Readings: Psalm 16; Acts 2:14a, 22-32; John 20: 19-31
What is the worst thing you have ever done? Have you done something to hurt someone physically, or to hurt someone emotionally? Have you done something that has affected someone`s life in a significant way? Have you been dishonest and lied? Have you taken something that belonged to someone else? Have you stood by and watched when you should have intervened? Have you not done something to help when you should have? Have you said something hurtful or offensive that has had a lasting impact on someone? Have you held on to grudges and not forgiven someone for hurting you or someone you love?
I wonder what the disciples would answer if they were asked these questions. Jesus was deserted and betrayed by his followers. Confused, uncertain and afraid, they made themselves scarce. How totally understandable! But how must they have felt after Jesus had died? Grief stricken, bereft, lost, confused, and guilty.
They must have thought, `It is finished! Over! The great hope, the great new way of living and of loving and of caring and of sharing is no longer.` What could they do now? In the short term they must have decided, `Let`s huddle together behind locked doors, because if we are discovered, who knows what might happen? We live in dangerous times.`
What is a disciple to do when the one he follows has been killed? When all hope is gone. When the future looks hopeless.
In the midst of despair, Mary Magdalene said what must have sounded completely outrageous. `We have seen the Lord!`. However, the disciples weren`t immediately transformed by this announcement. They remained behind locked doors, afraid. The writer of John relates that it was only after Jesus appeared to the disciples themselves and showed them his hands and his side that they were overjoyed to see him. Like Thomas, they believed once they had evidence.
When Jesus appeared, he greeted the disciples with the conventional greeting, `Peace be with you.` His very presence with them was the gift he said he gave them - they must have been floored and moved to the core. Elation and joy mixed with relief at having been forgiven. Every one of them had betrayed him, so being with him and being offered peace was more than they could ever have imagined or hoped for. They could now live unencumbered, free from guilt.
So after Jesus appeared, were the disciples immediately empowered and transformed? It would appear not, because when he appeared again, a whole week later, they were still behind locked doors. What happened? Were they not convinced? Were they not 100% sure? Can we ever be 100% sure of something?
Their words were, `We have seen the Lord` but their actions did not match. They had seen and not acted, let alone not having seen and having believed. Their understanding of what had happened and how they would respond was still developing; it would appear that they had far from a complete understanding of Jesus and what his death and resurrection meant.
In verses 19-23, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples and commissions them to forgive sins, thereby offering life and hope to people. The word used for `breathed` is the only time it is used in the New Testament. It evokes the description of God breathing the breath of life into the first human in Genesis, and it recalls the breath of life in Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones. This breath brings new bodies to dead people, new hope to those with no hope.
Jesus breathed this life-giving breath to this struggling assembly. The imperfect disciples, reeling at the events surrounding the crucifixion, were commissioned to forgive sins. The fledgling church, with its glaring imperfections, was commissioned to do the same. As are we today! Ironic, isn`t it. Even though we are sinful, we can forgive sins. But that is the beauty of this passage in John, the juxtaposition of commissioning the disciples who were experiencing their own struggles, with forgiving the sins of others. They were called to do much more than they thought themselves capable of, and the further we read in the New Testament the more we see the story of the early church as one of a committed group of believers experiencing great hope and great clarity. We see a committed group matching their actions with their understanding. Just as we are called to do today.
For our prayer time, members of the congregation were invited to write down their prayers, which were later read aloud.
Prayer of Thanks (written by the congregation)
For the bitterness and sweetness of life
Without the thorns we wouldn`t smell the roses
Family - church
For His guidance
For family and friends who I can love
Thanks to family and dear friends and for this church
Children and dogs
A country without war
Love in a family
Sunsets at the beach
Freedom to `be`
The beauty in nature
Beautiful friends to share the journey
For the opportunity of being in this place of worship
For the love of family and friends
For this place
For doctors and nurses helping us to heal
Prayer of Concerns (written by the congregation)
Loss of control
The homeless - youth and older people
Those affected by drugs
Endless wars and hatred
Politicians who speak without thinking
Australia`s and Australians` greed and selfishness
`Girls are facing a hostile world` (Steve Biddulph)
For the environment and our wasteful destruction of it in our greed
Lack of mental health workers - which leads to breakdown of people`s lives and therefore 8 people commit suicide every day
For our overpopulated stressed world
For people who are `different`
For children who are hurt by those who are meant to protect them
For politicians who just don`t understand
For Raed, trapped in a political, bureaucratic nightmare on Christmas Island
That major disasters like the Sudan famine are soon forgotten
For 2 sisters battling to find forgiveness over childhood trauma
For victims of domestic violence
For the refugees, especially on Manus and Nauru, not forgotten by us who care, not forgotten by our government that continues the cruelty
Wisdom in decisions by politicians in today`s climate
Greed and the overcoming of it