N.T. Wright is chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. He is also an Anglican bishop and bestselling author. Wright is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. For 20 years he taught New Testament studies at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities. Wright has written over 50 books, including the multi-volume work “Christian Origins” and the “Question of God.” Wright holds an M.A. degree from Wycliffe Hall in Oxford and was ordained at Merton College in Oxford. He also holds a Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford University.
The Church’s mission began (according to John 20) with three things which have become very familiar to us in recent days. It began with tears, with locked doors and with doubt.
On the first Easter day, Mary Magdalene was weeping in the garden outside Jesus’ empty tomb (John 20:1–18). To her astonishment, Jesus met her, spoke to her and gave her a commission. She was to go and tell the disciples, who were in hiding, that he was alive and that he was now to be enthroned as Lord of the world.
That same evening the disciples were still in hiding with the doors locked (John 20:19–23). They were naturally afraid that the people who had come after Jesus would soon be coming after them too. But the locked doors didn’t stop Jesus. He came and stood with them. He shared a meal with them. He gave them their mission: “As the Father has sent me,” he said, “so I’m sending you.” What did that mean? The most obvious way of taking it, as we’ll see below, is to say: as Jesus was to Israel, so the Church is to the world.
The next week the disciples were in the same room, locked in once more. Thomas spent the week telling the others he’d never believe it until Jesus showed up and proved it was really him (John 20:24–29). Jesus came again and invited Thomas to touch and see the wounds in his hands and his side — the scars which proved his identity and the wounds that revealed his love.
Tears, locked doors and doubt seem to go together. Different ways of saying similar things. Together they sum up a lot of where we are globally, at the time I’m writing this. Tears in plenty, of course — so many lives cut short. Locked doors — well, precisely. The fear isn’t just of certain people who may have it in for us; it’s a larger, more nebulous fear that every stranger in the street might, without knowing it, give me a sickness which could kill me within a week. I might be able to give it to them as well. So, lockdown. Like a weed growing between the weeping and the lockdown, there is doubt. What’s this all about? Is there any room left for faith or for hope? If we are locked away from all but a few is there any room for love? These are hard and pressing questions.
They are the kind of questions the Church ought to be good at answering. At answering, not just verbally (who’s listening anyway?) but symbolically. If the earliest disciples found Jesus coming to meet them in their tears, fears and doubt, perhaps we can too.
This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.
This excerpt from God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath by N.T. Wright © 2020 is used by permission of Zondervan.