Becoming Apostles

It being Easter 2, no matter the year, no matter the RCL affiliated congregation, we will hear the story of Jesus and his disciples in the upper room from the second half of John 20.  This is one of those stories that have become so familiar, the preacher has a significant challenge to make it relevant to the (smallish, low Sunday) congregation before them.  There are so many points of entry into this text, and by the time you’ve preached it for two lectionary cycles, you’ll feel like you’ve exhausted them all.  Couple that with the fact that many of us have short weeks and are maybe preached-out after Holy Week, the struggle in preaching this text is real.

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One of the cliches that I found myself saying more than once during Follow the Word, our children’s sermon program, this Easter is that Jesus being resurrected from the dead changed everything.  As I said it, I imagined a child asking me a classic children question, “how did Jesus coming back to life change things?”  How, indeed.  Specifically, how would you explain how the resurrection changed the world to a child?  What are the practical examples of resurrection in a world that still seems full of death, fear, and sadness?

In the Gospel lesson for Sunday, we have a few examples of how Jesus’ resurrection changes things.  First, there is the disciples’ move from fear to joy.  Second, there is the move from disciples to apostles, which I’ll focus on in a minute.  Third, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Fourth, the establishment of the authority of the Church (sins forgiven and retained).  Fifth, there is the evangelistic moment, “we have seen the Lord.”  Sixty, there is Thomas’ shift from doubt to proclaiming “My Lord and my God.”  Finally, we have Jesus’ assertion that there will be those who come later who will have to believe without seeing.  That’s a lot of change in 13 verses.  No wonder the RCL thinks we need to hear it every year.  Maybe one of these years, we’ll realize that life in the resurrection means that change is the only constant.

Of all this upheaval in the Gospel lesson for Sunday, what struck me today was that Jesus gives the disciples a new identity in his resurrection.  For three years they have been disciples – students under the Rabbi Jesus, learning what it means to live under his teaching, or what Jesus called “the Kingdom of God.”  In the the Matthean and Markan stories of the resurrection, the job of teacher now falls on the disciples, but first, they are called to go.  For John, the task isn’t to teach, but simply to go: that is, to be sent.

“As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you.”

The group gathered in the upper room moves from discipleship to apostleship, which literally means “one who is sent.”  The resurrection of Jesus means that each of us is called to be sent into the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ on our lips.

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