1 Pet 1:3-9
by Dr Elizabeth Perry, Programme and Communication Manager, Anglican Alliance, London
SECTION 1: NOTES ON THE READINGS
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses”.
There is a marked contrast between the Peter we see in the Passion and Easter narratives and the one we see here. He has moved from outright denial of Jesus (John 18) through uncertainty about the news of the empty tomb (Luke 24: 11,12) and fear (John 19:20) to this bold proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. What has changed? Everything!
Jesus’ resurrection has, of course, turned not only Peter’s world but the whole world upside down. We tend to think of the resurrection as a joyful event – and, of course, it is. But look at the words used in the gospel accounts that describe its witnesses’ reactions: fear (Matthew 28:4), fear and great joy (Matthew 28:8), doubt (Matthew 28:17), alarm (Mark 16:5), terror, amazement, fear (Mark 16:8), disbelief (Mark 8:13), terror (Luke 24:5), disbelief (Luke 24:11), amazement (Luke 24:12), astonishment (Luke 24:22), startled and terrified (Luke 24:37), joyful but disbelieving (Luke 24:40). It would seem that, at the time, the resurrection was so huge, so world-changing, so profoundly shocking, that its witnesses needed time to cope with the new reality, time to work through the trauma, time to adjust to its implications. Peter’s proclamation, which we read in Acts 2, happens fifty days after the resurrection. In that time Peter has come to terms with a world he would have found inconceivable just a few weeks or months previously.
But there is another reason Peter can now speak boldly: he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter is speaking at Pentecost, when God poured out God’s life-giving Spirit on the Church, and he speaks in the power of the Holy Spirit. Both the Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” have a connection with breathing. The Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruah) can also mean wind, breath, or life-force; the Greek term for “Holy Spirit” is pneuma hagion, (breath or wind being one meaning of the word pneuma). So Pentecost is about God breathing on God’s people. The breath of God brings new life, as it did in creation when the Spirit of God was brooding over the waters (Genesis 1:2).
“Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge”.
This gentle psalm is one of trust and confidence, of gratitude for God’s provision and of steadfast loyalty to the God of life and love: “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore”.
1 Peter 1:3-9
“A new birth into a living hope… and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials”.
The writer of this epistle rejoices in both our new life in Christ in the here and now and our future ultimate hope, but is clear that neither means that we are exempt from suffering or times of trial. How we endure, how we behave and act during testing times, he writes, is what proves and refines our faith.
“Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” Jesus comes amongst the fearful and brings peace. Three times in this short passage Jesus speaks peace – not to people for whom peace came easily, but to people living in fear, closeted away with the doors locked. Lockdown does not prevent Jesus being with his disciples.
The resurrected Jesus still bears the evidence of his suffering. His body has not been restored to the way it was, but bears the marks of crucifixion. He has gone through suffering and death and he carries their scars into the new reality.
Thomas’s ability to believe depends not on the other disciples’ words or even simply on seeing Jesus but on the testimony of Jesus’ wounds: “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.” It is only when he takes up Jesus’s invitation to put his hands into Jesus’ wounds, into the reality of his suffering as well as his resurrection, that Thomas recognises Jesus and declares him to be his Lord. For Thomas, the authentic Jesus is the wounded Jesus.
SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
Twice in our gospel reading we read the words, “the doors were locked… Jesus stood among them and said ‘peace be with you’” (v19 and v26). What comfort, to a world in lockdown, to know that Jesus is with us and speaks peace. Isolation and locked doors don’t prevent us encountering the risen Christ. And it is peace he brings to those who are fearful. Not reprimand or chastising or a call to ‘pull themselves together’. Peace.
Other themes from these passages seem to speak into our current reality of a world in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three things in particular resonate for me:
- The resurrected Jesus bears the marks of his suffering. The question “When can we get back to normal?” is beginning to be asked in respect of COVID-19. For some, there will never again be “normal” because of the trauma, because of the loss of loved ones, because some will lose their lives. But for most, “normal” life will resume at some point on the far side of the pandemic. But the new normal must reflect what the world has been through and honour the suffering. It must bear its marks. We need the new reality to carry forward the lessons we are learning. For me, these include (but are no means limited to): that we are deeply interconnected; that we are “our brother’s keeper”; that our actions have far reaching consequences; that whilst no one is immune to the pandemic, people who were already vulnerable or marginalised are impacted more severely than others; that the people on whom society depends to function are people who are frequently undervalued and overlooked; that (most) people can take quite drastic action to protect others – and for the common good – when called upon to do so; that people can be astonishingly brave, kind and selfless. Once we begin to emerge from this crisis we will still be facing a climate emergency and these lessons will need to be applied to it if we are to come through that crisis too.
- As disciples of Jesus we are not spared suffering or times of trial. But how we respond matters and can refine our faith. Also, the nature of our response and the wounds we bear give our faith credibility and authenticity in the eyes of others. Thomas needed to touch Jesus’ scarred and wounded body, not see a ‘perfect’ one, nor rely on hearsay. If people are to see Jesus’ love through us, his disciples, we need to be willing to share in the woundedness of God’s world and assist those who are hurting. A phone call, a WhatsApp conversation, listening to people’s anxieties might not seem big things, but for Thomas assurance and connection were enough to change his world. At the Anglican Alliance we are hearing stories of how churches across the world are responding to the needs of vulnerable people affected by the pandemic. Two examples we have been able to write up so far are from Jordan and the Philippines. They can be found on our COVID-19 resource hub here: how churches across the Anglican Communion are taking action to support impoverished, vulnerable and marginalised people in their communities.
- Even the resurrection, ultimately a joyful event, was traumatic for the disciples. They needed time to adjust to the new reality. How much more do we need time to adjust to the new reality we find ourselves in with COVID-19, an event in which there is no joy. This is something we can’t do in our own strength. Like the disciples, we need to hear Jesus’ words of peace, which he speaks into our fear and lockdown. Like Peter, we need God’s Spirit – God’s life-giving breath – to sustain us, to enable us to live as people of faith and hope, and to bring and be good news to others
by Elizabeth Perry,Anglican Alliance, London