John 20:19-23 The Second Sunday of Easter 19 April 2020
The disciples on Easter Day evening were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They were seriously frightened, deeply disturbed and very sorrowful. Frightened because the story of the empty tomb would have got around and they may well be charged with stealing the body. Disturbed because things weren’t ringing true for them, they hadn’t understood the scriptures that Jesus must rise again. Sorrowful because they thought their Master was dead…. But then Jesus, who was not with them, came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’.
And to confirm that he really was Jesus, he showed them his hands and side, they saw for themselves the scars. This really was Jesus. Jesus had risen. The disciples were with the risen Lord. The text says ‘the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord’ (v 20). I suggest that was an understatement, to put it mildly. It was too good to be true. But it was good and it was true. And the disciples turned the world upside down because of that truth.
In the Middle ages there was a lot of speculation as to whether there was a sea route from Europe to India. Was there a way to the rich land of spices and perfumes? Many believed there may be, but no one could be sure. Many sailors had attempted to go round the Southern tip of Africa, but all had failed. So treacherous were the seas around that headland that they called it the Cape of Storms. It was the scene of many wrecks. But one determined sailor was intent on trying again. This time he succeeded. Vasco da Gama had proved it could be done, he had done it. The very name of that dangerous headland was changed. No longer was it the Cape of Storms. Now it was the Cape of Good Hope.
Until Vasco da Gama rounded that headland it was pure speculation as to what was round the corner. Until Jesus rose from the dead, life after death was pure speculation. His resurrection has turned the storm of death into the Cape of Good Hope. Jesus has safely navigated the storms and so pilots us through.
Interestingly, for an event of such dynamism, an event whose effects are so far reaching, it might be said that the Gospels don’t tell us much about the resurrection. We know when it happened – on the third day, but we don’t know how it happened. That is a mystery which transcends our human understanding. Beyond our imagination, beyond our experience, nothing like it had happened before. In our Gospel, when the disciples were behind locked doors, we only read that ‘Jesus came and stood among them’(v19). How he came was a mystery. But the point of the Gospel accounts is that they are a witness to the resurrection. They don’t describe how it happened, but they are witness to the fact that it did happen. And it changed their lives dramatically. Yes, it happened.
To the suggestion that I have made, that the Gospels tell us little about the resurrection, Archbishop Michael Ramsay used to say ‘Yes, but the whole of the New Testament exists because of the resurrection’. Jesus’ life and death, the life and growth of the church, the spread of the Gospel, the witness and faith of the early Christians, the hope of final victory, are held because of the overwhelming conviction that Christ is risen. The resurrection is the last piece of the jigsaw of life that makes the rest of life’s puzzle make sense.
In the Easter Liturgy of the Orthodox tradition, a passage from a sermon of St John of Chrysostom is read ‘Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen and hell has lost its prey. Christ is risen and life reigns.’
In that truth we proclaim ‘Alleluia, Christ is Risen’. ‘He is risen indeed, Alleluia’.