April 23, 2017
The Second Sunday in Easter
Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you. These are the first words Jesus speaks to his gathered disciples after the resurrection. Peace be with you. Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν.
Friday morning, my daughter Ella, who struggles with anxiety sometimes, got caught in her self, in her anxiety, in that loop of worry inside her. I too get caught in that loop sometimes…thinking, planning, figuring, wondering, weighing options, repeating old conversations. I wonder if that is state the disciples are in when we pick up this story in John. They’ve locked themselves in this house because they are scared. They’ve just seen Jesus, their Jesus, executed on the cross. Remember, at this point, only Mary has encountered the risen Christ. Last week’s story says she told them what she had seen, but they’ve still locked themselves in this house. They are afraid. Maybe they have that UGH in the pit of their stomachs. Maybe their minds are busy wondering, thinking, remembering, planning, regretting, stewing. Because they’re human, right? Like, we, are human. I don’t think this state of mind, this body response to fear, to uncertainty, is reserved only for those who have clinical diagnoses of mental health challenges. This is a human feeling. And I bet everyone here knows that pit feeling. And the text says, this is my translation, Jesus came and stood in their midst. And actually this might be the most important part of this whole passage. Jesus met them, right in their fear, their unbelief, their uncertainty. He showed up in their darkness and he gave them exactly what they needed. Peace be with you.
And then, he showed them his wounds. He released them from their unbelief and set them free to follow without reservation. And again, he said to them, Peace be with you. This second time is different though. This second time as he offers them peace, it is attached to “as the Father sends me so I send you.” Hold on a second. So to recap, we have: Peace, its me, Hooray, Peace, now go to some stuff. It is immediate. As soon as they recognize him and testify, he is like, alright, let’s get crackin! This is what faith is, this is grace-in-action. Divine influence on the heart, and its responsive action in the life. Divine influence on the heart, and its responsive action in the life. God sends shock waves of love right to us, Jesus shows up, and immediately our cup overflows and pours out all over the rest of the world.
You know what else is cool about this? This story is mostly written in the past tense. Except for this little snippet. The Greek reads, “the doors where the disciples met were locked” (past tense) “Jesus came” (past tense) “and stood in their midst” (past tense) “and he says to them, peace to you” (present tense!)
He SAYS TO THEM. Not said. Present, active, indicative. This tells us that yeah, Jesus showed up in their midst in that physical location, in that specific time, to those disciples but he SAYS to his disciples, he keeps speaking. He says to us, “Peace be with you.” He says to us, “as the Father sends me so I send you.” He carries on saying this to his disciples through the ages, in every new place, at every new time, to every different gathered group trying to hide out from the scary world out there. Jesus is present now. In every now.
The story carries on, “after he said this, he breathed on them and SAYS to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” Present tense.
So, Jesus shows up in their distress, he blesses them with his kind of Peace, soul-peace, he calls them into service, and then he equips them to do the work.
This is good news.
One little juicy tidbit that is sort of hidden here for us 2017 readers but would’ve been quite plain for those first and second century hearers of John’s Gospel, is Jesus’ reference to Genesis and Ezekiel in his action of breathing the spirit onto the disciples. Genesis 2:7 reads “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,[a] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Jesus breathes the life of the new covenant, the new way of living, and the disciples became fully alive, filled with the Spirit. Ezekiel 37:9 reads “Come from the four winds, O breath,[b] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” Jesus breathes real life into his disciples. Present tense. Us. Jesus breathes life into all of us.
But. This isn’t just to heal our old wounds, to grow us closer to him. This isn’t just to shape us more and more like Christ. It is…but it isn’t just. He breathes the Spirit onto his disciples, he fills them with the light and love of God so that they can carry on his work of sharing the light and love of God with the rest of the world. As the Father sends me so I send you is no small task he sets us out to do. This is not just spending the extra $3 a pound on Fair Trade Coffee because you care about a living wage for a farmer in Peru. It is…but it isn’t just. It is about allowing God to work on us through the Spirit, molding us to be more and more like Christ SO THAT our lives, the way we move about, the very way we exist in this world, bears witness to the light and the love of God.
