“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.” 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
– John 20:19-31
If you are not and have never been part of a liturgical Church expression, chances are you are like I was was before experiencing liturgical worship and assume that the Easter season ends on Easter Sunday. In the liturgical calendar the story of God continues with the celebration of Eastertide (or Paschaltide), literally rendered “Easter Time”. This is marked by these weekly cycles that allow us to enter into the story of the Resurrection, culminating in the Day of Pentecost where the spirit given empowers the Church to be the mission of Christ to the world.
The Second Sunday of Easter (also known as Divine Mercy Sunday), is especially relevant because it establishes what for the Gospel of John is this pattern by which can recognize the new creation reality established in the death and resurrection of Christ. The writer of the Gospel of John builds the narrative of Jesus around a new “Genesis”, a new beginning, and in the end of the Gospel we are brought back in line with the opening phrase “in the beginning” by nature of this being “the first day of the week” of this new creation order. It brings to mind our role as image bearers placed in God’s temple, which in a bit of irony contrasts the “locked” doors of a building and this charge of being “sent” outwards into the world. The beauty of the Cross and the Resurrection is that it is not an exclusive property of faith meant to assure us of our salvation and bolster our fortresses, but rather it is the proclamation of both identity and vocation. “As” I have been sent, says Jesus, “so” I send you. To do what? To live and embody the ministry of Jesus in the new creation. In other words, to get on with task of creating and building that informs the Genesis imagination.
What’s striking to me about this new creation vision is that it begins with the simple words peace which contrasts with the word fear that precedes it. This word peace is deeply interested in and intereconnected with this notion of sending. It’s not simply a message that says, Jesus died for my sins and now I get to go to heaven, as the Gospel is so often understood. It is peace for the purpose of vocation. And how does this vocation get summed up? As a reconciliatory work. A unifying work. Forgive so that you can be forgiven. In other words, the resurrection breaks down the barriers of fear that comes from looking out on a world that feels hostile and uncertain and divided, and affords us this phrase “peace be with you”, a phrase in liturgical circles that actively embodies a time of reconciliation with one another. In the ancient world of this text, this would afford us a new vision of a world no longer bound by the cycles of division that we see instilled and perpetuated in the familiar story of Cain and Abel, one built on an eye for an eye form of justice and the never ending repayment of the sins of the people that flows from this kind of division. In Christ this cycle is broken, and thus in Christ we can move out into the world declaring “peace be with you” precisely by living in this model of forgiveness. This calls forth this great story of a whole humanity (literally rendered “Adam”) divided in order to become one in our divsersity (the fruits of labour bearing the child as a unified whole), a vision distorted by the idolatry of our desire which leads in the narrative picure John is evoking to a humanity divided (Cain and Abel) with no way to become a diversified whole. The competing image is that of Babel, where homogeneuity tells a different story than that of being fruitful and multiplying so as to fill the earth with our diversity, becoming the very template for the notion of nationalism and empire that flows from the term “Babylon”.
In the new creation of the Gospel of John, Jesus occupies the center of the new temple of creation enabling us to begin the reconciling work needed to heal a divided world. It is precisely through setting all that divides us at the feet of Jesus that we can both declare and live the kind of peace that bears the promise and mark of this liberating Gospel message. The breath of life in the Garden is the same breath of life declared in 20:22 and 20:31. Faith then, the kind of faith the Gospel of John contrasts with Thomas’ doubt, is the simple notion of believing that this promise of life is true in a world that often looks quite different. It is the proclamation that in the Resurrection God has been faithful to the promise to bring about this new creation reality. To bear out the promise to make Abraham the father of many nations bound not be this idea that some are made in the image of God and some are not, but so that our true identity as image bearers can once again be made known, and in so doing ushering and bringing the diversity of these fractured and scattered nations of image bearers into this creative vision of a diversified whole. What Eastertide reminds us of on this second Sunday of Easter is that Resurrection is not the end of the week, it is the first day of the week, the great imagining of a new world reality that has only just begun. The great bearing out of this new world reality through this peace giving and unifying vocation as image bearers.