Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We’ll start with the word peace - those first words that Jesus spoke to his disciples when he showed up in that locked room on the night of his resurrection. His disciples were gathered, and they were afraid. He showed up and said: “Peace be with you.” I want to think about that word “peace” for a moment. What does the word ‘peace’ mean? In simplest terms, peace is when we feel calm and happy and good.
Can you think of times when you feel peaceful? Relaxed, calm? Maybe: When you are cuddled up in bed with your stuffed animals or favorite blanket, or with your live pets, or when you are walking out in nature, or watching a sunrise or sunset, at church, at your grandparents house - a place where you feel safe; etc.
Sometimes, if we’re not feeling peaceful, or we’re feeling anxious, taking deep breaths in and out can help us feel peace, especially if we are feeling worried or anxious or upset. So, let’s practice taking deep breaths in and out. Three times - in and out. If you are ever feeling anxious or upset, you can always stop what you are doing and take three, deep, slow breaths.
When Jesus joined his disciples in this locked room, he breathed on them and said, “Peace be with you.” He breathed into them. The same word used here, as was used in the creation story when God created humans and breathed life into them. I know we talk a lot about breath right now in our pandemic time. And we wear masks because we’re worried about what germs our breath may carry to another person’s breath. A lot of us know the term “aerosols” (which we didn’t use much a few months ago), which is the word for those little particles that hang out in the air for a long time.
One of the cool things with this story is that we are reminded that when we are breathing, we are breathing in that peace, and love and creation - remembering that God has created us to be living beings. We have this breath of Jesus in us, and the Spirit gives us power and strength. Before we continue gospel reflections further, let’s do a breath prayer. Three more breaths in and out, breathing in Peace, and breathing out Love, to care for our neighbor. Breath in Peace, breath out Love; three breaths. Amen.
Now, thinking a little bit more about the disciples gathered in that room. They were afraid. And then Jesus just shows up with them. And this is Jesus on the day of his resurrection. He saw Mary Magdalene in the garden that morning. Mary went and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” (they don’t seem to believe her.) And then that night, they’re inside this room, scared.
And I wonder - may they’re worried that the Jewish leaders will think that they stole Jesus’ body from the tomb or that somebody’s gonna come get them. We don’t know why, but they are afraid. And then Jesus shows up there. And Jesus doesn’t need a door because he is the door, he is the gate, he is the way, the truth and the life. And so when he shows up, the disciples’ fear unravels into joy at seeing him.
And then Jesus speaks peace and breathes into them the Holy Spirit. And then comes a line that can be a little confusing. He’s giving them peace, giving them the Holy Spirit and then we have verse 23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
When I introduced this gospel reading today, I said that in the gospel of John, “sin” is not being in relationship with God, not believing in the testimony that when you meet Jesus, you see the face of God. Sin, in the gospel of John, is not about individual acts of wrongdoing.
A different phrasing of these verses goes something like this. Jesus has just given them the Holy Spirit, and now they are receiving their commission. He says, get out there and testify, share your story; and when you testify about me to other people, you are gonna set them free!. They’re going to be set free of sin because they will be invited into a relationship with me. If you don’t go and bear witness to the gospel, to the truth in Christ, people won’t be able to understand the knowledge of God, they won’t have the chance for that relationship with God. Go out and share your story so that people can be in relationship with me. Don’t be a barrier to people having faith in me.
The disciples got to practice this commission right away because Thomas wasn’t with them that resurrection night. The next time they saw Thomas, they said “We have seen the Lord!” And Thomas, well, he is often cast as “doubting” their word. I am going to use other words today - that is demanding - “I want to see Jesus for myself.” He doesn’t necessarily say “I don’t believe that you saw Jesus.” He’s saying, “I want to see Jesus, too!” He wants what the other disciples got to experience. And often what we still want today - to have that clear “proof” of resurrection. Thomas has the courage to ask, to say what he needs and wants.
And then a whole week goes by. I’m imagining that the disciples are all over town that week, sharing the news: “We have seen the Lord!” “He’s alive!” “All those promises that Jesus made about eternal life, hope and everything else really is true!” And I wonder in that week’s time, before Jesus came to see Thomas and the other disciples again, if Thomas was coming around, and trusting that testimony more. Because when Jesus shows up and invites Thomas to touch his hands and wounds, Thomas doesn’t need to, he simply cries out, “My Lord and My God!” “Yay, you’re here!” This was a powerful moment for Thomas, and for us, because Jesus blesses us here. Did you catch it? We are the ones who have not seen, yet believe. We trust in the relationship with God through Jesus because of the testimony of those who have come before us.
And we get to trust some pretty great promises. Going back to John 14, Jesus talks about that the peace he gives is not like the peace that the world gives. That’s one of the pieces of really good news in this story.
In our Bible study this past Thursday, we did our last session of the Hebrew Bible in its historical setting, setting up coming into the New Testament scripture. I was reminded that the people of Jerusalem and Judea and Galilee, all the places where Jesus travels, they are used to rulers changing power, having different kings - sort of a never-ending power struggle for resources and control. For them, “peace” meant an absence of open conflict, but it is not this peace that Jesus gives. To use the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “true peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice.” The peace that Jesus gives has justice, mercy and hope and these are not reliant on the power of this world. That was really good news in the time Jesus walked the earth, and that is really good news today.
Thinking about Jesus giving us that peace and Thomas having the courage to say what he wanted and needed to have a relationship with Jesus, brings me to this question that I want to end with - What do you need in your walk with God? In your faith journey? I’m thinking here about things that the Bible talks about, so maybe not a new car or house, etc. Rather, things the Bible names explicitly, promises God makes to us in Jesus - the fruits of the Holy Spirit, love, mercy, gentleness, patience, compassion, self-control, peace, healing, justice. What is going on in your life? What do you, like Thomas, need to have the courage to say out loud right now? Lord, I need __________ right now. Part of our Christian faith is reminding one another about what God promises, reminding God about what God promises us, and then asking to help us see these promises fulfilled around us.
As I have been thinking about this question, what came to my mind last night as I was praying is a deep desire for compassion in our world right now; and generosity. Lord, you have given us this breath and Spirit of peace that passes all understanding and is not like the world gives and that peace needs to be activated around the world right now! We need that peace and justice and mercy, to see each other as beloved children of God so that we can relate to one another and share that love and be the body of Christ in the world.
I’ll close by continuing our prayers. Lord, we lift up to you that cry from Thomas of what he needed - the desire to be in relationship with you. We lift up our own cries for what we need to be in relationship with you, Lord. Even if we can’t put it to words, you know our hearts and our minds. And we put these cries and desires into your hands. We give thanks to you in the power of your Holy Spirit in which we live and move and have our being. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Rev. Elizabeth Bier is the pastor of ONE in Christ Parish, a three-point parish in Greenwood, Longwood, and Withee. She is ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and has served the ONE in Christ Parish since February of 2019.Profile
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