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Julie VanSpall – Home Front

Gospel isn’t ‘a’ story, it’s ‘our’ story

Voices April 15, 2018

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20: 19-21). Jesus called the apostles to live his message. As Easter people, we too are called to recognize our own roles in the Gospel story. (Artwork: Madeline VanSpall, Photo: Julie VanSpall)

At our first staff meeting after Easter, our principal guided us through a unique prayer style. Acknowledging that we have heard the stories of the Resurrection many times before, he asked us to listen to the familiar words from the Gospel of John as if we were active participants in the events, rather than outsiders looking on. 

He encouraged us to imagine the sights, sounds and smells of the room, in order to get in touch with the reality of the event. He then read the following Scripture passage: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. 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’ (Jn 20: 19-21). Afterwards, we were given 10 minutes of silence to allow the story to sink in.

I have read and heard those words many times before. I have also empathized with the apostles and how it must have felt to hide, fearfully, in a locked room and then witness the astounding and joyous return of Jesus; yet, this was the first time that I took the time to imagine what being in that room really would have been like.

In the silence, I found myself feeling very aware of the fact that Jesus’ return would have been accompanied by many conflicting emotions. Previously I felt that upon discovering Jesus was alive, the apostles would have been overwhelmed by joy and relief; I now realize that Jesus’ resurrection also represented significant and challenging changes in their lives.

Jesus’ return was not a return to the way things had been before his death. He was not initially recognizable, nor was he the same as he had been prior to his death and resurrection. There was no erasing the horrific events of the days before. They really had happened and Jesus bore the scars to prove it.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Those words resonated within me. If I were in that room, I would have realized that nothing was ever going to be the same. Even though, Jesus had conquered death, his return reminded them that they were not going to be in his presence in the same familiar way, but rather they needed to be his presence in the world, guided by the Holy Spirit.

My immersion into the story was powerful. I experienced fear and joy, relief and worry, hope and responsibility. Rather than delighting in Easter joy, as I have always done before, I felt myself experiencing a sense of mourning the past – mourning the way things used to be; yet, I know that I need to joyfully keep Christ alive in my own way.

If the apostles hadn’t felt similarly, we wouldn’t know Christ today. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that they were arrested for continuing to teach in Jesus’ name. The angel of the Lord freed them from jail and they continued to teach in the temple area. When discovered and questioned by the authorities, they responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” Although, the high priest wanted to put the apostles to death, they were spared. Fuelled by hope and responsibility, they continued to spread the Word of God.

As Easter people, we are all called to this responsibility. We are forever changed because of Christ’s death and resurrection. He conquered death and bore the wounds of our transgressions.

If we believe that Jesus truly came for each and every one of us, then it’s not just “a” story, it’s “our” story. We can’t merely hear and recall the events that took place and the words that were spoken, we need to feel the impact of the Gospel and be changed enough that we, too, can continue to bring Christ into the world.

Mindful of our responsibility and filled with Easter joy, may we share Christ’s message: “Peace be with you.”