19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
There is a great deal going on in this reading:
– Jesus says “as the Father sends me so I send you”
– He breathes on the disciples and says “receive the Holy Spirit”
– There is the rather peculiar bit about forgiving sins
– There is the lovely story of Thomas
– John reveals the reason for writing the Gospel – that through believing you may have life.
I can’t focus on all of these things and so I will focus on the words “As the father sends me, so I send you”
As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus is sending us…
I once heard a sermon from Stephen Cottrell, who was at the time newly the Bishop of Reading, now the Bishop of Chelmsford and he said that these words troubled him…
As the Father sends me, so I send you.
So he got out all his commentaries and he translated back from the original Greek and he looked for all the possible shades of meaning that this verse may have, and in the end, after much work, he concluded that what the verse actually means is…
As the Father sends me, so I send you.
It is shocking. God sent Jesus to minister to His creation, to proclaim the Good News, to heal the sick, bind up the brokenhearted. God the Father sent Jesus – the Messiah, some sort of superhero… and as the Father sent him so Jesus sends us. Little old us. And not some of us, not just the courageous and the articulate and the brainy and the holy ones…. ALL OF US.
No wonder people run away from ordination. Almost every ordained person I know ran from God for as long as they could. For Alan it was six months and then he made the mistake of going to a Vocations Day to prove that he wasn’t called to be a priest. For me it was a year, for a friend I know at the moment it has been two years. The reason we run is because we know that if we say “yes” then we have to face the fact that.
As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us.
But, of course, our baptism is our ordination. For all of us. Or perhaps we might say that our Confirmation is our ordination.
In this text is the model for our confirmation
For those of us who have been confirmed, the bishop says:
God has called you by name and made you his own.
He then lays his hand of the head of each saying:
Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.
God calls us and God sends us. It is interesting that we tend to focus more on our “calling” than our “sending”, and yet the Bible is full of the question “who shall I send?” not “who shall I call?”
The deeper we go into the meaning of God’s call for us, the more we find that God is sending us – God called Moses at the burning bush then sent him to set his people free. God called Isaiah in the vision in the temple and then sent him to be a prophet to his people. God calls us at our baptism and sends us at our confirmation. The sending isn’t optional – it is part and parcel of being a Christian. When we baptise children it is on the understanding that they should be confirmed when they can declare the faith to be their own. The coming of age is a symbol of each of us accepting our sending.
A psychologist priest I know reckons that the Bible has two messages for us.
The first is “I am with you”, the second is “grow up”.
God has called us by name and also God sends us. But we are equipped by the Power of the Holy Spirit and we are equipped by the fellowship and love that we have for each other.
Furthermore we are an Easter People, a group who are formed by the Resurrection. Richard Rohr says:
“To believe in the Resurrection means to cross limits and transcend boundaries. Because of the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus we realistically can believe that tomorrow can be better than today. We are not bound by any past. There is a future that is created by God, and much bigger than our own efforts.
We should not just believe in some kind of survival or immortality or just “life after death”—but Resurrection, an utterly new creation, a transformation into Love that is promised as the final chapter of all history.”
But you will notice that Jesus’ resurrection body carries the scars of his crucifixion. As we all carry scars, I’m sure. Life becomes ever more complex and perplexing, to borrow two words from our Lent book. We end up with scars. These scars don’t evaporate, even in the light of the resurrection. But perhaps they do have their uses. Macabre as is sounds, they helped Thomas, and Jesus offered him exactly what he wanted – to put his hand in his nail marks and in his side. Perhaps, believing in the resurrection, even our scars become part of our sending.
I guess it is a lack of trust in God, this running away from the sending – if we give in to this Hound of Heaven who is gently pursuing us then what will happen? It reminds me of that story of a man who fell off a cliff and half way down he managed to grab hold of a branch. Suspended half way down he called up “is there anybody there?”
“yes” boomed the reply, “it is God, let go and I will catch you”
The man thought for a moment “is there anybody else there?”
The truth is that it is by accepting our sending that we find life in all its fullness. Accepting it without complaining, accepting it without grumbling, accepting it as God’s grace to us. Too often we moan that there are too few of us, or two few doing all the jobs, or complaining that people don’t see things the same way as we do. In these circumstances, if our church life feels like a burden then perhaps we haven’t determined our sending. Once we have stopped running away, stopped fearing that we will be taken, blessed, broken and given to others, then we wonder why we ran in the first place.
As the father sends me… sends me, takes me, blesses me, breaks me, gives me… as the Father sends me, so I send you.
I will finish with a story from a book called “Cutting for Stone” where a boy in an orphanage is talking to his Matron. She tells him that his must play the Gloria. He responds by saying:
“But, Matron, I can’t dream of playing Bach, the ‘Gloria’ . . . ,” He’d never played a string or wind instrument. I couldn’t read music.
“No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’ Yours! Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”
I pray that individually and together we all find our Gloria. Amen.