9th April 2024

All you need to know

Sermon by Canon Edward Probert

7th April 2024: 2nd Sunday of Easter

(Acts 4.32-35; John 20.19-end)


Chapter 20 of John’s gospel describes four simple but powerful moments: the discovery that the tomb of Jesus is empty; the encounter near the tomb between Mary Magdalene and Jesus himself; the visit by Jesus that evening to his disciples; and his visit a week later, which transforms Thomas from doubter to confident believer. After these resonant scenes, the chapter is rounded off: ‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.’

John’s gospel is a book which can sometimes feel tranquillizingly repetitive and expansive. Here, in this chapter, it seems to reach a compressed conclusion reminiscent of the strapline of the magazine called ‘The Week’ – ‘All you need to know about everything that matters’.

In these 4 encounters of the resurrection, a kind of battering ram of change is being brought to bear on the people who had been closest to Jesus.

Mary Magdalene: she discovers the emptiness of the tomb, passes on that shocking news, but remains weeping, until her personal encounter, and the instruction not to cling but instead to pass on the wonderful news.

Peter and the disciple loved by Jesus run to the tomb, believe – then go back home; and even after Mary tells them she’s met the Lord, they and the remaining disciples lock themselves away to be safe; finally that day they rejoice, when they see him for themselves.

Thomas won’t take their word for it; he requires tangible proof. Jesus comes once more – and it seems that actually Thomas doesn’t need to touch at all; for him, to see was to believe.

Mary’s sense of what has been lost, expressed in tears and her inability to recognise what most mattered. The disciples’ insecurity, expressed in their seclusion behind locked doors. Thomas’ lack of trust in his friends, expressed in the demand for evidence. These are the starting points; the end point of this thumping sequence of encounters with Jesus is neatly summarised by Thomas: ‘My Lord and my God’.

In amongst all this, some momentous things have been said to these people: Mary, known by name; told not to cling, but to pass on the message of the completion of the mission of Jesus. The double blessing of peace among the disciples; the gift of the Holy Spirt; the power to forgive or retain sins; the blessing of those who have not seen, yet believe.

These people are, you might think, now fully equipped to press on, in the new life of the resurrection, with their part in the mission of Jesus. And so come those two sentences which close this chapter, which essentially tell us that, while much more could have been written, this contains all you need to know in order to believe, and have life.

Which is why I always find it a rather weird experience to see the 21st Chapter of this gospel following straight on. ‘We know enough – but here’s some more.’

Every Christian believer, throughout our long history, recognises both that life-transforming power, and the comfort of slipping back into old ways – back as it were to the tears, the clinging, the locked doors, the distrust, the fishing (chapter 21). We’ve encountered life, but we’re pulled back to something less. We may have read and heard enough – but we will need more.

We need a chapter 21 in our own lives too: the encounter with the risen Lord in the community which worships and follows him; the encounter with the bread of life which binds us together; the commission to love and to serve. This book is not complete: it is being written in your life, and mine.