As a resource for congregations, the Board of World Mission publishes a preaching resource for pastors and lay-leaders to use in their congregations. Each week Bishop Chris Giesler takes one or more of the assigned lectionary scripture texts and ties it to a mission theme. This can be found in the resource section of the Board of World Mission web page. Here is a sample of that resource for the assigned Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2022.
Preaching Mission for the Second Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2022 • John 20:19-31
By the Rt. Rev. Chris Giesler
Last Sunday, as we celebrated Easter, chances are that attendance either in person or online was probably the best you have seen all year. This is always the case! Today there are probably far fewer people in the pews. Last week, as we read the account of Mary Magdalene and the other women (depending on which Gospel you read) encountering an empty tomb and being told to go back and tell the disciples, we sensed excitement, wonder and mystery.
Things look very different this Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. There are not nearly as many people either in the pews or online. And our reading from the Gospel of John, even while it records events that took place on the evening of that first Easter, gives us a very different mood than the resurrection account.
In chapter 20 of John’s Gospel, the Easter event contains the conversation between Mary Magdalene and the person she supposed was the gardener. She could see that the stone had been rolled back and that the tomb was empty. Her first thought is terrible: Jesus’ body had been stolen. Sobbing with grief, she asks the gardener where they might have taken Jesus’ body. The gardener listens to Mary’s pleading but then calls her by name, and instantly she knew in her heart that it was Jesus. And new life now begins for Mary.
But in our text today, the focus shifts from Mary to the disciples who are locked up in fear somewhere in Jerusalem. Let’s reaffirm that this is happening on the evening of that first Easter. Even though Mary has told them that the Lord had risen, and Peter and the other disciple had confirmed this, the doors are locked. This is so because they fear they might meet the same fate of execution on a cross that Jesus did. Their reaction is to retreat and barricade themselves away from the world.
But into their locked room and into their fearful hearts, Jesus appears, and his first words are, “Peace be with you.” These are the same disciples who fled during Jesus’ trial and walk to Calvary. These are the same disciples that were not there at the crucifixion. These are the same disciples that were not with Mary and the other women when it came to carrying out the burial rituals early on that first Easter day. It is to these disciples that Jesus now speaks a word of grace, “Peace be with you.”
Front and center in this text is Thomas, who will forever be remembered as Doubting Thomas. It is hard not to make this a story about Thomas. But while he must undoubtedly get his 10 minutes of fame here, I would encourage the preacher to look at Jesus’ words, for they will surely define mission for us. This is how John tells the story:
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘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.’ ” (John 20:21-23)
Please do not take these words lightly. This is John’s account of the Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit into the hearts and lives of all disciples past, present and future. And for John, what is the power of this Pentecost? It is the power to forgive. This is an amazing power. Grace is always amazing! And this power must now be put to use.
If Jesus was able to look beyond the weakness of his disciples who deserted him on Good Friday, we can look beyond the sins of others and extend to them a word of peace. If Jesus can gaze at those responsible for nailing him to a cross and say, “Father forgive them,” can we not also forgive those who have wronged us?
This is not to say that we condone the sins of others or permit them to hurt us intentionally and repeatedly. It is OK to say “I forgive,” but do so at a distance. But in our present world of divisions along political, racial, gender and sexual preference lines, Jesus’ command to forgive is something we must take as seriously. We take Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel sending his disciples to preach, baptize and teach as a mandate, we should do the same with the commission to forgive.
How can expressions of grace define your personal mission for the next few hours or days? How can grace help to define your congregation’s mission to your neighborhood? How can grace help us as a Moravian Church speak with those who might think, speak, worship and interact with the world differently than we do? How does forgiveness figure into your/our mission?