Easter 2_Series B: John 20:19-31
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus breathes on His disciples. How’s that for a welcome?! You’re behind locked doors, scared out of your wits, the women have reported Jesus is risen and then, all of a sudden, Jesus appears out of nowhere. Well, not out of nowhere. Out of the grave. He is no ghost. No figment of their collective imaginations. No hallucination. “Look at my hands; my side.” He is real. He is alive. He is risen! And risen Jesus can do whatever He wants to, locked doors and lowly bread and wine are no problem for His crucified and risen body.
But how rude of Jesus. He doesn’t even knock to see if they’ll let him in. No, “hi how’ya you? What’ve you guys been up to?” He’s not there for chit-chat. He brings Crucified and Risen peace.
“Peace be with you.” The Hebrew word is “shalom.” It’s bigger and better than UN peace or the Laker’s Metta World Peace. Shalom is a blessing and a greeting all at once. Shalom is harmony, wholeness, everything in its place. All is well. Genesis 1 before the fall: very good. “Peace (Shalom) I leave with you, my peace (my Shalom) I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
This is exactly why Jesus is “apostl-ed” – sent – by the Father. That’s what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean: peace –for His disciples – and for you. For the Father is well pleased by His obedient, Crucified and Risen Son. His sacrifice has restored life, to His disciples, to you, to me. Sin, death and the devil are defeated. You are redeemed. You are loved. You are at peace with God and God is at peace with you in those precious wounds. Jesus is sent from the ark of the heavens, a flesh and bone dove, to bring peace through His flesh and blood on the cross.
“As the Father has sent me to Shalom the world to Himself, even so I am sending you.” And when Jesus said this he breathed on the disciples – a little Pentecost - the big one is coming in 50 days. The God who once breathed life into Adam’s dusty lungs, the God who breathed upon the waters of creation and parted the Red Sea waters, the God who breathed life into the valley of dry bones now breathes on His disciples.“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Have you noticed that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are always together? At His Baptism. Good Friday. On Easter. At Pentecost. In his Church.
Jesus is born to breath our toxic, sin poisoned air, to suffer, die and give up His breath on Good Friday – suffocated by sin - so that he can breathe new life into our lifeless graves by rising from His own. From the disciple’s panic room to His people huddled in His Church, wherever they are gathered, whatever fear, doubt, confusion or sin you are struggling with - Jesus gives his breath of life to his people.
Jesus has what you might call, holy-tosis; His breath doesn’t just give Life; it is Life. Jesus is life. His Word is Life. His Sacraments are life. The Spirit is life. Jesus doesn’t leave His church gasping for forgiveness. If the church is going to preach and proclaim, she’s going to need breath; and if you as Christians are going to give a reason for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15), you need mouths to speak, words to declare. You need Jesus’ breath. His life. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will breath out your praise.
Jesus ordains His apostles by this breath. Jesus gives them authority to do what God alone can do - forgive sin. He gives an Office. A Spirit-breathing, life-giving office. A preaching and hearing office. Given to forgive and retain sins. That’s what your pastor is called and sent to do. That’s what the church is for: a wind tunnel of the Holy Spirit, bringing you forgiveness, from Jesus to through his appointed means to you.
And this is no different Spirit than the 3rd person of the Trinity, into whose Triune Name you are baptized; the same Holy Spirit that fills the Church. All so that when you hear your pastor pronounce the absolution: “I forgive you all your sins” - you know that God is breathing new life into your ears. When the pastor baptizes, you know God’s hands are baptizing you. When the pastor gives you communion, you know Jesus is feeding you with his body and blood.Yet, we’re more like Thomas. Seeing is believing. Peace on earth? A happy family? Healthy loved ones? Recovering economy? Yea, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Problem is, believing is not always seeing. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). God masks Himself. Jesus looks, lives and dies like a man – yet faith says, “Jesus is Lord.”You go about your daily work, sweat, labor, toil – no whistling while you’re in the daily grind – yet faith says, “This labor is holy, divine work, for I am God’s instrument for the good of others.”
We get sick, lose jobs, loved ones die, we hurt, cry, suffer – yet faith says, “I am a child of God, Baptized and loved by Him.” And nothing and no one can snatch you out of his pierced hands.
Believing is not seeing. To believe is to confess that God is where God seems not to be, to confess that God is good when God seems to be bad, to confess that what is really real is not what you see, but what you hear. That is faith.
Just like our twin, Thomas, we want something real. He issues Jesus a throw down. The ultimate reality show: “So you think you a dead man can rise from the grave?” No apprentices, singers or fancy restaurants in sight. “Just let me see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side or else I will not believe.”
Thomas may have been many things – stubborn, hard-headed confused and most of all unbelieving – but John never uses the word doubt. And for all that Thomas is I thank God. Why? Because as St. Gregory once said, “More does the doubt of Thomas help us to believe than the faith of the disciples who believed.” Jesus takes the triple-dog-dare. Gives him hard proof. “Go ahead, Thomas; read my wounds like Braille; put your finger here; place your hand in my side. Do not disbelieve but believe.”
“My Lord and my God.” That’s the kind of confession that only the breath of the Lord can create. Maybe Thomas touched Jesus like that Caravaggio painting. Maybe he didn’t. Either way, our Lord did not condemn him. He gave him flesh and blood peace. Peace be with you, Thomas and all of us, his twins.
This is how our Lord works. He takes your doubt, your unbelief, your sin and death and He makes it His own. He gives you the kind of peace that knows that no matter how great your sin, Christ’s love – His peace – is greater. Jesus’ breath creates believing. It’s the same for you as it was for Thomas.
What Jesus did for Thomas and the disciples after the resurrection, He does for your every Sunday until He returns. Jesus speaks peace. This Crucified and risen Jesus still blusters His holy breath upon His church. He calls and sends pastors to announce His holy absolution into your ears. He pours out his body and blood from those holy scars to fill the chalice. The Spirit hovers over the waters of Baptism to make you a new creation. In His Church, by His Spirit you get to see and touch and hear the Crucified and Risen Lord.
You are not given to see or touch the way Thomas did. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” That’s you. You get a beatitude from Jesus. Blessed are you. But you are given to hear the testimony of these witnesses, including Thomas. And John, who was there, recorded these things for you, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing, would have life in His name. And now you too are witnesses.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.