John 20:1-31 “Uprising of Fellowship”
Anybody here remember Calvin? No, I do not mean that cute cartoon cat in the newspaper or the Calvin Klein jeans. I am speaking about the great Christian Reformer. I spoke about him a little bit at the first Lenten series worship two months ago. I mentioned how the Hawaiian Churches today still call themselves “Ekalesias Kalawinas” after John Calvin of Geneva.
One of John Calvin’s main points in his reforming of the church nearly five hundred years ago was the statement that “no Christian is in isolation.” In fact, John Calvin set up Christian communities of pastors in Geneva and the surrounding villages so that the pastors themselves would never feel isolated from one another. They become accountable to one another for their ministries in Christ. That is one of the reasons our churches here on island still gather together at least twice a year in the Fall and the Spring at what we call our “Aha Mokupuni.” We should not be isolated but rather in fellowship with other Christians.
One of the hallmarks of the history of this church congregation here is the idea of “fellowship.” Simply put, one cannot come into this church and feel alone or isolated. If you come into this church for worship, somebody is going to talk to you. They will shake your hand. They might even hug you or give you a kiss on the cheek. That is our tradition, going back to John Calvin! I know that some people will say, “Cannot I just sit in the balcony and not talk to anybody?” No offence is meant to anyone sitting in the balcony right now! When the Son of God came to earth, he came for US! One might say, He came down out of the balcony to be here with us. That should mean something still today.
Jesus himself when he started his ministry did not go it alone. Indeed we find incidences when he did go off to pray as he could by himself (after the Feeding of the Five Thousand, for instance), but most of the time he was with his disciples. After his baptism in the Jordan, the first thing that Jesus did is gather those twelve bodies around him. But, it was not just the twelve that were with him, there were actually more disciples than just the Twelve. The greatest example of this is that Mary of Magdala was considered a disciple and followed Jesus everywhere, including to the cross and resurrection, but she is not counted as one of the Twelve. Yet, truly, she was part of that fellowship.
As we see at the dawn of Easter, Mary of Magdala comes alone to the tomb. She is suddenly out of fellowship. All of the other disciples are gathered in a room together, yet she is alone. This is very dangerous for a woman in that day—maybe still today.
Almost as if it were against some heavenly law to be alone, God sends two angels to be with her. They comfort her. They see that she is weeping. They console her right away. She is now in heavenly fellowship with God.
I love this! I see in this the notion that even in our darkest moments on this planet, we will not be alone. God will send God’s angels to be with us. God does not want us to be alone, but rather in a divine fellowship with God and one another. Easter is not just about one man rising from the dead, but about all of us being called together in that number who will enjoin eternal life through Christ. When Jesus rises from the dead, we all rise up in a heavenly fellowship together.
Mary of Magdala turns and sees the one whom she thinks is a gardener there standing with them. I really love this line, too. I have been mistaken so many times for just the gardener while I have been working around the church or at the parsonage. Every time it happens I think that it is like a resurrection moment. “Excuse me gardener, can you tell me when the pastor will be in?!” Ha ha.
Mary sees that it is Jesus when he speaks to her. She knows that voice. This is her teacher. This is Jesus. She calls him “Rabouni,” “My Teacher,” in Hebrew. You know, there has been some conjecture about the relationship between Mary and Jesus, but here it is in black and white, they were teacher and disciple. That is all the Bible ever tells us. You can read your Dan Brown novels and make more of this if you want to, but I will stick to the Bible on this.
Mary runs back to the other disciples and tells them that she has “Seen” the Lord. There might be a little confusion because in the text it says that the disciples went back to their homes. This seems to say that they dispersed. Check out verse ten. This is totally mistranslated in our pew Bibles. The Greek tells us that they went back to “themselves.”
It would make a lot of sense if all the disciples scattered and ran away, but they did not. They stayed together. They came to one house and locked the door. They did not leave Jerusalem. Why would they do this? It was so dangerous for them to stay together. If the Romans found them, the entire story of Jesus might be lost. The early church would be gone.
My theory is that they were not so much afraid of the Roman guards coming for them as they were afraid of what happened to Judas just before the Crucifixion. You will recall that the Devil entered into Judas’ heart on the night of the Last Supper. In other words, Judas was spiritually attacked. If they were to be spiritually attacked as before, then it would be better to stay together. They could support one another in their difficult time. They were not going to let one of their own peel off from the fellowship again.
Do you know why they call the center part of the church building the “sanctuary”? Because in this fellowship here, you are safe from spiritual attack! Ephesians 6: 10 and on, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may stand against the wiles of the Devil. For our struggle is not against the enemies of blood and flesh, . . . but against cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Excuse me for throwing a little more Greek on you, but the “you” in this last passage is ALL plural: “You ALL TOGETHER be strong in the strength of his power.” Somehow in English we read this to mean that it is just “me and Jesus” against the world. No, it is all of us together with Jesus—for goodness sake. Jesus rising from the dead, the Easter story, is not about one man’s resurrection—It is about all of our rising in Fellowship together. This is the great uprising of Christianity!
Look at verse 26 of our Scripture for today. Did you notice that the disciples are already meeting together on weekly intervals on the day of the Resurrection? We Christians have kept on meeting every week on the day of Resurrection for over two thousand years now. The other major world religions like to meet on Friday night sundown to Saturday sundown. We meet on Sunday morning. They meet at the end of the week. We meet at the start of the week—because Jesus started something. He rose from the dead on this day! And, we are starting something, too.
Now, it might be a little bit troubling to note that this first ever expression of Christian Fellowship after the resurrection is meeting with the door locked. This was not an open meeting by any means. This should definitely not be the model of our church today. We should not be cowering behind lock doors.
I will admit that there are a lot of things to fear outside the doors of the church. I was counseling a couple for marriage this last week. They will be getting married here in the sanctuary next month. I told them that it would be better to throw flowers on the couple as they leave the church rather than rice because our feral chickens will come up and attack the wedding party! But, besides our feral chickens, we have all of our worried lives just right outside those doors. There are financial attacks, health attacks, tax attacks, drugs, hatred, bad driving, you name it. Sometimes I think we should lock our doors on Sunday morning with all of us inside, so we do not have to go back out and face that world.
Once we leave this sanctuary, it may feel as if we have left this fellowship, our spiritual strength, behind. If satan is always trying to get us along and isolate our lives, then we need to stay together as much as possible. So, when you leave this church sanctuary this morning, do not leave the fellowship, too. Take that fellowship with you.
One of the reasons I believe that Jesus comes walking through that door where the disciples are hiding away from the world is to remind them of what He had told them to do upon the event of his Resurrection. All four of Gospels say that the disciples were suppose to go ahead to Galilee, where they had first met Jesus, and start up the ministry again and that Jesus will join them there. In John 21, the next verse, it says that the disciples do finally make it up to Galilee, here called “The Sea of Tiberias.” It is the same place but with a different name if you were wondering.
In this is the wonderful promise that you are not going out alone. Jesus is going ahead of you. Even if we locked the doors to this our church, Jesus would walk right through them to be with us in our worship. He would tell us to get moving. He would go right on ahead of us to that place where we are called to testify the good news. The uprising of fellowship that is started in this place goes out from here with Jesus leading the way. And, it is outside of this sanctuary where we will meet Jesus in Fellowship again.
Jesus comes into the room and breathes over his disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit—his spirit to abide in them always. 1 John 3:24 “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit he has given us.”