On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said: »Peace be with you!« After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, »Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.« (John 20:19-21 NIV)
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
the Gospel according to John contains one of the most moving stories of the Resurrection. It describes how the disciples gathered secretly after Jesus’ death on the first day of the week, which was a Sunday. They locked the doors and windows for fear of persecution. How distressed they must have been at that moment! The Messiah in whom they had placed all their hopes, to whom they had entrusted their lives, had been executed by the Romans on the cross like a criminal. They had fled from Jerusalem in despair and in fear of persecution.
In the Gospel of John, the accounts of Jesus and his disciples always reflect the situation of the communities for which it was written. When the Evangelist describes how the disciples gathered full of fear and despair on the first day of the week, it also reflects the experience of the first Christian communities that were persecuted and murdered by the Romans when they were discovered on Sunday celebrating their secret worship services.
And then Jesus is suddenly among them and everything is different. It is the risen Christ who comes very close to them in the worship service – He can be experienced, He can be touched. John describes it in somewhat sober words: “The disciples were overjoyed.” I rather think they cheered and pulled the windows and doors wide open to run out into the street and tell everyone: “He is not dead! He is alive and here among us! Christ is risen!” And Jesus gives them peace and sends them into the world to share this message of hope and deliverance from fear.
On the first day of the week, Easter, congregations in all the churches of the EMS Fellowship will come together for worship again this year. But many doors still remain closed. In some churches this is literally the case because state authorities do not allow worship services at Easter. But this is also true in many more communities in a figurative sense, because many of the people who come together at Easter are depressed by the burdens of this coronavirus year and because they mourn the people who were dear to them and whom they lost to the pandemic.
The message of John’s Gospel is: And now Christ is among you! In the end, life is stronger than death. He has overcome death. Do not give up hope!
Shortly before Easter on 11 March, the Secretariat in Stuttgart received a very special letter. Hideo Ishibashi, Senior Pastor of the Christian congregation of Koshigaya in Japan and Director of the kindergarten there, wrote to us: “Ten years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. It happened at 14:46 on March 11, 2011. It was when I stood transfixed facing the terrible destructions and damage, when the news of the financial support from the Evangelical Mission in Solidarity came in. Six years ago, the EMS gave me the opportunity to make a presentation about our disaster relief activities. I was very encouraged to find the churches at prayer on a global scale. Koshigaya Church and its kindergarten hold a charity bazaar every year. We had to cancel it this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, we decided to send you a donation from the parents of the kindergarten’s children and from collections of all Tuesday services in January and February 2021 when we prayed for the Evangelical Mission in Solidarity. I send you this donation with our deep gratitude.”
On this 11th of March 2021, we all saw again on TV the terrible pictures of the earthquake, the tsunami and the explosion at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Each one of us can imagine the feeling of despair which the survivors must have felt when facing the ruins of their lives. Today, it is those people who help others who are in need. Today, happy and carefree children play again at the place where mourning and despair once reigned. And I can imagine that, when it comes down to it, they would dance and sing at least as joyfully as Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of John.
The children at the kindergarten of the Koshigaya Church are prime examples that prayer and hope are stronger than fear and worry. At Easter, let us spread this message of hope: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!