Remember (Prof van Eck)

November 13, 2023
Remember (Prof van Eck)

John 20:19-25 (NRSV)

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.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”



The church of Christ started with a few scared men in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem. These men, Jesus' closest followers, followed Him for three years. Also, they just heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus was alive. And what do they do? They sit afraid in the dark. Afraid, scared and quiet. And the bravest thing they can do is to get up and lock the door.

What went through their minds while they were sitting there? We can only guess. Maybe the first thing on their minds was the promises they made to Jesus which they did not keep. Those promises they broke so easily. Or maybe they realized that all their bragging and bravado, all their promises of commitment towards Jesus were now lying in pieces at the gates of Gethsemane. Because when the soldiers arrested Jesus, they ran away as quickly as possible.

We do not know where they fled to, but we know what they took with them: a memory. A disturbing memory of a man who called Himself no less than God in the flesh, a man who they simply could not get out of their minds, no matter how they tried. Because every time they saw a man with leprosy, they thought of this man's compassion, when they saw a storm, they thought of the time He stilled one, when they saw a child on the street (one of the many who were thrown out of the house in their time), they thought of the day when He held one. Yes, every time they saw a Pharisees praying on a street corner, they thought of a man who did not hesitate to take on hypocrisy and dishonesty where he saw it.

No. They could not forget Him. That is why they came back. That is why they got together again. And that is why the church of Christ started with a group of scared men somewhere in an upper room in Jerusalem, behind a locked door. 

The tragic thing is that things have not changed much in two thousand years. Because how many believers proverbially speaking do not still find themselves scared somewhere in an upper room? Yes, they have enough religion in them to say they believe, to come together Sunday after Sunday, but there is not any enthusiasm to live out their faith in such a way that it makes a difference wherever they are. The doors are not locked, but in essence, they are. They do not turn their backs on Christ, but they do not turn towards Him either. They want to do something for the Lord but are not sure what.

Upper room fear. Confused children of God behind closed doors. What will it take to unlock the door for them? For us? What is needed for them, for us, to go out and live out our faith in such a way that people can see God is alive, God is amongst us, that God is with his people? That God can make this world new, that God can change this world for the better?

Exactly what sent the apostles out. That what made them unlock the door of the upper room and step outside. And started to proclaim the gospel with word and deed. What was it that made them do that? Let us answer this question by looking briefly at the passage we read together.

Imagine the scene that John describes for us in this passage: There they sit, John, James, Peter and the other disciples. They sit there, waiting, because they hope that God may forgive them for what they have done, or that maybe God would somehow in some way show them what they had to do. And then, just when one of them mumbled 'Let us leave this place, there is nothing left', they heard a voice: 'Peace be with you'.

And there Jesus stands. The grave could not hold Him. Nor the door of the upper room. And what does He bring with him? What they needed most: peace. Peace as a gift without reproach. So amazing is this moment that a few weeks later Peter publicly proclaimed in the same Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified: God has made this Jesus whom you crucified Lord and Christ! And three thousand came to faith!

What made them unlock the door? What unlocked the doors of their hearts? The answer is actually simple. They saw Jesus. That night in that upper room, they met the resurrected Christ. Their sins collided with the Savior, and the Savior won. The one who was betrayed came back to find his betrayers, not to judge, but to send out. Not to condemn them for forgetting Him and running away, but to instruct them to remember Him. Remember that He who was dead is alive and that those who were guilty are forgiven, and now can live too!

But this too, brothers and sisters, is not new. As we also, like the disciples that night, at times have sat somewhere scared and afraid in an upper room, so we also have seen the Lord. Or at least, I hope so! But how you may ask, have we seen the Lord?

We see God every day. We see God when we stop for a moment, how brief it may be, and realize how many things God gives us. Then we see the Lord. When we look at our children and loved ones, whom God has given us to fill our lives, then we see the Lord. Those moments in which we are grateful that we are healthy and able to work, then we see the Lord. Every time we pick up His Word and read it, and the Spirit works in our lives to make us new, we see the Lord. When my loved one recovers from cancer, we see the Lord. When we felt that there was nothing to live for anymore, because of all our worries and seemingly unsurmountable troubles, and we suddenly saw the light at the end of the tunnel, started to feel alive again, felt the bounce in our step again, and realized that everything actually was going to turn out for the best, we see the Lord. And if we do not see God in all of this, we might just be looking at our lives in the wrong way.

In what is perhaps may be the last letter that Paul wrote (2 Timothy), Paul pleads with Timothy not to forget. Where Paul sits and writes, perhaps within earshot of the sharpening of the blade with which he would be beheaded, he pleads with Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ. Always remember him. Remember that you have seen Him present in so many ways in your life. If people do not want to listen to your message, remember Jesus. When your tears flow, remember Jesus. When it feels as if disappointment follows you like your shadow, remember Jesus. When fear sets up a tent in your mind and thoughts, remember Jesus. When death looms, when anger burns, when shame becomes too much when you feel you no longer can lift your chin, remember Jesus. Remember the sick who were healed by his hands. Remember the eyes of God that wept human tears. Remember that He who was God became man, and came to suffer for us, especially so that in our suffering and hardship we would never be without God again. So that when we suffer, we would be able to see Him walking with us.

Do we see God present like this in our lives? Can you and I still remember when God came and stood right in front of us, so to speak, and made everything new? When we were stained with sin, did something that not even ourselves could believe we had done when we deserved nothing, and instead of judgment heard the words: 'Peace be with you!'. Do we remember all the other times God was with us? In our moments of misery, in our moments of joy, in our deepest moments of sorrow and pain, but also in our happiest moments?

When was the last time that we, like Thomas, sincerely expressed the desire: I want to see the Lord? When was the last time we stopped for a moment and marvelled at God's indescribable divinity, and our describable human sinfulness? And that He, although being God, became human and came to suffer so that we can live?

If it has been a long time, we must hear again this morning: He is still here. God is still with us. He did not go away. In all our responsibilities, packed calendars, busy schedules, full of programs, confused moments, discouraged minutes and indecisive days, we will find Him. Because He became man and set up His tent among us, never to leave us alone again.

I conclude: Someone who has met the Lord in his or her life, in whatever way, can never be the same again. The person who has seen at the same moment his or her total lostness and God's immeasurable grace must know and believe that life can be different.

On the other hand, to despair without seeing God's mercy, is fatal. It makes us people with fear locked up somewhere in an upper room. It paralyzes us. It cripples us for life. It paralyzes the powerful witness that can go out from you and me, from this congregation, into the community. It paralyzes us in our relationships with others. It makes us believe that we are alone in our hardships. And that everything and everyone is against us.

However, to see despair and grace is to become new before God. To be born again. It is to believe, to live, with conviction, that everything is right, even when we know everything is not right. It is to believe, to know, to experience: I have seen God busy in my life yesterday, today I will have the same experience, and tomorrow, again, God will walk with me. And that is why I will never forget: He did not come to suffer in vain. He came to suffer to make us all God's people. God's children.

So, let us listen carefully. This morning. This moment. And we will hear God's voice saying: 'Peace be with you'.



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