A Sermon on the Transformation of the Disciples

Huddled together in an upper room, the doors bolted shut for fear of those outside who might find them and accuse them of having a connection with Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified three days earlier, the disciples listened to Mary Magdalene, and to Simon Peter, and to the disciple whom Jesus loved.

They had been there in that room for some time, it was Sunday evening now, the evening of the first day of the week.  On Thursday they had shared together their Last Supper with their Master, and on Friday they had seen him crucified.  They knew that he had died and that he had been taken to a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, and that he had been laid there with myrrh provided by Nicodemus.  And the air in the room had been full, during those few days, with the stories of Jesus, as they remembered all that they had been told about his baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptiser at the start of his ministry; as they re-told the stories about how they had each been called by Jesus to join him on his mission; and all that they had experienced as they followed him.  But on that morning events had happened which startled them, and they now listened intently and in wonder, and discussed together what this might all mean.

That very morning, (as we pondered on Easter Sunday in our Gospel reading) Mary had arrived at the room where they were hiding to tell them that their Master’s body was missing, for she had gone to the tomb to dress his body, which was unprepared because of the Jewish Sabbath, and had found it empty.  Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved had followed and found her testimony to be true.  And then Mary had met Jesus in the Garden, after Simon Peter and the other disciple had left her there – she had met their Master and he was alive.

That afternoon two other followers had been walking down the Road on their way home to Emmaus, disappointed and disillusioned after Jesus’ crucifixion.  And Jesus had met them on the road, and discussed with them the prophecies which foretold what was to happen.  And discovering who he was, they had run back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples the good news of what had happened.  Meeting the resurrected Lord had resurrected their Spirits and brought alive for them again the hope of Jesus’ teaching.

Mary had seen the risen Lord, the two followers on the Emmaus Road had seen the risen Lord; and now as the disciples pondered these things together in the upper room Jesus came among them, the risen Jesus, the risen Lord.

And we read in Our Gospel today that he had greeted their confusion and fear with words of calm, “Peace be Unto You” and he showed them his hands and his side, and St Luke remembers too that Jesus ate some food to show them that he wasn’t a ghost or an apparition, but rather that he was the one who had died and was now alive again forevermore.  And he read the scriptures with them, as he had done with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and told them again what he taught them before his death, but which they had not understood.  That the Christ would die, but that death would not hold him, and that on the third day he would rise again.

St John in his Epistle, (which we have heard this morning) written some years later, draws his readers into meditation about these miraculous things.  It wasn’t enough for Jesus to be baptised by John the Baptiser, and to be pure; for he needed to die and in his death to bring about the possibility of new life for all who believed in him.  And St John speaks about these things in his Epistle in more than just historical events, for he knows that those who follow Christ must live with these realities in their own hearts and minds.

“This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ,” he writes.  “Not by water only, but by water and blood.”  The water and blood which comes forth from the side of Jesus on the cross, points us to the greater truth, that we must not only be cleansed and purified by the water of life; but brought to a resurrection through the life blood of Jesus, who was crucified, but who – as the disciples now experienced – was risen from the dead.

In the midst of their confusion and their fear, Jesus brought words of calm and peace, “peace be unto you.”  But he also brought words of commission, “as the Father hath sent me,” he said,  “even so send I you.”  And he breathed on them, and in that breath the disciples experienced a foretaste of the Pentecostal anointing which was to come at Whitsun.

St John in his Epistle declares to his readers that “it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.”  In water we are purified, through blood our lives are made new, and in the power of the Spirit (the Holy Ghost) we are joined to Christ’s victory.  “Who is he that overcometh,” asks the saintly Epistle writer, “but he that believeth Jesus is the Son of God?”  In overcoming the world, those who believe – that is the disciples, and you, and me –share by the Spirit of Christ, in our rejection of worldly things, the victory which Christ himself has won.  “For there are three that bear witness,” he writes, “the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

Empowered by his Spirit, the disciples were made anew, and Christ commissioned them to begin the work of the Church, which is the continuation of his own work in announcing the Kingdom of God.  The one who had forgiven sins and proclaimed healing before his death, now gave the authority to his disciples to carry on doing this work in his name.

The transformation which follows, in the lives of the disciples, is the most compelling witness to the resurrection of Our Lord.  Those men who sat in fear in the bolted room, were transformed into fearless preachers; those men who had fought over who would be the greatest, began a mission which would ultimately lead to their own martyrdom.  There lives were changed, and the doors which were bolted shut were opened, as the good news of the resurrection of Our Lord began to be broadcast by them near and far.

The Holy Ghost witnesses in us, to the resurrection of God, as the Spirit did in the lives of the disciples.  And this work of the Spirit will lead us to be continually transformed again and again, from our sinful natures into followers of Christ.  We receive the baptism of God by water; but we know too that our weakness necessitates us to continually turn from our sins and to seek the benefits of Christ’s blood, his crucifixion, in which the perfect conquest over sin was attained and exhibited to the world, for our redemption.

God calls us to live in the light of the resurrection, in the knowledge of the good news which the disciples experienced in that upper room.  And we must seek to overcome the world and its temptations, through the power of God’s spirit.  And we should expect our lives to be transformed by that Spirit, for Jesus says to us, as he did to the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you.”

As we examine the transformation of the lives of the disciples from fearful people, into men who were confident to tell others about the Gospel, we must pray that God will give us that same confidence to share the good news of his Kingdom to our friends and neighbours.  And as we open the doors of our Church to all who have not heard that the Lord is risen, as the disciples opened the doors of that upper room, let us open our hearts again to his love as we seek his forgiveness to live lives empowered by his spirit.