“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.’”
(John 20:19-21, NRSV)
It was refreshing to see our sanctuary mostly filled with people as we celebrated Easter this past Sunday. The energy and excitement tied with the day's significance, coupled with the joy we felt at being back together, made it an experience to remember. The spectacular worship setting of lilies and other symbols prepared by our Altar Guild, the vibrancy of the brass ensemble, the majestic sounds of the organ, and the melodic renditions of the choir marked our celebration of Jesus' resurrection with stately elegance. For me, this Easter felt like a new beginning.
In the Gospel of John's telling of the resurrection story, as Jesus appears to his disciples in the Upper Room on Easter evening, he gives them an indication that the story of his life, death, and resurrection is not an ending but a beginning. After Jesus mysteriously appears inside the locked-up Upper Room, he speaks a reassuring word to the fearful disciples stuck in the confusion of the last few days. Jesus says to them, "Peace be with you." He shows them the wounds in his hands and his side as evidence that he is Jesus. The disciples rejoice. Then he calls them back together by repeating the first thing he said to them that evening, "Peace be with you." But his real message is what comes next.
"As the Father has sent me, so I send you." (John 20:21b, NRSV)
We're familiar with the Gospel of Matthew's Great Commission in Matthew 28:
"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20, NRSV)
John's Great Commission is much more to the point. In the same way, God sent Jesus to do his Father's will, Jesus is sending the disciples to do the will of God. Whereas Matthew's commission centers on discipling, baptizing, and teaching, John's commission centers on being in the world as Jesus was in the world. Everything Jesus did, the disciples are supposed to emulate as a means of bearing the Spirit of Jesus in the world.
As great as our Easter celebration was this past Sunday, it's not the end of the story. There is much more for us to do as we rebuild on the losses of the past year. We have received the Good News of God's love for us. We have witnessed the power of his resurrection. Now we must share God's love with the world. We've only just begun on the post-resurrection journey so let's get ready for the long haul.