It is Easter evening. The believers are locked behind closed doors. This group is made up of more than just the twelve disciples. The group would have also included the women and other prominent believers, as well as the twelve. The group may have even been as big as the 120, who are said to have been in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. The group is hiding behind locked doors. They are all aware of what very well may have occurred, but I am sure doubts remain. Peter and John can attest to the empty tomb, but since they returned and only Mary stayed. She was the only one to meet Jesus in the garden. She is the only one who can bear witness to the Risen Christ.
Can you imagine what might be going on behind this locked door? Are they afraid? Perhaps, there is still a possibility they are in danger? Could those who plotted to have Jesus killed, be even now plotting their deaths as well?
Are they discussing the story which Mary has shared? Do they believe her? Do they dare trust her words? Are their hearts full of hope? Or doubt? What if she is telling the truth? What if Jesus is really truly alive? What if the Messiah can conquer even death? Is there a sense of stifled hope? What are they thinking? What are they discussing? “If Jesus is really alive, where is he?”
And then suddenly he is there with them. He is standing among them. What are they thinking in that moment? Their dead, but now alive Messiah, has just appeared in the room with them. “Didn't we lock that door?” “How did he get in here?” “Whoa, wait he is really alive, Mary isn't crazy! That's a relief.” “He is alive. He is here. I mean right here.”
And all Jesus says is “Peace be with you.” And then gives them proof that he is whom he appears to be, whom he seems to be, whom they dare wish that he is. He allows them to see the holes in his hands and the cut in his side. He is the Jesus who died on the cross, which means he is the Jesus who has risen from the dead. They can see beyond a shadow of a doubt, through undeniable proof that the man who stands among them, is Jesus Christ himself, raised from the dead, just as Mary had told them he was.
Then he says it again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus' words and Jesus' presence is there to give them relief, to calm their spirits, to allow them to be still within themselves and know, truly know that he is indeed alive. This is not supposed to send them into a tailspin; this is not to bring chaos into the turmoil surrounding them. This should not bring fear; Jesus wants his presence to bring them peace, the peace which only the God of universe, the creator of all things can bring to them.
And with these words not only are the turmoils and tempests within them calmed, but they become a sent people. For John, THIS is when the Church becomes the Church. They are no longer simply followers and Disciples of Christ, they are the people sent by Christ. In this moment of sending, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you send,” they become the Church.
The meaning of what it means to be the Church, here, is to be a people sent into the world by Christ. In the Gospel of John, this is the “great commission,” “Go therefore . . .” They are sent into the world to teach what Christ taught, to live as Christ lived, to proclaim the risen Savior. In this moment they become the image of God in Christ for the world; reflecting the Savior and their God in a world who truly knows neither.
At this point it would be so easy to just jump to Thomas, skip the next bit and get to the “good stuff.” After all the evening which involves Thomas, is this evening; the evening of the Sunday, a week after the resurrection. It would be fun to compare and contrast these two evenings; to look at the signs the Disciples were given on the evening of the resurrection and see how they match up with the signs requested by and then given to Thomas a week later.
I love Thomas. In fact MOST of the time that this passage comes up I preach about Thomas. I like bringing Thomas out of the shade, which is usually cast upon him, into the light. He is believing-Thomas, sane and reasonable Thomas, Thomas who simply requests for the same signs and proof of the Risen Savior as received by all the others. But I digress, because I am not preaching THAT sermon today. Today, I am going to skip Thomas. I am going to stick to the first part of passage and plow right into the part that is easy for us preachers to skip, because sometime it is hard to deal with the fact that John tells the story of Christ differently than the rest of the Gospels, most importantly differently than Luke, differently than Acts. And we really like the way Acts tells it.
So here we go. After Jesus has calmed their fears, brought them peace, and declares them to be a Sent People, he breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. The newly resurrected Lord instills the Spirit of God within his followers, the new declared Church. Although this is not the traditional way we are used to hearing about the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, which in Acts happens on the Day of Pentecost, John relates the story “slightly” differently; having Jesus give the disciples the Spirit on the day of his resurrection. Not only does the Church become the Church, by being sent, on Easter evening, but the Church receives the gift of the Spirit on Easter as well.
John truncates the events. The day of the Resurrection is THE DAY for John. It is the day that changes everything. So when John tells the story of the Resurrection, he puts all the most important things there on Resurrection day. This is the day when it ALL happens for him. The only day since the dawn of creation that really and truly matters.
So, Jesus breathes on the disciples. The newly declared, sent, Church and receives the Spirit. The words, which describe these events, are the words of creation. On the final day of creation God reached down into the dust and formed a human and once God had finished creating the human, God leans over and breaths into the human, bringing the human to life. It is through God breathing God's own breath into humanity that all humans gained life.
The language John uses here on the first day of the resurrection of the Christ is the language creation. This is the first day of the new creation and Jesus Christ breathes life into his followers, into the Church, life. Here on the evening of the resurrection new creation has begun, this day marks a new beginning not only for Jesus Christ, and for Church, but for all creation. Just as was done on the day of creation, life, this time, new life is breathed into humanity. With the breath of God filling them, Jesus is giving humanity a chance to begin anew, through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, humanity is brought close to God in a way they had not known since the Garden. They are filled with the very breath of God. God's own breath giving them new life, through infilling of the breath the resurrected savior all humanity regains the hope, lost in the Fall.
The new life we find in Jesus Christ is found in the life giving Spirit. Through Jesus Christ, our relationship with God is renewed and strengthened; we get a new start, a fresh life, a new beginning. We are re-created, we gain all that was lost in the Fall, we gain relationship with our God, we gain the ability to be God breathed people, who are inhabited by the very Spirit of God; living our lives reflecting the love of God and sharing that love with all those around us. We are able to live as we were created to live.
As God breathed people we gain the power of God's own infilling, the power of the re-created life. The breath of God gives us the power to gain proper relationship with God, but as a Wiseman once said to a Spiderman, “with great power comes great power comes great responsibility.” The power gained in the God-breathed life has responsibilities as well. The responsibility of the power is the power to forgive. Jesus tells us that whatever sins we forgive on earth will be forgiven. We are given the power to forgive; to see the faults in those around us and forgive them. To turn others and extend to them the forgiveness we ourselves have received from God.
There is a flip side to every coin. Jesus also says that any sins we retained will be retained. This is a warning, a caution. We are to be people of forgiveness but not retention. Jesus gives us the power to forgive and to not forgive. But we must know that when we do not forgive it means just as much as when we forgive. So our first response must always be forgiveness. We are to forgive because we have the power and the responsibility to forgive as Christ forgives. This is an extension of God’s love which God has been shown to us. We, as Christ’s life breath, still living and moving on this earth, are to be Christ’s love and forgiveness here on earth. We love where Christ loves, and we forgive where Christ forgives. It is through us that those around not only know the love of God, but it also through us that they know of the forgiveness of God.
It is here, we, as followers of Christ receive the Spirit. It is here we become the Church. It is here that we learn what means to BE the Church. It means that we are a sent people. A people sent into the world by Christ, by God; sent into the world love AND to forgive.