What do you do when your life hasn’t turned out the way you thought, the way you hoped? What do you do when you find yourself in circumstances, day-after-day, that you would not have chosen, that you did not think you had signed-up for? What do you do when life is...death?
That would be the place we find Jesus’ first disciples in John 20; and not only when Jesus was dead, but also when the risen Jesus appears to them and sends them into the world as – in the same manner, the same pattern, the same mission - the Father sent him. That would be the place anyone who sets out to be a disciple finds themselves, sooner or later.
In just these circumstances, Jesus extends invitation and challenge to his disciples.
He invites them to see, to touch, even to enter-into his woundedness (John 20:20 and 27). For even his resurrection body bears the wounds of his crucifixion; they may be healed, but they are not erased. They are a part of his story, his testimony to the faithfulness of the Father, who did not deliver him from death (avoidance) but through death and out the other side (victory). They are a key part of his story. And our wounds are a key part of our story, our testimony. Indeed, if we have no wounds, we have no share in Jesus’ story.
In the place where we are being wounded, the (self-inflicted as well as inflicted by others) wounds we have received in the past are a testimony to us of God’s (forgiveness and) faithfulness. The way we bear our wounds – not hiding or denying them; not keeping them to ourselves (to fester, to feed resentment and anger) but being vulnerable before others and inviting them in, even knowing that they might further hurt us – is a testimony to others of God’s faithfulness.
Jesus also invites them to receive the Holy Spirit (v22). He literally breathes God’s life into their bodies, animating what would otherwise essentially be dust. He invites them into a covenant exchange: God’s life at work in and through them (which also comes with a challenge).
In the place where we feel that we can do nothing, or at least none of the things we would choose to do, we need to learn the discipline of letting God work through us, bringing life to those who respond to his life in us. We need to learn to discern what God is doing, and rejoice. And like any discipline, this is thoroughly unpleasant to begin with...
And, of course, the invitation to receive, to enter-into, to live out of a place of peace (vv19, 21, 26). Note that having spoken peace to the disciples, the next time Jesus appears to them he speaks peace again. Note that, having received the Holy Spirit and been sent (John’s account does not share the chronology of Luke-Acts), the disciples are once again in the locked room.
It would appear that peace is not a one-off gift, but something we need to have spoken into our lives over and over. And that, too, is worth knowing when life is not as we had hoped. That we need a safe place, and people with whom we share experience, to return to and be sent out from, to have peace (reconciliation, with God, one another, and those to whom we are sent) ministered to our hearts. At times, we might need to be able to return to that locked room, that safe place, on a regular basis: not to stay there, but to visit often.