WHEN Jesus’s first followers went into lockdown on the evening of the first Easter Sunday, the Lord did the very opposite of subjecting them to a campaign of fear.
The Book of Common Prayer’s Gospel reading for today, the first Sunday after Easter, describes Jesus’s disciples hiding in a locked room for fear of the 1st century Jewish religious leaders who had handed him over to the political power of the Romans to be crucified:
‘Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
‘Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained’ (John 20v19-23, King James Version).
The Apostle John, who was in the room, witnessed and experienced Jesus’s transformation of his disciples’ fear into joy with the visible physical evidence of his resurrection from the dead. When he showed them his hands through which Roman soldiers had driven the nails that had impaled him to the cross and his side into which a soldier had thrust a spear causing a flow of blood and water from Jesus’s body (John 19v34), the disciples knew that the Lord had risen.
In contrast to the fearmongering, power-driven Indoctrinators of Karen Harradine’s authoritative TCW series last week, Jesus brought peace to troubled hearts and minds.
Defying his disciples’ lockdown by his ability in his resurrected state to pass through locked doors, Jesus brought divine peace, God’s Shalom in biblical Hebrew, to these frightened men. ‘Peace be unto you’ were his first words to them. He repeated that blessing before sending them out as his Apostles (his sent men) into the world to proclaim his message of salvation, centring on the forgiveness of sins for all who believe and trust in him.
Peace with God is now possible for sinful humanity through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Sin alienates humanity from the loving God who made us in his image, but now what the New Testament calls ‘justification’, being put right with God, enjoying restored relationship with him, is available to everyone, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, social status or intellectual ability, who chooses to trust in Christ for eternal salvation.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus empowered his Apostles to proclaim his message of the forgiveness of sins to the world. Whoever chose to receive their message would receive divine forgiveness; whoever chose to reject their message would not: ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.’
Today’s Epistle reading from the Apostle John’s first New Testament letter sums up the choice we all face:
‘If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
‘And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life’ (1 John 5v9-12).
The Collect for today invites us to take to heart the Easter message of peace with God and the life that flows from salvation:
‘Almighty God, who hast given thine 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 thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.’