When 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.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 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 20.19-23)
John tells another story of that first day of resurrection. There is so much in the gospel accounts and not everything fits into a clean, clear narrative. As we have followed the events of this week in ‘real time’ I have had to do some creative juggling with the Gospel accounts to make them fit. As I said at the outset, I hope the biblical purists forgive me!
But this is another of those critical encounters with the risen Lord. When Cleopas and his wife arrive back at the room where the disciples are, in St Luke’s Gospel, those there are full of joy at the news that Peter has seen the Lord. In John’s Gospel it is evening but the disciples are locked away for fear. And then into their locked space Jesus breaks in and says ‘Peace be with you’ and to prove it he shows them his wounds, his hands and his side.
The disciples are filled with joy and recognising the Lord, recognising the truth of the resurrection, they are commissioned for ministry.
Priests share in Christ’s priesthood. This is not to diminish in any way the ministry of the whole people of God, the ministry of the laity. Through our baptism we are all called into ministry, we each receive a vocation. But from the first the church has set aside some to work for the whole church and to represent to the whole body that priestly ministry in which we all share. Priesthood is Christ’s priesthood, held by the church, the people of God and exercised by some on behalf of the whole.
Jesus breathes on the disciples, as with the breath of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and sends them, filled with that Holy Spirit, to witness and to forgive. It is that ministry of reconciliation that is such an important priestly ministry that it has become part of the definition of what makes us priests. In the Ordination Service for Priests in the Book of Common Prayer this is made explicit.
RECEIVE the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In the Upper Room, on the day of resurrection, the church, ministry are formed. The Risen Christ forms us as a Eucharistic, reconciling, peace filled community alive in the Spirit and in his resurrection. Is this the church we truly are? Do we bring peace, do we bring reconciliation, do we witness effectively to the reality of God, the reality of Christ? I love the church, but I love Christ more and where we fail Christ as his church then we need to look again at our life in the light of resurrection. The good news we have to proclaim is
Peace be with you!
and that should be good news for every person, in every place, at every time, in real time. If that is not the message that people hear us proclaiming then we are not the people of the Upper Room, of the Empty Tomb, then we are not the Easter people of God, the children of the Resurrection.
God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.