2nd Sunday of Easter

18 April 2017

Exodus 14.10-end, 15.20-21 or Acts 2.14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.3-9 or Acts 2.14a, 22-23; John 20.19-end

The Appearance of Jesus at the Cenacle by James Tissot

The Appearance of Jesus at the Cenacle by James Tissot

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.

 

THERE was no doubt that it was Jesus who “came and stood among [the disciples]”, gathered in a locked house at the end of the day of resurrection (John 20.19). He was in every way recognisable — even bearing the wounds of his crucifixion. Yet he was also dif­­ferent: he had appeared in the disciples’ midst without coming through the door, and he had brought with him a new authority.

His “Peace be with you” is the conventional greeting, and much more. Brendan Byrne links it to the conversation at the Last Supper, and to the promise of peace given “not as the world gives”, but the kind of peace that settles troubled hearts and banishes fear (John 14.27).

This peace comes to those who dwell deeply in Christ, just as he dwells in the Father, and, although they may be persecuted, their stab­ility should lie in the knowledge that Christ has “conquered the world” (John 16.33; see Byrne’s Life Abound­ing, Liturgical Press, 2014).

By returning in this way, Jesus embodies his victory over death. His body has become a sign in its own right, and no longer something on which others can inscribe their hatred and resentment.

What the disciples are privileged to see in the risen Jesus is the glory of God. The writer of John’s Gospel does not provide a dramatic scene, such as the transfiguration or the ascen­sion, to make this glory ap­­parent. Instead, he provides a thread that starts with the Prologue’s con­fident assertion: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1.14).

It continues through the mar­riage at Cana (John 2.11); the raising of Lazarus (John 11.4, 40); and the great prayer for the dis­ciples, in which Jesus asks that his followers might see and share his glory (John 17.22 and 24). Now this promise is being realised, but it is still open to challenge from Thomas, who, for unexplained rea­sons, is absent.

When Jesus returns a week later, it is to assure Thomas that there is complete continuity between the Lord who called him, the Lord who died on the cross, and the Lord who stands before him, inviting him to touch his wounds.

Byrne translates his en­­­cour­age­ment like this: “Be not un­­­believing but believing” (John 20.28). That suggests an ongoing state rather than a momentary deci­sion, and it is consistent with Thomas’s response: “My Lord and my God”.

Jesus’s comment on those who have not seen and yet have become believers is deftly picked up by the Gospel-writer, who draws his readers into what looks like an ending, and tells them what they are to make of his narrative. The signs he has selected for recording have been chosen with a purpose, “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20.31).

Peter’s speech at Pentecost, after the resurrection and ascension (Luke 24, Acts 1.6-11), is a very different proclamation of the Messiah. It starts as a rebuttal of claims that the disciples’ sudden gifts of language and outburst of preaching were brought on by drunkenness (Acts 2.13-16).

What follows is ecstatic, but in no sense incoherent. Luke Timothy Johnson notes that, unlike glos­solalia, it requires no inter­pretation. It is “rhetorically sophisticated” in its argument, and refers to psalms and prophecy (The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina Series, Volume 5, Liturgical Press, 1992).

Peter differentiates himself from his audience (”You that are Israel­ites”) and charges them with the death of Jesus (Acts 2.22-23). Steadily, however, he draws on the shared heritage of David, and the promise given to him that the Messiah would be his descendant (Acts 2.30). By this stage, he is addressing them as “Men, brothers” (rather than the NRSV’s “Fellow Israelites”, Acts 2.29).

There is a telling ambiguity in his insistence that “all of us are wit­nesses” of the resurrection (Acts 2.32). He is probably referring to the disciples standing with him, but there is a hint of the potential among the crowds for a new kind of witness to emerge, persuaded by powerful testimony rather than direct evidence.

The writer of the First Letter of Peter gives thanks for people whose potential to be wit­nesses is already being realised.

The faith of these Christians in what is now Turkey was being tested by oppression, but its vi­­­brancy was undiminished: “Al­­though you have not seen [Christ], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1.8-9).

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