Running on the smell of an oily rag
Have you ever used the phrase “running on the smell of on oily rag”? It’s a phrase we might use when talking about how little fuel there is left in the car and how far we still have to go. Somehow, we get to our destination. I know it’s happened to me and when I’ve filled up, the tank has taken the maximum amount that it can hold. The car must have been running on fumes or as the saying goes “on the smell of an oily rag” – at any moment it could have come to a complete stop.
Sometimes it’s a bit like that in our life’s journey. We are flying along with a full tank, a but few steep hills and sharp curves and sudden stops sucks up our fuel and soon we are pretty much “running on the smell of an oily rag”. We are anxious, stressed, down, discouraged and wondering how much bleaker the future could possibly get. Have you ever felt something like that? At some time, all of us hit a few potholes that buckle our rims and leave us stuck on the side of the road.
That’s enough of the motoring metaphors apart from adding the gospel reading from John 20:19-31 tells us the disciples were at the end of the road, so they thought. They were “running on empty”.
We are taken back to the first Easter day, only now it’s the evening. They had heard the account of the women and Peter and John had seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene told them about her encounter with the gardener who turned out to be the risen Lord. No doubt she did that with a good deal of excitement.
But now as night fell, the excitement of Easter morning gave way to fear. The disciples were now hiding behind locked doors. They felt vulnerable and unsafe. They were afraid. And they had every reason to be afraid. The temple authorities had been out to get Jesus for months, repeatedly seeking ways to get rid of this troublemaker, trying to trap him in making statements that they could use against him. The disciples also knew from experience that the chief priests and other religious authorities were very determined and, in the end, got what they wanted – the death of the man who they believed undermined their authority and challenged their religious beliefs. The disciples believed they might be the next ones to be dragged away and treated like Jesus.
Their fear was so intense that they forgot what Jesus had told them. He had warned them that he would be going away and told them not to be worried and upset and to trust God. But at that moment all the words of hope and comfort disappeared from their thoughts because all they could feel was the present danger and the fear in their hearts.
When people are afraid and downhearted like this, there are often contributing factors that heighten the sense of helplessness. For the disciples, physical tiredness was a factor – it had been a long intense few days from the night of the Last Supper and the betrayal, the trials to Jesus’ death and burial until now. They were emotionally rung out – the person they had loved, the one who had loved them so much and had been so very patient with them; the man who had loved people with so much compassion was treated so cruelly. How can this happen?
They grieved over their own behaviour of the past few days; they felt guilty. They had let Jesus down so badly. They felt isolated, alone, helpless, anxious and uncertain what the future might bring. They were at a spiritual low point. Everything they had hoped for, believed in, relied on had evaporated.
What about the Messiah they had hoped for? Did they even dare think that God had some other plan? The icy hands of fear and futility gripped their hearts, and their minds were clouded with confusion; they were stunned, sad, confused, distressed, without hope. The meaning of Easter morning hadn’t become real and personal for them.
Without a doubt, the disciples were “running on empty” still feeling that Jesus was no longer with them. When you’re “running on empty, it can feel as if God is a million kms away. The more questions that you ask, the more confused you become because you want answers that don’t seem to be available.
It’s just when the disciples were feeling isolated, alone, wondering and later we see in Thomas’ case, evening doubting, that Jesus is closer than we think. When those whom he loves are empty and downhearted, he doesn’t wait for them to come to him. He comes to them. He goes to where they are and steps into the middle of their fear and confusion and questioning. He even comes to Thomas who says he won’t believe until he has seen the marks of the nails and the spear. Thomas is so shaken up by the whole Easter experience, but Jesus knows just what he needs.
Jesus knows exactly what we need when we’re rung out, exhausted, tired, depressed, downhearted, doubting and confused. There are four observations that I want to make about Jesus’ appearance to his disciples.
Firstly, what does he say when he appears in the room? He says, “Peace be with you! In other words, “Guys, relax! Calm down! Chill out! Take a deep breath. It’s going to be ok.”
If they were expecting anything, that’s not what they were expecting. They believed they deserved at least a “Get behind me Satan!” or “O you of little faith. Don’t you believe that I have risen from the dead?”
“Why are you so glum? I’m alive. Don’t you know that changes everything?”
