by Linda McMillan
Do you want to know what I do when things go wrong? I do exactly what Jesus’s friends did. I make a place to hide, either literally or figuratively, and I start thinking: Where did it all go wrong? Was there a point at which I should have known that it was unraveling? When, when, when was the moment that it all started to go south?
Of course, there are no answers for these questions. Nor were there answers for Jesus’s friends as they cowered in their self-made tomb. We can’t know for sure what they thought about, but we can guess that they aren’t too different from us. They must have questioned their decision to follow Jesus. If he was the messiah, and that question must have hung heavily in the room, then all was lost; and, if he wasn’t then they had all been fools for following him.
Their minds would very likely have wandered back to the beginning, to the day Jesus had called them to follow him. Some of them had been fishing when Jesus called them. Matthew had been at work too, collecting taxes. Philip and Nathaniel may have recalled a conversation they had in which Nathaniel was incredulous that the messiah had come from Nazareth, but he had followed Jesus too. All of them had a story to tell, but the end of each story was that they had given up everything and now they had nothing.
In calling Nathaniel Jesus had said that he was an Israelite in whom there was no deceit. He had nicknamed James and John the Sons Of Thunder. Once he called Peter The Rock, it was a funny play on words. John was his special friend, the one Jesus loved. Those were great days. They had seen miracles, lots of them. it seemed like the yoke of imperialism was really slipping off. Jesus was the one, the messiah, he would save them from Roman oppression and usher in the reign of God. But that was before the betrayal, before the denials, before it all fell apart. In the end, they were all failures, and it had all been for nothing.
It is hard to know if they would have wanted to see Jesus or not. They missed their friend, sure. They probably told stories to comfort one another, to try and make sense of everything. But they surely didn’t want to face the one they had all betrayed. Each one had proven to be a fair-weather friend. It is astounding to think that Jesus would have wanted anything to do with them either. A lot can happen in three days. The best of friends can become bitter strangers. That’s how the story might have ended.
Despair is never the end of the story, not the Christian story. Jesus came to the disciples and he called them again! This time, they were not called away from successful businesses, lives of privilege, or respectable situations. This time, they were called out of the tomb, out of failure, out of fear. This time, Jesus chose them and their failures too.
Finding them in a locked room, fearful and failed, Jesus did something remarkable. He forgave them. “Peace,” he said. Then he talked to them about the sins of others. “If you forgive them,” he said, “they are forgiven. And if you retain them, they are retained.” Because we have not yet grasped the radical forgiveness we receive in resurrection this passage is sometimes taken to mean that the apostles had the power to choose who got forgiven and who didn’t. They are given no such authority. Rather this is a statement of urgency. Jesus is saying, “Get out there and forgive people. Forgive as many people as fast as you can… Get on with it. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of the kingdom!”
It is only in forgiveness that we no longer resort to the kinds of violence that ruled the first-century empire which killed Jesus, and the twenty-first-century empire which is slowly killing all of us. Forgiveness frees us from the frantic search for peace with God and simply establishes it as the baseline. “Peace,” Jesus says. “Peace.”
Come out of your tomb, whether it’s a tomb of fear, or false pride, or some sin… whatever. Come out. There’s work to be done. There’s forgiveness for all. Who can you forgive? Don’t delay. Do it now! This is the urgent work we have before us: To make forgiveness known in every place and to every person. Come on out! There’s no time to loose.
Forget your own failures. Don’t waste time fretting over the things you haven’t done, think instead of what Jesus has done! The radical forgiveness of resurrection means that the sacrificial violence that has driven our need for peace with God is a thing of the past, it is yesterday’s news. Today’s news is PEACE! You are forgiven! So is everybody else! Go tell them!
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China.
Image: first century Roman key – public domain