Led by the St Martin’s Chapel Consort, Morning Prayer begins on Pg 79 of the Book of Common Prayer or online here.
This morning’s hymns are 178 which follows the third reading and 205.
The psalm is 16 found and the Psalter section of the BCP.
The readings are Acts: 2:14, 22-32, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-3.
The Canticles are 17, The Song of Simeon, and 15, The Song of Mary.
The Anthem is “O Sacrum Convivium” by Roger T. Petrich.
Gabe Alfieri, Choral Director is Cantor and the Organ prelude and postlude are played by Steven Young on the St Martin’s organ.
Christian (Ian) Tulungen, Editor and Producer.
Being Human – John 20
Their world had been utterly shattered by Jesus’ death on the cross. None of them had expected the disastrous turn of events of just three days ago – had it really been only three days – it felt to them like a lifetime – the disastrous turn of events on that Thursday evening and Friday morning.
If his death the following day was not enough, early in the morning of this, the third day – they had awoken to the disturbing news of the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb where they thought they had safely buried him. Their world, broken apart, Jesus’ disciples had reason to be in an apprehensive state of mind, retreating to the relative safety of their inner group; meeting in subdued mood in an out of the way place, safe behind a bolted door -avoiding attracting unwanted attention.
We too have awoken over a matter of weeks and days to a world utterly changed; awakening to an utter shattering of our world view; awakening to a world in which all our normal expectations are now questionable – we hear this story of Jesus’ disciples gathering on the evening of the third day following his death – with new ears this year.
Feelings of being alone and isolated in a world that now feels very threatening and dangerous brings us into a profound identification with Jesus’ disciples’ sense of social isolation – so powerfully depicted by John’s account of Jesus’ first post resurrection appearance. Like them, we now know as never before what it feels like to be really afraid.
John records several post resurrection appearances in which Jesus mysteriously appears among his disciples. I am reminded of Bishop Tom Wright’s response to the suggestion that the Gospels are the work of early Christian imagination – at best fanciful fiction and at worst religious propaganda. He poses the question in response: why if you wanted to tell a convincing story of Jesus as the Messiah would you tell it this way? Wright is asserting the old adage that fact is often stranger than fiction. It’s the strangeness of the Gospel stories – esp. these stories of post resurrection appearance in John, that bears testimony to the truth of the strange events behind their depiction.
From our modern perspective it’s easy to recognize elements of magical realism in these depictions. For instance, Jesus seems to come and go through solid objects such as walls and bolted doors; suggesting a no longer physical body but some spiritual apparition. John is not suggesting a spiritual apparition, or an internal psycho-spiritual experience within the minds of the witnesses. His story is of Jesus with a post resurrection body that while in some way changed is still very much like ours. His is still a body that is corporeal (physical) enough to be touched; still a body that can eat and drink; a body that still bears upon it the history of its bodily wounding.
We usually ask the wrong question about such stories. Obsessed with the question of what’s real or not, what’s true or false we miss the point of the way John tells his stories of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances. To go back to Wright’s question that if John had wanted to be utterly convincing why would he have told the stories this way? It appears that John tells his stories to evoke faith in his readers by showing that the post resurrection Jesus is still the Jesus they had known in the flesh. A Jesus with a body now somehow changed but still emblematic of his all-too-human, experience.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ post resurrection body still bears the wounds of his cruel and unusual death? Surely if God had raised him to a new super-enhanced state of being the wounds would have disappeared – as in the hands of a skilled plastic surgeon, the scars of his all too human wounding would have been erased.
But John is reminding us of what we know to be most true in our own experience. None of us possess bodies free from wounding at the hands of life. We move on, we may even triumph over events that have wounded us deeply, but the record of our experience remains evident by the scars we still bear. Our scars remain essential reminders of how we have become who we now are.
Whatever the post resurrection state of Jesus’ body, God intends it to still bear the record of his human suffering – so as to continue to be a body like yours and mine – a body we can identify with.
Have you ever wondered about the role Thomas plays in John’s story? It has often been read as a story about doubt. But it is really a story about touch. Thomas doesn’t doubt the account of his friends as to what they had seen. He protests that he needs his faith to be confirmed by his senses – his all too human desire for touch. Thomas demands to touch Jesus; he won’t settle for anything less.
Touch or its absence has become an area of contemporary wounding. Touch, one of the primary ways of connecting with one another is now the one thing forbidden to many of us who may find ourselves isolating alone. The touch and caress of loved ones is denied to the dying who must now die alone with only perhaps – if they are lucky – the touch of the nurse at their bedside.
Even if we are living within a family, touching anyone else, that unconscious gesture of reaching out to another – of establishing mutual connection -something we instinctively did all the time – is now forbidden to us. And being touched by someone outside our zone of safe bodies is something we now shrink back from.
Our faith, our self-confidence, our sense of being connected with others shrivels within us when we can no longer touch. Thomas represents the human protest of our need to touch in order to know what is real.
John’s first depiction of the post resurrection appearance of Jesus is a story in two parts; a story of two encounters seven days apart. At the end of the second encounter with Jesus he puffs the Holy Spirit into his disciples.
The NRSV translates John’s Greek as breath -breathing – he breathed on them and said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit”. There is something rather serene – something rather English about this action. By contrast John’s Greek phrase labete pneuma hagion carries multiple meanings but the first of which is puff. Like the action of a mouth to mouth resuscitation – puff inflate – puff inflate, this is not a serene action. It’s an urgently intimate action. Mouth to mouth – puff inflate – puff inflate!
The post resurrection Jesus now puffs the New Life of God’s Spirit into his disciples as God has puffed it into him. Breath is the autonomic (unconsciously automatic) action that sustains our life. And in the way John depicts this, we hear the echo of the second Genesis account of the first human life – when God puffs life into Adam’s lungs – animating him through the action of inflating him with the Spirit of Life.
The tragic irony is not lost on us as our hospitals currently fill to over flowing with unconscious patients on ventilators – mechanical devices that are breathing for them – one puff at a time.
Told in any other way than the way John tells this first account of the post resurrection appearance of Jesus would be to run the danger of severing Jesus from the reality of our human experience. Then he really would be selling a work of fiction that places the post resurrection Jesus in a league of his own, with a body so unlike ours as to leave us cut off from it – a body so unlike ours that it is completely inaccessible to us.
The resurrection of Jesus is not a superhero fable – it’s a story of continuity -of connection with the spiritual hope housed in our physical vitality – of the faith, hope, and love that animates and validates our experience of being all too human.
As the reading from Acts vividly shows, the disciples did not hide away in fear for very long. We read that: Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd. Inflated with the power of the Spirit of New Life, the work of the Christian Community in the world began.
Although the prospect that social isolation will not end soon enough, I want to remind us that we have not stopped being part of the Christian Community in the world. Any cursory reading of all the parish initiatives currently in play shows us that our work as a Christian Community in the world continues though we’ve just switched down to a lower gear that is giving us a different kind of traction.
Be strong in your faith, resilient in your hope, and loving in your response.