So, as the story goes, Thomas was not with the others when the risen Christ appeared to them, and when they testify what they have witnessed, he is like no way, I gotta see this for myself (my own translation). And so for centuries he is dubbed “Doubting Thomas.” But Thomas is no doubter, Thomas is, first of all, practical. Pastor Ryan has been preaching through the Gospel of John this Lent, and this isn’t the first-time Thomas appears in this Gospel. Last time we heard from him was in chapter 14, when Jesus is trying to share with his disciples about his impeding death (and ascension to heaven) and Thomas pipes up saying, uhh Jesus, I have NO IDEA what you are actually talking about! (again, my translation) Thomas has made very clear to us all along that he is a straight-shooting, no nonsense kind of guy. So we shouldn’t really be surprised by his somewhat crass and rather dramatic statement. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and shove my finger into the mark of the nails, and shove my hand into his side, I absolutely will not believe” This is not doubt, this is unbelief – these are the conditions of his faith. He wants hard evidence. He wants an eye-witness account of the risen Jesus. And why shouldn’t he? Thomas has this label, doubter, but all he is asking for is what all the other disciples have already received. We don’t know what happened after Mary proclaimed Jesus Christ as risen to the other disciples after she encountered him in the garden, but we do know they weren’t out spreading the good news, they locked themselves in a room! They too had unbelief. It’s not until Jesus shows up there with them and hangs out a little but that they start telling everyone they know. So here it is again, just as Mary told them, they tell Thomas. And he stays locked away in his own fear and unbelief.
Until. Until Jesus meets him in his fear and unbelief, and gives him exactly what he needs. This isn’t just about proof. It is…but it isn’t just. It is about encountering God firsthand. Thomas got what everyone else got, a one-on-one with Jesus. And this is a tremendous truth about our faith. It is about relationship. It is about deep and abiding presence with God. I can’t have faith based on your encounter. But also, I cannot have an encounter without hearing your testimony about experiencing God.
And that is the example we have again and again through the Gospel of John. Someone encounters Jesus. They then tell someone else about their encounter and that person is reluctant to believe. They then have their own encounter, become convinced, and then tell someone else. Andrew tells Peter. Philip tells Nathaniel. The Samaritan woman tells the whole town. We have the same thing here with Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and Thomas. This is like the original Amway or Mary Kay – you tell five friends and they tell five friends who tell five friends…you get the idea, except sharing faith isn’t about seeking anything from the one you tell, it is about trying to gift them with something, making their lives better, fuller, spilling over with the light and love of God.
Our reading today ends with, “30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Which basically puts us next after Thomas. We’ve now been told the Good News. We are primed for our very own God-encounter. Are we ready? Maybe you have locked yourself in a room. Don’t worry, we just heard that Jesus can get in there. Do you feel like you need to wiggle your own fingers in Jesus hands and side to get it? Not too much to ask. We are met where we are and given what we need.
This Gospel tells us that we follow a God that loved us so much, he chose to slip on some skin and hang out with us for a while, only to experience the most intense kind of suffering imaginable. This is a God that is not afraid of pain. This is a God that enters into pain. This is a God that sees our own pain, our fear, shows up, and looks us in the eye and says, Peace. And our storm is calmed. Jesus showed up Friday morning in Ella’s anxiety, as she remembered the Hebrew word for God as Yahweh, which sounds like in intake and exhale of breath. She spoke Gods name, breathing in and breathing out, in the same way Thomas gasped, ‘my Lord, my God’ when Jesus met him in his fear. Because he does. He meets us every time in our doubt, in our fear, in our unbelief. And as soon as our storm is calmed, he says good, now go do that for someone else. May it be so for each one of us. Amen.