We’ll get to the much maligned ‘not very doubting at all Thomas’ shortly, but just look at the other disciples. Afraid and locked in a room. Hardly a bunch that seems like they believe in the resurrection, are they?

It was evening on that same day that they had found the empty tomb and they are gathered together in the upper room and they are afraid.

And that’s mostly true. Ten of the male disciples are there. Judas has gone and Thomas isn’t with them. Mary Magdalene isn’t mentioned, but then she’s not scared. She’s seen Jesus and told the other the joyful news… and they don’t seem to believe her. The disciples are unbelieving. That’s an important word in this passage. It’ll make another appearance a bit later.

We’ve seen before in John’s Gospel that night is a time of fear and worry and that’s how it is now for the disciples. The door is locked. They fear the authorities. They must be worried about what happens next. How do you go back to your everyday life after all this?

Mary said she met Jesus in the morning at dawn and it’s been a whole day and now it’s getting dark and there’s no sign of him. And didn’t she say that he looked different? She didn’t even recognise him at first. Maybe it wasn’t him at all. I mean, how could it be?

And I think that’s the whole point of this passage. Actually that’s the point of the whole Gospel. The clue is in the last couple of verses:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.”

This is the disciples ‘come and see’ moment. Because all through the story, even though they are with him all the time and see everything that happens and are party to a whole load of teaching that nobody else gets the disciples often seem just as much in the dark about who Jesus really is and what following him is really about as everyone else.

They need their own ‘come and see’ moment… But this one is different from the others.

The blind man… the samaritan woman… even pilate’s judgement… all happen in the middle of the day. But evening has come and it’s getting dark. And bad things happen at night. Judas betrayed Jesus at night. Peter betrayed Jesus at night.

And they are afraid because it’s getting dark.

Suddenly Jesus is there, standing among them.

He greets them with the usual Hebrew greeting, Shalom. We translate it as ‘peace be with you’ but Shalom means a whole lot more than that. It does means ‘peace’ but in the sense of wholeness, completeness and wellbeing found through being in relationship with God.

Jesus has spoken to them about this peace before in one of the passages we missed out from what’s called ‘the farewell discourse’. It’s chapter 14 and we often hear it at funerals. In my Father’s house there are many mansions… It’s that part. It’s where Jesus talks about leaving, but not leaving the disciples orphaned.

Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.’

In that same chapter Jesus promises the disciples that he will leave them a helper, the Spirit.

But they are afraid so Jesus stands amongst them and speaks what they need to hear, what they need to believe… Shalom. Peace… NOT an absence of threat but rather peace in the midst of what they find most difficult. And they are given the Spirit. Just like in Genesis 2, Jesus, the Word of God, breathes the Spirit of life into them. The promise Jesus made is fulfilled. Peace is given to them, made possible because the Holy Spirit is present within them.

John’s whole point is that the resurrection is ongoing. It’s not just for Easter Sunday, resurrection is an everyday occurrence. The new creation happens again and again, made possible because the gift of the Holy Spirit is for all of us. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Every day is resurrection day. That’s who we are. God’s resurrection people.

People often ask, ‘What’s the role of the Holy Spirit? What’s it for?’ Well, for the writer of this Gospel the Spirit is a gift from Christ to bind people to Christ.

Faith is deeply relational. Last week we talked about Jesus’ saying Mary’s name. That she was known, just like we are know. The Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, exist in perfect relationship, each showing us an aspect of God, inviting us into that relationship.

The Holy Spirit helps make the presence of Christ known to us when Jesus is not here in bodily, physical form. One of the big questions of this Gospel is raised when we are told God so loved the world that he sent his only Son… But now Jesus is gone. So how will God continue to love the world?

The answer is twofold. Through the Spirit, the gift of God to all of us… and though us… The kingdom of God relies on YOU. God’s love for the world is made known through Jesus and also by the Spirit working in us. We are an integral part of God’s mission to the world. The instructions given to the disciples are also our instructions for our own discipleship.

But there is a problem. We have misunderstood the instructions.

Firstly, I’m not sure we really believe that we are disciples. That first and foremost, that the most important thing in our lives is following Jesus. I know that for me that’s a huge struggle.

The second problem which makes the first one worse is that we read the instructions as a some kind of giving of power.

‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

That sounds like an awful lot of power for any person to have. I think most of us don’t want that kind of power. I certainly don’t. And the church throughout the ages has vested this power in it’s priests and ministers. We talk of confession and absolution and for 1,500 years that confession was made through a priest. And absolution was given by a priest. That’s one of the things that was at the centre of the Reformation, because that responsibility was being abused.

But there’s a bigger problem… what we just read is a bad translation.

The word translated as ‘sins’ is not used in the second part of the sentence in the Greek. Sandra Schneiders suggests that the translation should be something like ‘Of whomever you forgive the sins, they (that is the sins) are forgiven to them; whomever you hold fast [or embrace], they are held fast.

There is no ‘not forgiving of sins’, but instead an instruction to hold fast or embrace. And that changes everything.

The hold fast bit is vitally important because there is actually no word for ‘forgive’ in Greek.

The word we translate as ‘forgive’ actually is a pair of concepts;

’to let go’ and to ‘retain or hold fast’. And you can’t have either part alone.

Think of your fist. You can close your fist and hold fast or you open it and let go, but both are actions of your fist. Neither are possible if you don’t have a fist.

Holding fast in this sense is being held to account. Jesus holds people to account. Not turning a blind eye to wrongdoing. Not letting it slide or letting it go… Confront wrongdoing until it no longer exists and people .

The release part is where the future for all is no longer defined by the wrongdoing of the past. The problem is fixed for everyone and so we are all free from it.

But holding fast has a second meaning. It also means holding on to a relationship or an idea or a person, and that’s what’s going on with Thomas. Thomas is held fast by Jesus until he gets what he needs to enable him to believe. Thomas is another example of Jesus giving people what they need to be able to see who he is.

Thomas isn’t accused of doubt. Again we have a problematic translation that has labelled poor Thomas for 2,000 years with a nickname he doesn’t deserve. It should say ’Do not be unbelieving, but believing’. Unbelieving is different from doubt. Thomas needs an encounter with Jesus, just like everyone else has had. He is exactly the same as the other disciples are at the start of the story. This is the 3rd resurrection appearance and it’s all about showing us that God treats us as individuals with different needs and who relate in various ways to God.

Mary is told not to hold fast to Jesus because he has things still to do. She needs to learn to live without Jesus in the flesh.

Our doubts are the same as Thomas’… not really doubts but the things that keep us from truly and completely believing that Jesus loves us. But each of us gets what we get from Jesus what we need to enable us to see, to really see what life in all its fulness looks like for us and for our world. All we need to do is to be open to that. To be hungry for it. To take every opportunity to learn more and experience more of who Jesus is.

What we then do with that new knowledge is up to us.

The relationship, like every relationship, needs us to play our part.

Theresa of Avila famously wrote:

Christ has no body but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes, you are his body.

As we end our journey through the Gospel of John, we are sent into the world to invite people to come and see.

All of us. Not just some of us. All of us. Our role as disciples is to invite people into a relationship with Jesus. To encourage our friends and neighbours to come and see.

And we should always remember that we are never alone in that task. We are empowered and accompanied by the Holy Spirit, Christ’s gift to all of us to help us believe that Jesus is Lord, that he is the light of the world and that we are His disciples, held fast in his love, forever.

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