Pause for thought: Old into new
Being married to a vicar, we moved last week from Liverpool to North Sheffield, from our own home into a vicarage, from cramped bedrooms serving as offices into altogether more spacious workspaces. We feel blessed. But what’s really caught my attention is the presence of our all-too familiar furniture and ornaments in our new home. This juxtaposition of the old onto the new is exciting but disorientating. Even making a cup of tea takes twice as long as usual. We have our own kettle, our mugs, our teabags; the usual kind of milk, but all in unexpected places.
This experience of the new amidst the familiar appears to be what Saint John was describing in his account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances in John 20-21. Yes, the tomb was there but the stone was rolled away. The grave clothes were there but relocated. The upper room door was locked yet Jesus dropped in. Even the gardener turned out to be the Creator!
Unsurprisingly, Mary’s response – indeed her loving response – was to cling to the familiar, to minimise her loss and mitigate her anxiety. Though their conversation might have lasted more than a moment, Jesus lovingly directed her to the new context. He appointed her as the first ‘evangelist’ with the transforming instructions: “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
He similarly unlocked the disciples’ minds with his repeated words of reassurance: “Peace be with you.” Again, he conferred on them a new dignity and a new role: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And, to help them inhabit the new, he breathed the Holy Spirit onto them. Thomas received the same words of reassurance: “Peace be with you” but this time coupled with an invitation to touch the new. Indeed, it was the new risen Jesus yet bearing the visible, tangible wounds of his crucifixion.
That the disciples struggled to embrace the new is evidenced by their return to fishing (even though left to their own devices, they never seemed to catch very much)! Lest we be too quick to judge (or indeed mock), we may readily see parallels there with our own lives, indeed our own ministries. Yet, in Jesus’ presence, the new doesn’t obliterate but rather transforms the old. Their lack of skills, lack of perspective, lack of energy, become retrofitted. The result: their nets are bursting. This very fulness leads Peter to recognise Jesus’ agency at work. And then, something remarkably ordinary happens, he invites them to breakfast.
These accounts may be so familiar to us that we fail to recognise their meaning. For me, there’s a clue in the verses I omitted (with due apologies to form critics):
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
This suggests that these accounts show us how Jesus reveals the new in the mundane. If we’re up for it, he eases our anxieties with his “Peace” and confers on us his Holy Spirit. We needn’t hold onto the familiar but are well-placed to recognise the new in the ordinary, to recognise Jesus’ transformational work and to “go and tell”. In Moltmann’s words, “where Jesus is there is abundant life.” Or to quote another phrase: we’re called to give ‘Glory to God in the high street.’
Revd Dr Julian Raffay