When the Risen One appears to the frightened disciples his first words are about peace and forgiveness. Letting go of past hurts, both those we have inflicted on others and those that have been done to us, sets us free from tombs of pain and regret to be messengers of grace in the world.
Jesus Appears to the Disciples John 20:19-23
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 and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Peace be with you.
In our scripture reading just now we heard how Jesus, the Risen Christ, appeared to the disciples, breaking through locked doors where they were fearing for their lives.
In this part of the story today – the disciples were afraid – perhaps the events of the previous week were overwhelming and too much to bear. Mary Magdalene’s announcement of her witness to the resurrection could not convince them. The empty tomb is not the sign of his resurrection for the disciples but a source of disappointment and fear, which leads them to gather in a locked house.
Their teacher and friend was killed. Perhaps they feared for their own lives, that they might be next. Their fear was compounded by the grief that they felt by the death of their friend. There were rumours of resurrection, but they weren’t sure if they should believe it. Maybe someone just stole the body. Fear and grief were wrapped up together.
And then in the midst of their fear, uncertainty and disbelief, the Risen Christ’s first words to them were words of peace and comfort.
He says Peace be with you and tells them that the Holy Spirit would be with them, and then sent them out to continue Jesus’ message to the world.
After his death they were feeling alone and separated from the experience they had of being in his presence, and his appearance to them brought him close at hand for them again. It opened them up, willing to then share that message of comfort and peace and forgiveness with others.
In this reading in John’s gospel, when Jesus says “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” the word used for forgive is more accurately translated as being set free. John’s understanding of sin is of being separated from God. So this understanding of “forgiveness of sins” which we sometimes would think is talking about morality or wrongdoing – is actually talking about being set free from separation from God.
So Jesus is inviting his followers to be set free from all that separates them from God, and to share that message with others.
What are some of the things that separate us from God or keep us locked behind our walls of grief or fear?
Over the past few years we have had this experience in the literal sense – being isolated in our homes and away from our loved ones. But sometimes experiences and life circumstances can make us feel like we are trapped and closed off in our grief or despair.
A time in my life when I felt closed off in grief was when my marriage ended. It was not my choice and it was very unexpected. My imagined future with my family was not to be, and I wasn’t even sure how I was going to get through each day with my two young toddlers, never mind support myself or look to the future. Those first days and months and years were a very difficult time for me, and I felt a lot of resentment and anger. I’m normally a pretty positive, forgiving person, but I just could not let go of those feelings I was having.
I didn’t know how to forgive. It seemed that in any other situation, I could let go and move on – but not this time. Maybe because the hurt ran too deeply. And then one day I heard a quote that really helped me – Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.
I deserved peace. For me, being trapped in my anger and hurt and grief made me feel separated from my true nature. I knew that I was expending emotional energy to be angry and upset – and the person that was hurting was me. Once I realized that (years later), and believed that I deserved peace, I was finally able to let go and forgive. I didn’t forget, but I was freed from the really intense feelings of it. It felt like a weight had been lifted from me. It didn’t change the outcome of the relationship, but it changed everything for me. I was able to once again feel true to myself and my way of being in the world, without compromising anything. It felt like new life had emerged, with a new outlook from the death of that relationship.
In my experience, it was like the risen Christ came to me, where I was locked in my grief and anger, and said Peace be with you. I was set free from those resentments and anger that were keeping me from living in the way that best reflected God’s love and grace.
As followers of the risen Christ we are invited in this passage to share this message of new life with others. To remind them that they can be set free from all that separates them from God.
The welcome that we share at the beginning of worship every week is a reminder of this. The welcome that we extend here at Mount Seymour is as broad and as deep as we can make it. And that is because the welcome that Christ extends is even broader. God’s love is not limited, and nothing can separate us from that love. Sometimes it is just hard for us to accept that and believe it. So as followers, we have been commissioned to remind each other.
In our scripture today as the followers received this gift of the Spirit from the risen Christ, they also received Jesus’ own capacity to make God manifest, bringing light to the world, reminding people that they can be set free from whatever it is that makes them feel like they are outside of God’s all encompassing love.
We are those followers. We are now the ones to share Jesus’ message of welcome and extravagant love and to share his light in the world.
In order to share that message, we also need to trust it and know it to be true for us as well.
And how do we do this? What does it mean to be set free from our feelings of being estranged from God and sharing Jesus’ message of comfort? It might mean forgiving or accepting ourselves for things we have done or said or regrets we might have about choices we have made.
It might mean reaching out to that friend or loved one who we have hurt or who needs some compassion. Or maybe learning about and supporting ways that reconciliation with Indigenous neighbours is happening in our community or sharing of our time and support when we see continued injustice.
This week as we celebrated Earth Day, it might mean taking another step toward being better stewards of the earth.
As we are sent out with the Spirit and share the light of love and comfort as we go about our daily lives, we experience new life, a new way of being.
God enters in, even to our darkest times and places and shows us the love that is beyond all measure, the peace of Christ that comes knocking behind our closed doors, and the Spirit that is breathed into us to keep us going and looking forward to a brighter tomorrow. May you feel that love of God surrounding you, the peace that the Risen Christ offers deep in your heart, and the breath of the Spirit upholding you in your days ahead. May it be so for you today and always. Thanks be to God. Peace be with you. Amen.