It has been quite a journey since Good Friday, and, perhaps due to lockdown, it has been somehow easier to follow, at least emotionally, in the steps of the Apostles. Crushed by what they took to be the ultimate defeat that we now call “Good” Friday, they passed into what looks like a state of bewilderment on that first Easter Sunday. Even the ever-faithful Mary Magdalene did not recognise Jesus by sight; it was the sound of His voice which drew from her the word: “Rabboni.” Thomas would not believe until he saw, and Peter, well Peter had good reason to be anxious as well as delighed; despite his big words at Gethsemane, he had betrayed his Lord.
Indeed, we see in John 21 that Peter had returned to his nets. It was John who first recognised the Lord. Impulsive as ever, Peter plunges into the water to greet Jesus. But what ground did he have to assume anything other than that there would be, at the least, a rebuke for his behaviour? Then, beside another fire, lit by Jesus, Peter receives forgiveness and healing. The three times Jesus asks him whether he loves Him echo the three denials, and what comes with that is forgiveness and a great commission, as well as a foreshadowing of suffering and death. Pardoned, healed, restored and forgiven, Peter is the pattern for us all. Our frailties and our wounds are not what define us, God’s forgiveness and Grace does that.
Throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus there were abundant signs that this joy, this forgiveness, this Grace was not simply for the children of Israel: the woman at the well who believed in Him was a Samaritan, a member of a despised minority; the Syro-Phonecian woman who begged Him for the crumbs of mercy was, likewise as a Canaanite, one beyond the pale – as the disciples were quick to point out; and the centurion of whom Jesus said: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” was an officer in the hated army of occupation. But it was not until the day of Pentecost, which the Church celebrates today, that the fullness of this message and its meaning were made clear.
The division between Jew and Gentile was deep and wide in the world into which Jesus was born, lived, and died; that division, like all others, was healed after the Ascension by the coming of the Holy Spirit. We are told in Acts that after the Spirit descended, everyone heard the Disciples speaking in his or her own tongue and that in that first day, three thousand were received into the Church. As Paul told the “foolish Galatians,” all who had faith were the “sons of Abraham.” Whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, all that mattered was faith in Jesus. It was for this reason that Paul gave Peter himself the challenge when the latter tried to argue that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow Jewish practices. Neither did Paul speak in his own name, as he told the Galatians: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
The Church is the risen life of Jesus, the means through which the joy that brings is shared with others. This morning’s “Thy kingdom come” Pentecostal service was a vibrant reminder of Paul’s words, and of the Spirit which binds where sin seeks to divide.
It has been a long journey from Good Friday to Pentecost, but with the birth of Church, may a new flame be kindled in all our hearts and may we love one another as He loves us; only thus will the world recognise us as His.