Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Disciples are us

Acts 5:27-32; John 20:19-31

Today is the second Sunday OF Easter – we celebrate the resurrection for a Week of Sundays – eight weeks – until Pentecost. The Paschal candle will be lit each week to remind us of this.
Today’s Scripture readings also remind us of this. The Gospel reading describes an event that occurs the evening of the day Jesus arose. Last week John’s Gospel told us of Mary Magdalene going to the tomb to grieve, much as any of us might go to a graveside to grieve and remember our loved ones. When she got there, of course, the tomb was empty. She ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple – probably John. They also ran to see the empty tomb, and believed but did not understand. Then Mary returned to the tomb, and met the gardener, who was really Jesus. She recognized him when he said her name. Jesus sent her back to the disciples to spread the news of his resurrection.
In today’s reading, the disciples get their first look at the resurrected Jesus. They are startled by his sudden appearance, and frightened, but Jesus puts them at ease – “Peace be with you,” he says. He proves to them it is he, showing them the holes in his hands and his side. Only then were they able to rejoice and believe that he has indeed risen from the dead. He is alive again! Jesus commissions them to go out into the world as he has, bringing peace and forgiveness.
For some reason, Thomas missed being there, and feels disappointed, probably angry, and reluctant to believe. He wants what the others had – he wants to see the nail holes and the risen Jesus for himself. A week after the resurrection – so the Second Sunday of Easter – Jesus reappears, and this time, Thomas is with the group.
Jesus begins with the blessing of peace, and then offers to show Thomas the nail holes. But by this time, Thomas has had a whole week to think things through, and is ready to believe. His response of faith goes beyond anything anyone else has said. Thomas calls Jesus “my God.” Jesus chastises him for not believing initially, and praises those followers who believe in him without seeing.
After the resurrection, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and preached, taught, and healed. They get arrested and put in jail, but an angel opened the doors of the prison and sent them to preach in the temple. Which brings us to the first Reading for today – the disciples have been sent to go out into the world, bringing peace and forgiveness to all.
The leaders of the temple aren’t pleased and remind them that they have been warned about teaching in Jesus’ name. The disciples, no longer afraid take a firm stance. Peter, who denied Jesus and must have felt terribly guilty; Peter, who ran to the tomb to see for himself that it was empty, now states boldly that they are obeying God. He then gives a summary of what has happened since the crucifixion. Jesus has been raised from the dead and now reigns with God in order to call Israel to repentance and offer forgiveness. The disciples and the Holy Spirit are witnesses to these things.
Mary Magdalene and the other disciples have gone from grieving, fear, regret, and wondering to believing and actively expressing their faith. They are now teaching it to any who will listen. They want to offer God’s healing and forgiveness in Jesus’ name to all who will receive it.
Let me recap for a moment. If we look at the disciples, they don’t have such a glowing record at first, do they. They all struggle to understand Jesus’ message, which is so different from what they have been taught. Judas betrayed him. Peter betrayed him. Mary grieved. The disciples hid behind locked doors, afraid that they, too, would be rounded up and crucified. Peter and the other disciple didn’t believe Mary’s words. The two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus didn’t expect to see him, so they didn’t recognize him. Thomas doubted, and needed proof, before confessing his faith.
Aren’t the disciples like us? Don’t we hesitate to believe? Don’t we fear the unknown? Don’t we hesitate to act, because we are afraid of the consequences? At the same time, don’t we want others to know what we know and believe about Jesus? Don’t we want others to receive healing in Jesus’ name? Don’t we want to offer Jesus’ forgiveness to those who feel unforgivable?
I believe a major difference in the lives of the disciples was the Holy Spirit. We’ll talk more about the giving of the Holy Spirit in a few weeks, but as we read John, the Spirit is given as soon as Jesus appears to the disciples. By simply inhaling, they breathe in the Spirit Jesus offers. In Acts, the Spirit has already been given, first to the disciples gathered in a room, and then to the crowds (Chapter 2). So, whatever the timing is, the disciples are filled with Spirit power and sent to be Jesus’ hands and feet, his healing touch, his forgiving words, his loving heart.
The Spirit helped the disciples conquer their fear of speaking, their fear of consequences, their doubts and worries. They simply obeyed the angel of the Lord and permitted the Spirit to guide them. Because of their witness, we who are gathered here today believe in Jesus. We are their spiritual heirs.
Most of the time, in the Gospels, the disciples are called “disciples,” and occasionally “apostles.” After the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts, they are called apostles or disciples, just about equally. The word apostle means sent one. Jesus sent the disciples/apostles to go out into the world as he did, bringing peace and forgiveness to all who would receive it.
We who are gathered here today are followers of Jesus. We listen to his words; we read the stories about him; we do our best to behave in ways that please him. We have been baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, just as the first followers were.
 Do we trust the Holy Spirit to guide our words, our actions, our faith, our lives enough to be called disciples? Do we go farther, and allow ourselves to be sent, to teach, heal, and forgive, so we could be considered apostles?
Your challenge for this week is to be aware of your emotions and feelings, your fear, anger, hope, excitement in your encounters with people this week. Is there someone who needs Jesus’ healing touch, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus’ love? How do you respond? With fear and say nothing? With trust that God’s Holy Spirit will give you the words to say, so you speak? With a hug because you know you have been sent for just that moment?
Remember that Jesus is not dead, but very much alive and active in the world through the Holy Spirit and through us, his hands, feet, and mouths. We have been baptized, filled with God’s presence, and sent into the world to bring God’s peace and forgiveness to all who will receive it. Will you allow yourself to be sent?
Please pray with me: Risen Lord, we pray with both fear and trust. You came into the lives of the first followers and changed the world through your life, death, and resurrection. You promised to not leave your followers alone, and so you gave them the Holy Spirit and sent them into the world. As your followers today, fill us with faith, and with your Spirit, and send us to wherever and to whomever you would have us go. Amen