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Discovering God's Kingdom – Growing the Church

Sunday 19 April

Gospel and Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

This can be seen in the online service for the Second Sunday of Easter on this page. Or it can be listened to (10 minutes) on the 'player' below.

Gospel and Sermon - Rick Cowdery

Gospel - John 20: 19-end

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."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


On the first Resurrection Sunday, in the evening, we find Jesus’ disciples in a kind of self-imposed lockdown, attempting to isolate themselves from a confusing and potentially threatening situation. They were, says John – one of those disciples – keeping a social distance of considerably more than two metres from religious leaders that, two days earlier, had succeeded in having their teacher, their friend, their leader, executed. They were frightened they would be next. Add to the mix that, earlier that day, Mary Magdalene had reported back to them the frankly incredible news that she had spoken with a decidedly not dead Jesus outside the tomb where he had been laid to rest… and that they had heard that Cleopas and his friend had encountered the same apparently risen messiah while high tailing it out of town to Emmaus… and that Peter had somehow experienced Christ since he had been entombed… add those in and you can understand how anxiety levels might be just a little more raised than normal. Especially given that, the last time that most of the disciples had been with Jesus, they hadn’t really been with him at all – they had fled from the scene of his arrest and even denied knowing him. If the bewildering tales of Mary, and of Cleopas and his companion, and of Peter, that Jesus is somehow alive is true, what must he think now of their fickleness, their abandonment? 

Amid this emotionally charged maelstrom of questions about what’s happened, what’s happening and what’s going to happen appears Jesus. Large as life, and infinitely as beautiful. From behind, remember, locked doors. What is going on? As the jaws of the disciples descended, Jesus spoke his first words to them since their pre-Passover meal together – possibly in that self-same room…'Shalom aleichem'. Literally, 'Peace be with you', to this day, a standard greeting in Israel, used as both 'hello' and 'goodbye'. Not 'Where were you guys?'. Not 'Why did you run out on me?'. Not admonishment, but peace. After he said this and proved his bona fides by showing them his hands and his side, John tells us, the disciples were 'glad when they saw the Lord.' That’s the King James version translation. I’m not sure 'gladness' covers the sheer depth of feeling that will have been triggered by Jesus’s initial greeting. And, indeed, by his follow-up to those welcoming words, after the initial burst of delight: again, Jesus said, 'Peace be with you!'

Elsewhere in the Bible, when God calls the name of a person or a place twice, it precedes a moment of great importance. In the Old Testament, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, God calls out, 'Abraham! Abraham!' - Abraham hears God and goes on to become the father of Faith. When God speaks to Moses from the burning bush, he called out 'Moses! Moses!' - Moses listens and becomes the deliverer of Israel. In the New Testament, when Jesus laments over the holy city, he begins 'Jerusalem! Jerusalem!' When he predicts Peter’s denial, he starts 'Simon, Simon.' And on the cross, he cries out to the Father 'Eloi! Eloi!'

All moments of high significance. So we should take note of the double shalom. On one level, 'shalom' does equate simply to our translation of 'peace'. But it encompasses much more meaning in its original Hebrew. It refers to complete well-being — physical, psychological, social and spiritual – which flows from being in a right relationship with God, within oneself, and with others. So, the disciples knew exactly what Jesus was saying when he spoke shalom to them. He is speaking forgiveness. He is saying: 'We’re good. All is well between you and me. You’re still my friends.'  It is a declaration of confidence and an outpouring of blessing upon the disciples, dispelling, in an instance, their gloom, their fear, their guilt. Jesus’ double shalom to his disciples actually completed an extended hat-trick of bestowing peace on them. 

Back, again, to the time they had met before three days earlier, before the agony of the crucifixion and glory of the resurrection. After Jesus had tried to explain what was about to happen, he said: 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.' So, now, as Jesus shows them his hands and his side, it is as if he is saying: 'Look – what I said I was going to do… to die, to bring about peace, wellbeing, wholeness, shalom… I have done that. I have won the peace; I have the victory; and I share that with you.' No wonder they were glad.

It makes perfect sense that the last words of Jesus on the cross, 'It is finished,' which reflect the completion of the earthly work Christ came to accomplish, are followed immediately after the resurrection with 'Peace be with you.'

Jesus probably explained to Cleopas and friend on their earlier journey to Emmaus, how scripture had led to this moment. How the prophets had pointed towards a coming time of shalom for the whole world through the work of the Messiah, the prince of shalom, who would bring in God’s kingdom. How this prophecy was heralded by the angels who, telling the shepherds about the birth of Christ, call him the one who will at last bring peace on earth. He achieved this through the cross, giving his life to defeat the consequences of sin once and for all, revealing God’s abundant grace to us – the unmerited favour of God given to us simply because he loves us.

Through God’s grace, we now have a peace that comes from knowing that we’re forgiven, even if we don’t feel it – it is a state of being, not a state of mind. The apostle Paul got it. He began every one of his letters with the phrase, 'Grace and peace to you from God the Father.' The revelation of God’s favour brings true peace. Know grace, know peace. It brings peace with God through justification by faith; though, in ourselves, we are actually 'ungodly', in Christ, we are justified and accepted. It brings peace within oneself, guarding our hearts against anxiety, difficulties and sorrows, and growing us into Christlike character and maturity. And it brings us peace with others, giving us the resources to maintain unity and love through continual forgiveness and patience. Christ is our peace, and by his death on the cross, he removes the barriers that divide us.

Shalom aleichem.

Rick Cowdery