Meeting Us Where We Are, and Sending Us Out – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 20:19-31

Has the Risen Christ ever come to you when you were in a place of need?  If so, how did he come?

I’m moved by the resurrection accounts in the Fourth Gospel, in which Jesus returns to his broken-hearted disciples as the Risen One, meeting them just where they are.

Early in the morning of the first day of the week, he appears to Mary Magdalene just outside the tomb.[i]  She is confused and desperate, weighed down with grief and loss, and can only imagine that someone has, for reasons incomprehensible to her, removed the body from the tomb and laid it somewhere else.  Her teary eyes fail to recognize the One who speaks to her.  She assumes he is the gardener and pleads with him to tell her where they have laid him.  Then Jesus speaks her name.  “Mary.”  And her world immediately brightens.  Instantly, the weight of grief is lifted from her shoulders; hope springs anew; her teacher is alive!

Recall how Jesus appears to Peter, the faithful and devoted disciple who, swept up in a moment of fear, denied knowing his Lord three times.[ii]  Now he meets Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee, where he has been fishing with the others.[iii]  Jesus speaks to him so tenderly.  “Peter, do you love me?”  Never a word of blame is spoken; Jesus does not criticize or shame. Three times the question is asked; three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus; three times the charge is given, “Feed my sheep.”[iv]  Jesus offers forgiveness, accepts Peter’s pledge of love, and restores him to a position of leadership among the disciples.  So kind, so tender, so sensitive to Peter’s pain, Jesus absolves him.

And here, on the evening of the Resurrection, with the disciples hiding behind locked doors and fearing for their very lives, Jesus appears to them, gently reassuring them.  “Peace be with you,” he says.[v]

He steps into the circle of their fears, without a word of rebuke or blame, and simply shows them his scarred body.  His words calm them and offer the assurance they are looking for: he is scarred, but he is not dead.  He is alivemore than alive – he has passed through a locked door to be with them!  Their fear evaporates instantly and is replaced by rejoicing.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” he tells them.  Then, he breathes on them and fills them with the Holy Spirit.

How might he have returned to them?  Could he not have scolded them for their lack of faith, upbraided them for their fear, reminded them of their failures and weakness, criticized them for abandoning him in his time of need?  But he doesn’t.  He comes to them humbly, offering the most generous forgiveness, empowering them for the work ahead by breathing upon them the life-giving Spirit.  What wondrous loveWhat tender mercy!

A week later, Thomas is with them.  He has not been able or willing to accept their eyewitness report of their encounter with the Risen Lord, just as the disciples could not or would not accept the eyewitness accounts of the faithful women.  “We have seen the Lord!” they had insisted.  But Thomas will not be moved; he is held fast by doubt.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”[vi]  And so now, in his second appearance in the house, the ever-gracious Lord grants his request, extending to him his wounded hands and displaying the wound in his side, inviting him to see and touch and believe.[vii]  How tender Jesus is with Thomas’ uncertainty, how patient he is with his need to see for himself what the others have reported to him.

The Risen Christ comes to us, too – in our fears and in our grief, in our confusion and in our doubt.  He comes tenderly and patiently.  He does not force himself upon us or compel us to believe; he offers instead his sympathy and understanding.  He invites us to put our trust in him and waits patiently for us to let go of our doubts and of our reluctance to believe.

Jesus’ words comfort and console, but they also challenge.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” he tells them.  He has met them in their need, sympathized with them and relieved their doubts and fears – but now there is work to be done!  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Why this emphasis on forgiveness?  It seems to me that Jesus is very intentional here.  He realizes that they cannot carry out God’s work if they are bound by doubt and fear.  For this reason, he has appeared to them and shown them his wounds.  He has assured them of his love and forgiven them for their past failures.  Now he empowers them to forgive others in God’s name so that all may be free from the burden of sin and guilt.  Only then will they be able to answer and fulfill God’s call.  The power that frees us from fear is God’s Easter power.

I’m reminded of a portion of our community’s Rule of Life, found in the chapter on “Guidance and Reconciliation”:

“We cannot keep pace with the risen Christ who goes before us if we are encumbered by guilt.  If we stay estranged in our hearts, we jeopardize the community we have with our brothers and our fellow members of the Body of Christ.  Regular sacramental confession enables us to shed the burdens of remembered sin, and to move forward encouraged by the Spirit.  We enter the fellowship of the community again with fresh gratitude for the reality of forgiveness.”[viii]

His desire for them, and for us, is that we be liberated, not only from our fears and doubt, but also from our sin and guilt.  He wishes to lead them out from behind closed doors, knit them together as one, and empower them to stand boldly in the marketplace, proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ.  His will is for them to be a transformed people and for this reason he breathes on them the Holy Spirit

The gospels assure us that we are loved, accepted as we are, forgiven.  But they do not coddle us.  They challenge us to be ambassadors for Christ, witnesses to his resurrection, bearers of the good news for others.  Listen to the boldness of these second-century Christians, none of whom had direct contact with Jesus, but who spoke with just as much certainty and conviction as his first-century followers:

“We declare to you… what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen and testify to it… we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us…”[ix]

They witness not only with their words, but by their lives“Those who believed were of one heart and soul,” Acts tells us, “and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…  There was not a needy person among them…”(Acts 4:32, 34).  This is the Church living in resurrection power!

Here… in this moment… today: Let the Risen Lord come to you in your sadness, in your fear, in your confusion or doubt, in your guilt, and assure you that you are accepted, that you are enough just as you are, that you are deeply loved and forever cherished.  Let him comfort and heal you.  But let him also challenge you, empower and transform you, call forth the best in you, and send you out to be his witnesses in the world, to be his hands and his feet, to be channels of his love and mercy and forgiveness and grace in a world that so needs him.

[i] John 20:11-18

[ii] John 18:15-18, 25-27

[iii] John 21:1-19

[iv] John 21:15-17

[v] John 20:19

[vi] John 20:24-25

[vii] John 20:26-29

[viii] The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, (Cambridge MA: Cowley Publications, 1997), p.60.

[ix] I John 1:1-4

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  1. Harriet on April 11, 2024 at 16:47

    Wow! Your homily gave me chills down my spine! How wonderful your words are. Thank you. Presently I’m in a health limbo waiting. I am not anxious, fearful or confused. I am being ministered to by our risen Lord. Simply extraordinary!

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