There are no words of criticism from Jesus – just “Peace be with you!” It’s like he knows and understands what’s going on in their hearts and minds. He doesn’t need to say anything else.
He knows what it’s like to be “running on empty”. When we are surrounded by a cloud of confusion, doubts, anxiety, stress, sickness, weariness, he comes to us and quietly says, “Peace be with you! Know that I am here with you. I am walking this journey with you. You’re not alone. You can talk to me in prayer. You can lean on me when you are weak. I’m always here to refill your tank when you are running low”.
Secondly, when we are low Jesus simply loves us. He showed the disciples the scars on his hands and in his side, reminding them of the cross. As they gazed at and reflected on the wounds of Christ, they realised how deep and how strong and how much the Lord loved them. John wrote, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us (1 John 3:16).
When you and I are down and discouraged, we know that the Saviour, who was wounded and died for us, loves us totally and completely. If he can love us all the way to the cross, he’s not going to stop loving us now. When everything is falling apart, and nothing is going right, peace and joy don’t come from what is happening around us, rather they come from our relationship with Jesus and his love for us. The risen Jesus gives us the confidence to trust that whatever happens, his strength will enable us to go through everything, even death itself. That Christ-given strength and confidence enabled the disciples to leave their locked room and at Pentecost boldly and fearlessly proclaim Jesus.
Thirdly, the disciples were beating themselves up with guilt over failing to be a true friend to Jesus over the past few days. Jesus now comes to them and says, “Peace be with you”. He announces all is forgiven.
Forgiveness is a huge re-energizer. The things that cause us to run out of energy and drain us emotionally and physically are guilt, remorse and resentment. They make us unhappy. They suck the energy out of us. They absorb our thoughts and control our actions. How do we let go of our guilty consciences and remorse and shamefulness? There’s only one way – forgiveness.
Jesus forgives us. His scars and words of peace prove that. Then he says, “If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” He wants us to forgive one another. Show others some grace. If we don’t, our resentment and guilt will keep us “running on empty”. We’ll be stuck in the past and that will prevent us from moving on. Sometimes it means forgiving those who refuse to accept our hand of friendship.
You and I know that forgiveness isn’t easy and often it’s not fun. The risen Jesus empowers us to reach out with forgiveness. Like Jesus, the scars of sin may not go away, and we will always bear the scars of broken relationships, but Jesus has taught us and empowered us, his disciples, to lead the way to show grace and mercy to others.
Fourthly, when we are downhearted, discouraged and sad Jesus gives us hope. Behind locked doors, fear and doubt left the disciples without a future.
Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples and when he was told about Jesus’ appearance, he simply said what he honestly thought, “I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Thomas’ faith in Jesus was low – he couldn’t possibly see how a dead man could come alive again. Grief and despair took over. Confidence and hope in the future were vague and thin.
Even though Jesus invited Thomas to put his finger in the nail marks in his hands and side, he didn’t need to. He simply knelt before Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God”. Thomas was a changed man. He was suddenly renewed, refreshed and energised and filled with hope.
The risen Jesus fills us with hope.
When the chips are down and trouble is overwhelming us, we have a Saviour who will stand by us and help us. When our lives are threatened by sickness or enemies, Jesus will give us the courage. When death looms large, Jesus has won the victory for us and we will not fear death.
When the risen Jesus walks with us on our life journey he gives us encouragement with his calming, peaceful presence when everything else is chaotic, the warmth of his love when everything else scares the living daylights out of us, forgiveness when remorse sucks the energy out of us, hope for a bright future, new possibilities and new beginnings even when sickness and death scare us.
The risen Christ in our lives makes a difference. While I say all this, I don’t want to trivialise the pain or agony or frustration that anyone is going through at this very moment. For you this is real, it’s a challenge, it’s painful. It may even seem that God is a long way from you in your trouble. That’s what the disciples thought as they hid in that room. Even though that’s how you may feel, the risen Christ is closer than you think, and he understands more about your life than you realise. He is saying to you, “Peace be with you!”
Resurrection Day - Brendan DuBois
Easter Earthquake: How Resurrection Shakes Our World - James A. Harnish
Vince Gerhardy Blog
The Case for Easter – Lee Strobel
The Resurrection of Peace – Mary C Grey
The Risen Redeemer – Timothy Cross