While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
‘Peace be with you’ was the conventional greeting, but it may have been more than the disciples expected – and more than they deserved. Having deserted Jesus when he was arrested, must they not have been apprehensive on seeing him risen from the dead? Even, perhaps, expecting the Aramaic equivalent of ‘you’re fired’. But the risen Lord says no such thing. Rather, he acknowledges their fearful feelings, before inviting them to see his wounds and to touch him, as a way of assuring them that it really was him.
His resurrection body is, in some mysterious sense, more than his earthly body, though the two have some similarities, but it still bears the wounds inflicted upon him by his crucifixion. In this Easter Season we rejoice in our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, and rightly so. But it is good to remember that he still bears the marks of his suffering and death. Following him does not mean forgetting his wounds, or other people’s, or our own. David Runcorn suggests that the vision of the wounded and risen Christ invites us to live more honestly with the wounds we carry ourselves (Rumours of Life, p90).
The risen Lord responded to his disciples with grace. He offers us this same grace in our need, for there have been times when we, too, have failed him. Not only does he make no reference to the disciples’ past failure, he also tells them that they are to be his witnesses. We may not have seen the risen Lord as they did, nor been invited to touch his wounds as they were, but we are called to witness to him.
We, too, are called to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins. One way we do this is by forgiving people who hurt us, or cause us difficulty, in one way or another, rather than bearing grudges or seeking to get our own back.
Crucified and risen Lord, we thank you for your grace and your forgiveness of our failures. We marvel that you call us to be your witnesses. Help us to be faithful to you, not least by extending the same grace and forgiveness to other people that you offer to us. Amen.
The Rev’d John Matthews is a retired Baptist minister and member of Wellingborough URC.