Tuesday, June 2, 2020

John 20:19-31: The Giving of the Spirit

This particular day in the life of the disciples, thus far, has been a long, roller coaster of a day. And the day’s not even over yet. It is the third day after Christ’s crucifixion. Early this morning Mary went to visit Jesus' tomb. But she came back fairly quickly, with a strange tale about the tomb being empty, “Come and see! What can it mean?” she said.

At this point Peter and John participated in a foot race to the tomb (which John won btdubs). They both returned confirming the woman’s tale. The tomb was indeed empty, Jesus' body was gone. Only Mary had stayed at the tomb to mourn this crushing new loss. When she finally returned she carried an even more fantastical tale about meeting a man, she mistook for a gardener, who turned out to be Jesus. “Jesus is not dead.” “The tomb is empty, because Jesus is not dead.” “He is alive!” “He has risen from the grave!” She kept just kept repeating over and over again,

Now it is evening and the believers are locked behind closed doors. Those who have gathered are made up of more than just the twelve (which would almost but not quite be an allowable gathering in these times). But the group is actually quite a bit larger that; there are the women who have been with Jesus throughout his journeys, along with several others who have come to believe, such as Lazarus and Nicodemus. This whole group is hiding behind locked doors.

What was going on behind this locked door? The passage tells us they are afraid. What kind of fresh danger is awaiting them? Could those who plotted to have Jesus killed, be even now plotting to come after them? What do they think happened to Jesus’ body? Do the Jews blame them? Will the Jewish leaders come after them demanding they turn over the missing corpse? What will they do when the body can’t be produced? And finally what do we do with Mary’s tale? Has she gone completely mad with grief? Did she see Jesus’ ghost, if so what would that even mean?  Can they, possibly, even remotely think to believe her? Do they dare hope that what she has said is true? What if she is telling the truth? What if Jesus is alive? What if the Messiah capable of conquering even his own death? If Jesus is really alive, where is he?

As they are attempting to process all that has occurred over the course of the past three days, the past week even, their minds cannot help but be dark and stormy seas of chaos and confusion. So much has happened since they arrived in Jerusalem just a week ago. They must be experiencing so many conflicting emotions. It all is swirling around inside of them threatening to overcome them. And then like the icing the craziness cake you have Mary's impossible tale. They are drowning in a whirlpool of the emotions, as they seek to make heads or tails of it all, suddenly Jesus is, right there in the room with them – standing right there. What are they thinking in this particular moment? Their dead, but now alive Messiah, just appeared in their midst.

“Didn't we lock that door?”

“How did he even get in here?”

“Whoa, wait he is really alive –  Mary isn't crazy!”

“Well, that's a relief.”

“Wait, wh. . . He is alive. He is here. I mean right here.”

All Jesus says at this point is “Peace be with you.” And then gives them proof he is exactly who he appears to be, who he seems to be, who 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 very same 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 the doubt, which has been engulfing them all day, 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 are 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 within them. What he does here does not bring fear. Jesus has returned, and appeared among them, to bring them peace, the peace which only the God of universe, the creator of all things can bring to them, the peace only the resurrected Savior can impart.

With these four simple words not only are the turmoil and tempests within them calmed, but they become a sent people. For John, in the moment they become a sent people, they become the Church. In John’s understanding of the gospel it is in this moment, this ragtag band of disciples and believers gathered fearfully in that locked room, are no longer simply followers and disciples of Christ, they are the people sent by Christ, they are the Church. In this moment of sending, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you send,” they become the Church. And just like that the Church is birthed.

The meaning of what it means to be the Church is right here. The church is not this building. The Church is not what happens when we are together in one place (although, granted doing so is important), the Church is people who believe in and know the resurrected Christ and are sent into the world by that same Christ. In the Gospel of John, this is the “great commission,” This is John’s “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” moment.  This is John’s “you will be my witnesses,” speech. Jesus sends them into the world to teach what he taught, to live as he lived, to proclaim the resurrection to all who will listen. 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, skip the next bit, because although the whole middle part of this day was the most confusing, difficult part for these early believers to go through, this next part of the passage is probably the most difficult for us as modern believers. So although jumping right over this whole bit and proceeding to the part about Thomas would be easier, not to mention a whole lot of fun. Anyway I am going charge right on ahead and take this next part head on. This next bit is difficult because it is hard to deal with the fact that John tells Jesus’ story completely differently than other three Gospels. Most importantly he tells the story differently than Luke, and how Luke recorded events in his gospel and then in Acts. And we really like the way Acts tells it. And that's OK. We can like the way Luke records things better and we may even believe his way is more historically accurate one. In doing so we cannot ignore John or discount the way John tells things. The way he represents the events is no less true or valuable to the Church.

Whew, 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. Yep, that’s right, the newly resurrected Lord instills the Spirit of God within his followers, the newly declared Church on the very same day as his own resurrection.  This 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 “a little” differently; with Jesus giving the disciples the Spirit when he appears among them on the evening of his resurrection.

In John’s gospel, Resurrection Sunday is a big day. In John’s mind this is the one day changes everything forever. It is the day of the resurrection, the day when Christians become Christians, because it is the resurrection after all which makes us Christians. It is also day on which the Church become the Church, by being sent by the new resurrection Lord on Easter evening. Finally, it is also the day when the Church receives the gift of the Spirit, and the Church becomes the Spirit filled community of believers which will thrive and grow and spread to the far reaches of the earth. You know, the Church as we all know it today.

John truncates the events and piles all the important things here on the day of the Resurrection, because for him is THE DAY, the day that really matters.  It is the day which changes everything. So here when John recounts the events of the Resurrection, he puts all the most important things on Resurrection day.

So, Jesus breathes on the disciples. The newly declared, sent Church receives the Spirit. The words, which John uses to 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 when God breaths 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 the Church, but for all creation. Just as was done on the day humanity was created, life is given. This time, new life is breathed into the Church, reconnecting us to all who we were at creation; filling us once again, in a new way, with the breath of God.

Jesus is giving us a chance to begin anew, in him. Through Jesus, we are brought close to God in a way we have not known since the Garden. When Jesus breaths on these first Christians, they are filled with the very breath of God, the Spirit of God flows within them. It is God's own breath which gives the believers in the resurrected Christ life. Through the infilling of the breath the resurrected savior humanity is able to regain 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.

So ok now that we are all “ok” with John telling the story of the receiving of the Holy Spirit differently, we come to the next even harder bit. *deep breath*

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 to others and extend to them the forgiveness we ourselves have received from God. *another deep breath*

Ok we have the power, nay the privilege to extend God’s forgiveness, Christ’s forgiving power to those around us. But there is a flip side to every coin. Jesus also says any sins we retain, will be retained. This sounds like the ultimate power, which can be horribly abused. To refuse to forgive one who is seeking forgiveness! But this is not a power, which Jesus is giving us, which we can wield however we wish. This is a warning, a caution. Be careful to be abundant with this forgiveness, extravagant even. As people who are seeking to live as Christ lived, 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 do forgive.

We can choose not to forgive but we are called to forgive as freely and generously as God forgives. Our forgiveness of others is a direct reflection of the forgiveness we know in God. Others will first know the love and forgiveness of God in how we love and how we forgive. When we choose not to forgive we are reflecting to those around us that God does not forgive.

And where ever we do not forgive others, that kind of un-forgiveness will be shown to us. God will retain what we retain. The measure which we use will be used on us. So we are to forgive as freely and boundlessly as we know God forgives, retaining nothing against others, as God has done with us.

 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 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 to love AND to forgive.

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