April 07, John Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. The opening verses tell the story of Easter morning.
However, he does tell her to inform the rest of the community that he intends to pay them a visit. And in case you missed it, John lets us know that Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the resurrection an apostolic qualification. For those who remember the days of the Sunday evening service, when we would return to the church for another round of songs and a sermon, the remainder of John 20 might serve as a foundation for such events. Easter evening, having gathered together in an upper room, the disciples receive a visit from the risen Jesus.
Have you ever wondered where he went during the intervening hours? Did he go home to the Father or go out for lunch? Perhaps wishing to counteract such interpretations, Jesus shows them the wounds from the crucifixion. This leads to celebration, for he is alive. As the evening wore on, Jesus commissions the community for its ministry. Jesus breathes upon and says to them: Jack Levison suggests that this is a rather intimate act. It is rooted in the Genesis story when God breathes life into Adam.
Not only that, but as Levison also notes there is intimacy here—much like a kiss on the mouth. And with this breathing in of the Spirit, Levison writes: With this commission, accompanied by the intimate gift of the Spirit, the disciples are ordained and empowered to grant forgiveness or retain it. With this encounter, however, the community believes and is transformed.
Not everyone gets to see Jesus and receive the Spirit from him. Thomas has long filled an important role in the Christian story. Like David Hume, he has to see it to believe it. Frederick Buechner says of Thomas: He called a spade a spade. He was a realist. We need people like Thomas to keep us on our toes. However, persons like Thomas push us to ask questions of our faith and push us to offer good solid answers to the questions of faith as well.
They also give room for those who find it difficult to believe. Yes, Thomas is a gift to the church, whether or not we recognize it. There may be another reason why Thomas is an important contributor to the story. These are people who struggle with the physical nature of Jesus.
That is, Thomas helps to show that Jesus is not a ghost or a communal hallucination. This passage offers us a good opportunity to discuss the challenges posed to belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus by modern scientific worldviews. The bodily resurrection of Jesus seems require belief in the supernatural, which modern scientific worldviews do not easily countenance. Many Christians prefer to see the resurrection appearances in terms of a vision rather than an actual appearance.
While I recognize that challenges posed by belief in a physical resurrection, without the story seems incomplete and unattractive. Could a vision sustain a community going forward? Do we put our lives on the line for a metaphor? This is confirmed in chapter 21 , where it appears that Jesus had breakfast fish and bread with the disciples.
Lest we get ahead of ourselves, we should return to John 20, which closes with this message: Jesus did many signs during this post-Easter period of communion with the disciples, while other stories could be presented, for John this is sufficient to induce belief. This of course raises the question of what John means by belief. It could be a reference here to trust.
Of course, it is a trust that has substance. It is a trust that continues to push for answers to questions. Remember that even though Thomas started out doubting, he came to believe. So, are we ready to believe?