Resurrection in Relationship:
A Reflection on John 20-21
Growing up, I thought of “the Resurrection” as a one-time event, an event where Jesus was “raised” up out of the tomb. As a child, I thought that Jesus’ body simply floated up into the sky. I imagined that Jesus was “absent” from the tomb (and from the world) and “present” up with God. As John tells it, however, the meaning of the Resurrection is not tied to Jesus’ risen body alone. Jesus does not simply become raised and vanish. Rather, Resurrection occurs again and again as God’s incarnational presence. John goes to great lengths to recount Jesus’ different Resurrection encounters. These encounters teach us about a God who meets people in relationship, offering support and impelling us to live lives of purpose.
Resurrection in Relationship: Mary Magdalene
First, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene as she is mourning. Mary is weeping in the garden and he calls her by name. Jesus’ action is important--calling her by name shows he that he sees her and knows her. Mary was someone who had been misunderstood for much of her life—assumed to have a morally questionable background, assumed to be a sex worker. According to Luke 8, she also had demons cast out of her. But Jesus had been a companion who had seen Mary as a whole person and welcomed her (and all of her complexity) into his inner circle. Now, in Resurrection, he again calls her by name.
As he did so many times throughout his life, Jesus offers care and healing combined with a commission. Jesus calls Mary out of her mourning and then sends her to tell the other disciples what she has seen. In that moment, the Risen Jesus chose Mary to announce the Good News. The comfort he offers Mary is not just for comfort’s sake, but to prepare her for the work she is called to do—to be an Apostle to the Apostles.
Resurrection in Relationship: Disciples in a Locked House
After visiting Mary in the garden, Jesus finds most of the disciples in a locked house, where they had huddled in fear. Undeterred by the locked door, he goes inside, stands among them, and says, “Peace be with you.” In a way similar to what he had done with Mary Magdalene, Jesus meets the disciples’ need—in response to their fear, he offers them the Peace of God. After easing their discomfort with a blessing of peace, he turns their attention toward their charge. Jesus invites them to a deeper way of life, a way of life that focuses on others’ needs as much as their own-- instructing them to forgive others. In a similar way to his encounter with Mary, Jesus’ presence offers both reassurance and redirection.
Resurrection in Relationship: Thomas
Eight days after his death, Jesus comes back to the locked house a second time to see Thomas. Thomas had said he would not believe that Jesus had risen unless he could touch Jesus’ wounds with his own hands. Again Jesus is undeterred by their locked doors; he comes right inside the house. Jesus does not argue with Thomas or scold him. Instead, he engages Thomas’ skepticism by letting him touch his wounds. Again, Jesus follows the same pattern, offering words of comfort and commission. After responding physically to Thomas’ doubt, Jesus essentially says, “I am not scared of your doubt; I love you enough to let you touch my wounds, but in the future you will need to find other ways to address your skepticism because I won’t always be physically present.”
Resurrection in Relationship 4: The Disciples Fishing
The next time the resurrected Jesus appears, he greets the disciples in the middle of their work. They are fishing without success. Jesus speaks to their specific need, suggesting where they might fish and leading them to find abundance where they had only found scarcity. Then, like he did so many times throughout his ministry, he offers the sacred fellowship of eating together. Jesus makes breakfast for the disciples, demonstrating to them (without actually saying the words) how to practice his presence when he is gone-- “Do this in remembrance of me.” After being fed, the disciples are sent to share bread with a hungry world.
Resurrection in Relationship: Simon Peter
Jesus’ Resurrection takes a different form for Simon Peter. He asks Peter a direct question: “Do you love me?” Three times he asks him, followed by a command: “Then feed my sheep.” Jesus’ words to Simon Peter seem less comforting than his approach with other disciples, but perhaps true “comfort” for Peter means reconciliation and clarity about his calling. For Peter, Resurrection serves as a reminder that loving Jesus and living out that love is not always a feel-good activity. Love requires feeding people and fighting for a world where everyone is fed--a calling that requires challenging authority, a calling that might cost him his life.
Resurrection in Relationship is Ongoing
Again and again, John’s Gospel shows us that Jesus’ presence offers both solace and challenge. Mary Magdalene is called by name and sent to announce the Resurrection; the disciples are blessed with peace and sent to practice forgiveness; Thomas is reassured and invited into a different way to believe; the fishermen are fed and sent to feed others; and Peter is reconciled and charged with truly following Jesus.
John’s Gospel teaches us that divine presence is both comforting and disturbing. Individually and communally, I experience this pattern in my own life--being met by grace in seemingly hopeless circumstances and sent to live as people of the Resurrection. We need not necessarily look for Resurrection in the extraordinary or “up with God.” God’s presence comes alive in relationship, meeting us in the midst of everyday life, whether we expect it or not, whether we recognize it or not.
New life is not just an abstraction “up in the sky.” New life is emerging over and over again--right here in the middle of our ordinary, complicated, and emotionally overwhelming lives. In the midst of grief, despair, or sorrow, it can feel like there might not be any workable way forward. Whether we are paralyzed with grief like Mary or huddled in fear like the disciples, God comes to us wherever we are—at a tomb, behind a locked door, doing our everyday work. God meets us even when we are questioning the very essence and presence of God. Wherever we are, Love Incarnate shows up, offering both deep reassurance and an unsettling call to live more deeply into who we are called to be.
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