A Transformative Encounter

Alleluia Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

Our gospel reading this morning begins with the disciples hidden away together, doors locked, for they were afraid. There couldn’t have been many of them. Twenty or so? Maybe fifty? Yet two-and-a-half centuries later by the year 300 the Christian population in and around the Mediterranean was closer to six million, or about ten percent of the population.

How did the Church go from a few dozen fearful men and women who had barricaded themselves in a room to approximately six million men, women, and children many of whom were fearless in the face of growing persecution by Rome?

Scholars have wrestled with this question over the years. One influential sociologist argued that the reason is that they had a well defined doctrinal centre with particular social boundaries but were open to outsiders. That and they had a lot of children.

It’s certainly true that the life of the early church was distinctive and that proved to be attractive to others. That’s something for us to think about. Is our life as Christians distinctive from the world around us? Or, do we tend to live according to the same patterns and wisdom of the world but with a dash of Jesus?

But that still begs the question: Why did the early Christians have such a distinct social witness in the first place? That question sociologists and historians are less apt to answer but the apostles give an answer. And the answer is, simply, that Jesus Christ really did rise again after having been crucified, and bestowed upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit who filled them with a new peace, joy, and boldness.

Let’s have a closer look together at our gospel reading this morning and a transformative encounter that the disciples had with the risen Jesus. I want us to notice three things: Jesus breaks in, he builds up, and he sends out.[1]

Jesus breaks in. At this point all the disciples know is that Jesus has been crucified. For all they know they could be next. They are terrified, so they huddle together and lock the doors.

Fear is a powerful hing. We like to think that we have free will but a lot of the time, in fact, our wills are bound by fear. If you’ve never done any therapy well you should and if you have done some therapy then you know that inevitably you end up talking about pain and fear.  Because so often our thoughts and our actions are motivated not by what we love but by what we fear. For example we might fear being hurt or rejected or alone and that fear ends up motivating the way that we live in the world.

So what I want you to do right now is ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” and then take ten seconds and think about that. [Pause] What are you afraid of? And, what doors have you shut and locked to protect yourself?

At the start of our gospel reading the disciples are afraid and the doors are locked but by the end of the passage the disciples are rejoicing and the doors are flung open. What happened in between? Jesus broke in.

And Jesus can do the same thing for you this morning, in fact, he longs to. Maybe fear has caused you to lock the doors of your heart and mind. And maybe you needed to do that in order to protect yourself but let me tell you something this morning those locks are not strong enough to keep the risen Jesus out. And that’s good news.

Jesus breaks in, and Jesus builds up. When Jesus comes into their midst what does he do? He says “Peace be with you” and then he offers them his body.

Peace. In Hebrew, shalom. In the scriptures peace is much more than the absence of conflict it is the presence of God. It is reconciliation between God and his people, that future reconciliation at the end of time but somehow right now breaking into the present. That’s peace.

Think about the end of the liturgy for a moment. What do I say to you in the blessing every single week? “May the peace of God which passes all understanding…” A peace which passes all understanding. A peace that the world does not and can not understand because it is a peace that only Jesus brings. Everything can be crumbling all around you, the world can be raging, all of the safety nets can be ripped out from under you but if you know the risen and living Jesus then you can know peace.

And that’s not a cop out. That’s not a way of saying that you can just stick your head in the sand. That’s just the truth of the gospel. Through his cross and resurrection Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the world and has made you a child of God. And when you understand that and that’s the foundation of your life then you don’t need to fear anything.

Jesus breaks in, Jesus builds up, and Jesus sends out. After he shows himself to the disciples Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In the Creed we say that we believe “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.” Apostolic means sent. The Church is a sent people. 

That’s why at the end of the liturgy this morning Tom is going to stand up here and tell you to go. You who have been reconciled to God in Christ, go and be reconcilers. You who have received the peace that Jesus gives, go and be peacemakers. You who have been made children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, go and live as children of God.

“Just as the Father sent me,” says Jesus, “so I send you.” Just as. In the same way. The mission of the Church is the mission of Jesus and you’re being sent out as little Christs. So go as Jesus went, in humility, joy, love, meekness, mercy, truth, and most importantly in the power of the Holy Spirit. Go proclaiming the kingdom of God. Go proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. Go, for Jesus Christ is risen today.

[1] I’m indebted to my friend and colleague Kyle Hackman for this three-fold movement.

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