… the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid … John 20:19
John’s gospel reports that when the disciples first assembled after Jesus crucifixion, they were afraid. Within a few verses, however, their fear turned to joy. What happened? The answer, of course, is that they saw Jesus. The way that John describes that encounter is significant.
1) Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ word is effective. It creates what it proclaims. Just as God said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” so Jesus says, “Peace” and there is peace.
2) Jesus showed the assembled disciples his wounded body, his hands and his side. If it had been me, the sight of Jesus’ wounds would have piled on the guilt by reminding me of my own cowardice. Jesus was faithful to the point of death; I denied him, ran away and locked the doors. For some reason, this is not how it worked for the disciples. Instead of guilt, they felt joy. Jesus’ wounds were healing, not condemning.
We do not have the benefit of standing in the locked room with the disciples on that first Easter morning. We do, however, have the opportunity to experience Jesus’ powerful word and his healing wounds. When the church assembles, we gather together to hear the word and share the sacrament of holy communion. It is to “word and sacrament” that our elders are ordained.
The word of God is as powerful now as it has ever been. In John’s gospel, Jesus envisions a day when the Spirit will continue to make his word known even after his disciples “see him no more.”
“I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear. When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own authority, but he will speak of what he hears and will tell you of things to come. He will give me glory, because he will take what I say and tell it to you. All that my Father has is mine; that is why I said that the Spirit will take what I give him and tell it to you.” (John 16:12-15)
And the healing, life-giving wounds of Jesus nourish our newborn souls when we gather at his table. John gives us his theology of holy communion in the sixth chapter of his gospel. Jesus said,
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” This started an angry argument among them. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in yourselves. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day. For my flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them. The living Father sent me, and because of him I live also. In the same way whoever eats me will live because of me. This, then, is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread that your ancestors ate, but then later died. Those who eat this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58)
Those whom Jesus’ nourishes with the bread that is his wounded flesh live in him, and he in them.
Jesus appeared, spoke words that created peace, and showed the disciples his wounded- but-risen body. Later, Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who would not see him physically standing in their midst, but nonetheless believed in the one who rose from the dead. How does that belief come about? Perhaps it is because Jesus still speaks in the assembly by the power of the Holy Spirit and he offers his wounded body – his life-giving flesh – to those united to him at his table.