SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ’s blessing, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” John 20:21.
With these words Jesus sends his disciples out from behind locked doors and the fear imprisoning them there into the world in order to reflect and practice the same Trinitarian love expressed in God’s sending God’s only beloved Son into the world, not to judge, condemn or destroy it, but to redeem it. But one week later, Jesus finds the disciples exactly where they were before-hiding behind locked doors. Thomas was not the only one with doubts. Though the rest of the disciples might have been convinced that Jesus was alive, they were not ready to trust him. Nevertheless, Jesus greets them with the same words: “Peace be with you.” I have to wonder whether he might also have said, “and what part of ‘send’ do you people not understand?”
Sometime later we find the disciples back in Galilee. They are not going forth into the world with the message of forgiveness Jesus had given them. They are fishing-and not for people. The disciples are going back to the life they once knew, the predictable rhythms of their profession and the comfort of the familiar. Once again, Jesus must intervene to get them back on course. John’s gospel ends where the other three gospels begin-with the disciples leaving their boats and their nets and following Jesus. The last words spoken by Jesus to his disciples are “follow me.” See John 21:1-23.
There has been much scholarly discussion concerning the nature and history of the faith community producing the Gospel of John. Among the most insightful and comprehensive are History & Theology in the Fourth Gospel, Martyn, J. Louis (c. 1979 by the author; pub. by Abington Press); The Community of the Beloved Disciple, Brown, Raymond E. (c. 1979 by the author; pub. by Paulist Press). Numerous commentaries have since contributed additional information and the results of subsequent research. As interesting and informative as all of this discourse surely is, it leaves me with more questions than answers. The one conclusion I come away with is that there is no reliable way of getting behind the scriptural text to reconstruct the New Testament churches. Just as the search for the “historical Jesus” invariably leads to the discovery of exactly the messiah we wanted for Christmas, so efforts to uncover the pristine form of the Jesus movement always reveal more about the seeker than the sought. The question is not whether the New Testament witness is historically accurate (an anachronistic inquiry its writers would not have understood), but whether the New Testament witnesses “got Jesus right.” Are they faithful in their testimony to what Jesus accomplished among us? That is a question that neither historical critical methodology nor any other hermeneutical approach can answer for us. At the end of the day, the Bible engages us on its own terms and in all the glorious messiness of myth, parable, poetry, narrative, preaching and correspondence. There is no “man behind the curtain” to whom we can appeal. So we take Saint John’s unique witness to Jesus as Saint John gives it to us.
Saint John gives us a band of disciples, a church, that is anything but enthusiastic about being sent. This is a church that would much prefer to remain within the confines of its sanctuary. This is a church that fears the world its Lord loves so desperately. This is a church that seeks peace in the comfortable, the familiar and the routine. This is a church that must be dragged kicking and screaming into its mission to the world. That sounds a lot like the churches to which I have belonged for all my life. Perhaps it describes the church in every age. It is a church that, left to itself, would never go outside, never dare to engage a broken world, never attempt anything new, risky or controversial.
But here is the thing. The church is not left to itself. Jesus just won’t leave us alone. He continues to break into the locked rooms where we try to hide. He continues to breathe into us his discomforting Holy Spirit. Jesus is forever interrupting our established routines and pushing us out into the world God loves so fiercely. In the end, the disciples are not so much “sent” as they are “led.” As noted above, John’s story ends with Jesus and his disciples walking away to…well, we do not know where they are headed next. Maybe that is how it is supposed to be. The Good Shepherd leads the sheep, sometimes by going before them, sometimes prodding them from behind and often going after them when they have lost their way and bringing them back.
God knows that there are plenty of reasons to be afraid. There are plenty of reasons for wanting to hunker in the bunker. There plenty of excuses for not sticking your neck out. Moreover, who of us does not wish we could just go back to fishing? Who of us does not wish we could go back to a time before anybody ever heard of Covid-19, before the eighty year peace in Europe was shattered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, before the murder of George Floyd reminded us how deeply our nation is infected with systemic racism; before the price of eggs and gas went through the roof? Yet in the midst of all this, Jesus comes to us and says, “Peace! As the Father has sent me, so now I send you.” Being sent into the world is a frightening prospect, particularly as we have no idea where in the world we are going. But we will not be going alone. Jesus goes ahead, drives us from behind and walks beside us. So we will get there-wherever “there” turns out to be. And the best part is, once we finally get going, we discover how joyful the journey can be.
Here is a poem by Charles Hamilton Sorely about running for the sheer joy of it. I think such joy might approximate that of the disciples as they leave their nets and boats to follow Jesus to-who knows where?
The Song of the Ungirt Runners
We swing ungirded hips,
And lightened are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.
The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
‘Neath the big bare sky.
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.
Source: Poetry Foundation. Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895 –1915) was a British Army officer and Scottish war poet who fought in the First World War. He was killed in action during the Battle of Loos in October 1915. Sorley was born in Powis House Aberdeen, Scotland. He attended King’s College School, Cambridge and Marlborough College. Sorley spent a little more than six months in Germany. However, when Germany declared war on Russia, he was detained briefly, released and expelled from the country. Upon returning to England, Sorley immediately volunteered for military service. He arrived on the Western Front in Boulogne, France in May of 1915. Sorley was killed in action during the final offensive of the Battle of Loos. In addition to his poetry, Sorley loved cross-country running. Running was an evident theme in many of his poems, including the above. You can read more about Charles Hamilton Sorely and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.