Today’s reading: John 20
Just a few details I would like to bring out today.
First, John twice tells us that the event of the Resurrection and Jesus’ first appearances occur “on the first day of the week”, or Sunday. This is the key reason why the day of Christian worship moves from Saturday to Sunday. On the first Easter Sunday, the new creation begins. The essence of the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath is the recognition of God’s creation. Thus, now that there is a new creation in recognition of that the day of worship moves to the Lord’s Day.
When Peter and John arrive at the tomb one detail, in particular, is key. They see the burial shroud lying in the tomb, “and they believed.” Notice what this subtle detail implies. If Jesus was dead and his body had been moved or stolen the linen cloth would undoubtedly have been taken also. In the first place, anyone seeking to move the body would not have taken the time to unwrap it lest they are delayed and get caught. More importantly, carrying an unwrapped dead body that had been scourged and crucified is simply not sanitary. No one, not even a grave robber, would waste time unwrapping it. Finally, the linen was valuable; no thief would have left it behind. A thief would have more likely taken the linen and left the body.
There is a tradition that the shroud was kept and venerated for several hundred years. It was hidden for a time and reappeared in Italy. It now hangs in a church in the city of Turin. There is amazing scientific research on the shroud which confirms that it is from the right time period, bears the image of a man, crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced in his side. You can learn more about the shroud at http://www.shroud.com
It is important to note the prominence of women in the Resurrection narrative. It is a woman who first announces the Resurrection, to whom Jesus first appears, and who brings the Apostles to the tomb. This is often the case in life, it is mothers and wives, who first bring their unruly men to quiet down and listen to the Lord.
Some people get confused by Jesus statement to Mary of, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…” (Jn 20:17). Why does Jesus tell Mary not to touch him and then a week later let Thomas poke his wounds? The simple answer is that the phrase “Do not cling to me” is difficult to translate from the original. It infers more of an emotional attachment than a physical one. It is closer to “do not become attached to me”. Jesus is not shunning physical contact with Mary so much as he is guiding her to understand that he will remain physically present on the earth for only a short time.
Of course, I could not let the opportunity pass without pointing out the implications of this passage:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Again, we see that it is still the Sunday of the Resurrection.
So Jesus appears to the Apostles and his first word to them is “Shalom” or “peace”. He gives them their mission, “as the Father sent me, even so, I send you.” How did the Father send the Son? The Father sent Jesus as a servant with authority for the forgiveness of sins (and more). So this is how the Apostles are sent – as servants of God with authority for the forgiveness of sins, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
And Jesus empowers them for this task, he BREATHES on them. The only other time in scripture God breathes are: (1) when he creates the world and (2) when he creates man, giving them life. When God created the world he breathed life into it. When God created man, he breathed life into him. Thus, when Jesus breathes on the Apostles, assembled together as the Church, he gives it life. The Church created by Jesus is not just an organization it is a divinely created living thing, it has a divine life.
Jesus empowers the Apostles personally for the forgiveness of sins. Thus, Jesus is sharing his authority with the Apostles. Therefore, since the Apostles are being sent, “as the Father sent him” the Apostles also have authority to select new men, to teach and train them, and to share their authority with them, so that they may become their successors and teach the Gospel to the end of the age.
A very IMPORTANT point must be made. Arguably, there is one other time in scripture that God breathes. Sometimes the verse that reads “all Scripture is inspired” is translated as “all scripture is God-breathed”. Fair enough, but that just makes the Apostles’ authority all the more clear. Their teaching authority is from the same source, it is of the same nature as Scripture. The Church’s Bishops of today would tell you that they are the Servants of Scripture. That while their authority is from the same source it is of a different character because it has a different purpose. Scripture proclaims the truth and the teaching authority of the Church protects the truth. You might characterize Scripture as the Sword and the teaching authority of the Church as the shield. Scripture speaks the truth but men can twist the truth to their own purpose and thus a Church with authority to interpret the scripture is necessary to protect the truth of the Gospel. Thus the authority of the Church, sent as the Son was sent by the Father, is to serve and proclaim the truth for the forgiveness of sins.
Tomorrow: John 21