[Exodus 14.10-end, 15.20-21;] Acts 2.14a, 22-32; 1 Peter
1.3-9; John 20.19-end
Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our
sins and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put
away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve
you in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
IT WAS hardly a hotbed of faith which Jesus invaded when he
bypassed the locked door that expressed the disciples' fear. No
wonder his first words were the Jewish greeting of peace. Only when
he showed them his hands and side did the disciples rejoice at
It was all a more muted reaction than the joyful and raucous
ringing of bells and blowing of hooters that greets the
announcement "Christ is risen!" at the dawn eucharist in Durham
Cathedral: the choristers love it because it is not often that you
can bring a football rattle to the cathedral.
We rejoice, and rightly so. But, for the disciples, it took time
for the message to sink in. The tomb was terrifyingly empty, and
the Gospels vividly describe people's reactions: perplexity,
terror, hiding their faces in fear, weeping, shaking, not
understanding, alarm, disbelief, amazement, and going home
Our familiarity with the story blinds us to its unfamiliarity
and terror at the time, and to the disciples' sheer exhaustion -
mental, physical, and spiritual. The resurrection was not an
instant panacea for their fears. So, a week later, the doors were
still firmly shut.
What must the intervening days have been like? Jesus stretched
them, being in no hurry to make it easy. He had imparted the Holy
Spirit to the disciples, giving them a commission, and they had
failed signally to convince the first person they told about the
resurrection, their friend Thomas.
It is tempting, when we are with someone who has genuine
difficulty in believing, to rush in with reassurance rather than
let doubt run its sometimes necessary course of opening us up in
greater depth to God's presence. That Thomas had not seen Jesus did
not mean that Jesus was not risen. When we are not aware of God's
presence, this does not mean that God is absent.
John recorded these signs, among many others, so that we can
come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and have life in him.
The Gospel-writer's answer to doubts and unbelief is to immerse
ourselves in the Christian story, and to be open to coming to
Studies suggest that coming to believe can take years. Like the
disciples, our turning point may be a trauma, when life is turned
horrifically upside down. In one church I know, the vicar asked
during a sermon how members of the congregation had come to, or
returned to, faith.
Several people said that it had been through the church's
presence with them during feelings of bereavement arising from
death, job-loss, or divorce. An impromptu show of hands indicated
that it had been like that for about one third of the congregation;
that they were in church that day because someone had helped them
come to believe during a time of loss. Stories such as this remind
us to be attentive in caring patiently for our friends and
neighbours in times of difficulty.
It is easy to consign the stories of resurrection appearances to
history. But salvation history involves a time warp: past and
present meet, catching us up in it all. In the Exultet, which is
sung at Easter, and recalls the deliverance recounted in the Exodus
reading, we sing: "This is the night" when you delivered us - not
"That was the night." In the eucharist, we pray that the bread and
wine "may be to us", not just "remind us of", the body and blood of
our Lord. The resurrection story is in the present tense. We are in
This is also John's Pentecost story, when the disciples received
the Holy Spirit and Jesus sent them. John uses "sent" about 40
times in the Gospel to describe what God did with Jesus, and what
Jesus drew the disciples into.
Another Gospel theme is that light is shining in darkness; and
John's resurrection stories mostly take place at night or in the
early morning. God sent his Son, who sends his disciples - us -
into the thick of the world, where light needs to shine and sins
need to be forgiven, to help people to come to believe in Jesus
Christ, risen from the dead.
The early chapters of Acts, which we read at Easter, give
vignettes of what happened when the disciples did get out and
preach the gospel. The locked door was flung open. People came to