to see how Jesus acts.
 
“When it was evening on that day, 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 …” 
 
This is talking about the evening of the Sunday that he rose from the dead. That morning Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1–18). But in the evening he appeared to all the disciples, that is the eleven apostles, at once. Notice three things: the doors were locked; the disciples were frightened; and Jesus came to them and stood in their midst. Those three facts tell us three things we can know about how the risen Jesus deals with us today.
 
1. The doors were locked.
Jesus did not have to knock. He did not even have to open the door. He simply was there. And he wasn’t a ghost. We are told in verse 20: “He showed them his hands and his side.” In another place he said, “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). So Jesus had a physical body as he appeared to them. We need to say that this body was not exactly like ours: it looked the same, yet different. Jesus was simply there, in spite of the closed doors.  
 
The meaning for us today in our lives is that Jesus can go where no one else can go. He can go where no counsellor can go. He can go where no doctor can go. He can go where no lover can go. He can reach you, and reach into you, anywhere and any time. There is no place where you may be, and no depths of personhood that you are which Jesus can’t penetrate. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead fits him to do what no one else can do. There is no one else like him in all the universe. He is alive, and he is the one and only Emmanuel – God – with - us. What he is capable of doing you cannot imagine. And it is a healing wonder to contemplate that all the complex layers of your life, which neither you nor anyone else can understand, are familiar territory to him.
 
2. They were afraid.
Verse 19: “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” Their leader had just been crucified as a threat to Caesar. Their fear is totally understandable. And into that fear Jesus comes.
 
Fear. Fear is something we all experience to one degree or another. I fear that I won’t be prepared for what I’m expected to do. I fear that the parish won’t prosper. I fear that I won’t have the faith to die well. I fear that I might drift into uselessness.
 
What Jesus is saying in this action is: I come to my own when they are afraid. I don’t wait for them to get their act together. I don’t wait for them to have enough faith to overcome fear. I come to help them have enough faith to overcome fear. Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear – and Jesus loves us perfectly. The risen, living Jesus is still casting out fear. He comes when we cry out to him in our fear. He helps us. 
 
3. Jesus comes to them and stands in their midst.
Remember verse 19: “. . . the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them …” The point here is that he came right into the middle of their fearful gathering. He did not come to the edge of the group or call out through the wall and deal with them as a distant deity. He wasn’t playing games with them. He wasn’t toying with their faith. He wanted them to see him and know him and believe in him and love him.
 
That’s what he wants for you today. That is what’s on offer this Low Sunday. To know him. To have him draw near into your life where no one else can go. To have him help you in your fear the way no one else can help you. And to have him come to you — close to you, not calling to you from a distance, but coming right into your very life.
 
Back to our lection for today: “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.’”
 
So that’s the way he acts as the risen, living Christ. Now what does he say? And what we see is that in this first appearance to the disciples he says three things. These three things turn out to be three gifts to you: the gift of peace, the gift of power, and the gift of purpose. The opposite of peace is conflict. The opposite of power is weakness. The opposite of purpose is aimlessness.
 
Many, many lives are ruined by conflict, weakness, and aimlessness. Jesus did not come into the world and die and rise again to ruin your life. He came to save it. What we will realise is that he saves us from ruining our lives by becoming himself our peace and our power and our purpose. Make Jesus your peace. And Jesus your power. And Jesus your purpose.
 
Before Jesus says anything about power or purpose he wants to establish peace. The order here is really important. The peace that Jesus gives is before and underneath any of our empowered actions or any of our purposeful deeds. We don’t initiate peace with Jesus by our actions. He initiates peace with us.
 
The apostle Paul — who wrote 13 of those 21 New Testament letters — explains it like this: “He [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both one [Jew and Gentile] . . . and reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross …” (Ephesians 2:14–18).
 
Jesus comes to us and gives us his peace. He reconciles us with God. Then he gives us power to do the kinds of things that mere humans can’t do — like defeating our own selfishness, and loving other people, and treasuring Christ above all. And then with that peace and that power he gives us our central purpose for existence: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
 
That’s our great purpose — in the peace of God, by the power of God, to do the will of God for the glory of God, and for the good of others.
 
God bless you this Eastertide.
 
 

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