A message for the Sunday after Easter –
Easter Sunday was the kickoff – the beginning of an exciting time. We should still be in the mode of celebration – the excitement of Easter – the reminder of how Jesus has arisen. We have been invited to see the empty tomb and walk with the disciples as they ran directly to the place where Jesus’ body once occupied. We had the opportunity to tell the good news that Jesus is not dead, but is alive. These are all exciting revelations of how God has conquered death and the grave! It is life changing. But for the disciples and Jesus’ closest followers, it also brought fear. It wasn’t as if the following days were filled with big meals and confetti. They didn’t run through the streets shouting – I told you he was the Messiah!
Actually, it seems to be quite the opposite. There is confusion and dismay. The disciples lock themselves in a room in fear. They are trapped between the teachings of Jesus and the future. They don’t know what to do next or where to go. Their lives are out of sorts and this in-between stage is more than difficult. It is terrifying. So they sit and wait – for what, they are not sure. Where do they go now? Who are they? Jesus was dead – they witnessed it. Jesus was put to death because of the things he proclaimed, which they also believe. Jesus was hung on a cross for being the person they loved. He arose from the dead but there aren’t instructions for this. This is unprecedented, unknown territory. They don’t know what to do with this or where to go from here. So they re-group, in fear. And as he promised, Jesus shows up. This isn’t the end, after all, this is just the beginning.
There are a couple of things I want to get out of the way before we get too far in this scripture. First, we don’t want to misunderstand what is being said. We read how they, the disciples, were fearful of the Jews. They are not fearful of all Jews – they are, after all, Jews themselves. This isn’t a time for hating Jews (and there, by the way, is never a time for hating Jews) – these are their people. They have family and friends – they have loved ones who are Jewish – they have neighbors and those they eat with on a regular basis whom they adore- that are Jewish. They are not fearful of the Jews in general. The Jews are not the enemy as we might pick up at first glance. They are afraid of the leadership – those in charge – those who are given the position of power to enforce what they consider to be the rules to keep things the same. They are afraid of those who seek to hold onto the control they most value – those who want control more than they want love. They are fearful because the One they have followed all this time – the One they have been associated with has been killed – and surely they would be the next target. If the leadership wants to eliminate a problem – they would be among the problem. So they are scared for their safety because those in charge of the church do not have a place for them any longer – they are not welcome here anymore. Jews are not the problem – those in power who thrive on control are the problem.
Second, Thomas gets a bad rap in this Scripture. We have dubbed him to be doubting Thomas. That’s really an unfair assessment. If we really look at what is going on, Thomas is the only one missing out of the first encounter in the locked room. They are all terrified. They are all wondering what in the world is going on. They are all doubting. There is a general fear which permeates the entire room. When Jesus shows up the first time, he shows them his hands and his side. They do not have to ask or wonder. Jesus shows them. Now, Jesus doesn’t just do things for the sake of doing them. He would show them his hands and his side because he knew they needed to see to believe. He understood their confusion and their general mode of disbelief. He went ahead and showed them what they wanted to see. They had seen the evidence. Thomas wasn’t there – so all he knows is what has been told to him. And let’s be honest, Jesus overcoming death and the grave wouldn’t have been easy to comprehend – remember, we know the end of the story. He was living in the moment. He knew Jesus had died. He knew the body was missing. This is all the obvious. Now the disciples are trying to tell him that Jesus is alive, scars and all.
If we are honest, we would have likely thought they were crazy too. I mean, they are locked in a room for fear but Jesus appears in a locked room? You can see how this conversation would be challenging. Thomas just happens to be the one who wasn’t there to see the first time. He isn’t the only one who needed to see – he was the only one who didn’t have the opportunity the first time. And notice – there is a whole week delay in him seeing. He goes a whole week without getting the chance to see Jesus as everyone else has. He isn’t the doubting one. They were all doubting. They all were scared. Every single person had their lives turned upside down and they are struggling to understand it all. Thomas is not unique. He just happens to have been absent at the first chance to see the hands and side.
Ok – now that we have that out of the way, I want to look at one of the most beautiful gifts of this scripture. Because we can get hung up in the fear and the doubting, we may miss what is actually going on here. Jesus appears in his new resurrected body in the locked room of the disciples. What Jesus says and does is most important. Follow him in the scripture. Don’t miss his actions. Let’s look at the gifts that are given at Jesus’ appearance:
-Jesus speaks peace. We have recorded at least 3 times Jesus tells them – Peace Be With You. Why is that important? Jesus speaks peace where there is none. If they were peaceful, he wouldn’t need to speak peace to them. If they were filled with peace, this would be redundant. Jesus’ words speak to their situation. He speaks peace because they are so at a loss. He speaks peace because they have found themselves in turmoil and confusion. Jesus speaks peace to them because he is the peace they so desire and truly need. Jesus brings peace to their challenged and hurt souls. He speaks peace over his people with the love of one who was willing to give his life for them – even though they do not yet fully understand all this.
Peace is the most powerful gift when all we sense is fear and confusion and turmoil. Peace can soothe the wounds of those damaged by hatred and anger. Peace can heal the brokenness. The peace of Christ can change everything in our otherwise chaotic lives. Peace be with you.
-Jesus breathes on them. Now, this may not sound like such a big deal at first glance. Breath is something we take for granted until we struggle for it. To breathe is something that happens automatically for most of us. Until someone challenges us to stop and take a deep breath, we can easily just forget the value of breathing. A breath can calm us. But this breath changed everything. This was not any ordinary breath. This was the breath of God. What happens when God breathes? Life happens when God breathes. To remind us of this, I want to go back to the beginning – you know, the ‘in the beginning’ stuff we see at the start of creation.
God himself created, formed, shaped humanity – and breathed his own breath into us so that we might have life. God’s breath is our life. From the beginning, God’s breath has meant and brought life to the lifeless. And here we are again.
Jesus speaks peace to them and then….and then he breathes on them. God breathed on them once again. What did he bring? He brought new life through the Holy Spirit. He brought forgiveness. He brought love. He brought peace and comfort. His breath brought exactly what he had promised all along. He told them earlier that the comforter, the helper would come. He promised them the gift of the One who would lead them and bring them peace. He promised to live within them. And here he is, breathing new life into their weary, fearful souls one more time. Life was really just beginning for those first disciples. And God’s been breathing life into his children ever since.
Do you know what that means, beloved? Do you understand what this means for us, followers of Christ? It means we have been given life, new life through the breath of God. We have been given peace in our most fearful situations. We have been offered more than we could ever understand. We are given breath so that we might have life – and have life more abundantly.
May a fresh wind of God’s amazing love bring you peace and life today. May God breathe new life into you and your situation. May you understand the enormity of his love, even in a small way, so that you might go from here and live. Breathe on me, breath of God.