Sermon - April 19, 2020
New Life Lutheran Church, Dripping Springs, Texas
Jesus sounds ghost-y here in this story in John. During the fifty days of the Easter season, we hear these stories of Jesus appearing. He does strange things and sort of supernatural things. Sometimes the disciples don’t recognize him at first, even after he’s been with them for a while, like on the road to Emmaus. They are not sure it is him, or not sure he is real. And this goes on for weeks. 50 days. The weeks between Easter and Pentecost are long and uncertain and confusing for the disciples. Like they are and will be for us this year. This Easter story works in new ways in us every year, and especially in difficult and uncertain times. Like now. “What will happen next? When will it be safe?” we ask, as the disciples did that first Eastertide. “What will normal even look like?”
It is so helpful to me this year to remember that there was this long strange period between when Jesus died and returned, at Easter, and when the Holy Spirit blew in and shaped the disciples into the church at Pentecost. There was this getting to know Jesus in a new way. It is like figuring out family in a new way after death or divorce, or figuring out new friendships in a new town. Or getting back to normal after a pandemic isolation, probably. Who knows?
For now, for this first week after Easter in the Gospel of John, the disciples are huddled together with the door locked, maybe in that same upper room of the foot washing, the last time they saw him before his death. Mary Magdalen said she had seen him, seen Jesus that morning. But could that be true? What or who did she see? They were afraid the soldiers would find them next, arrest them too, for being part of Jesus’ group. The door was locked, and it didn’t burst open—just—-suddenly Jesus was there standing in the room with them.
And he said, “Peace be with you.” That was the first thing he said. “Peace, peace.”
“Peace be with you,” just like we say in worship. A word of blessing, a word of comfort: “Peace.” Mostly he just repeated that. He said it once, then showed them his wounds. And they believed it was him, and rejoiced.
And then again, he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” I went through death and came back, and I am back for YOU: to bring you back from the grave, too. To send you so that you can bring others out of the graves we find ourselves in in this life: all the small deaths of the things we knew and loved. Find people, tell them that the Resurrection is real, that life comes out of death.”
Then, the strangest part of the story: he breathed on them. What did that look like? Did he blow on them? Or exhale and turn in a circle? or just heave a big sigh? Or was it more sounds of comfort, like, “Shhh. Hushhhh. Peace, be still.” And he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In his breath, through his breath, with his breath.
“I am alive,” he seems to say, “with real breath. And in my real breath is the Holy Spirit, The breath of one who came back from the grave will re-animate you. This is the stuff of life.”
The breath of God that blew over the waters of chaos and created the world. The breath God blew into Adam, the man made of earth, that animated him, made him alive. Now God has lived among us, human, and died and come back, breathing.
And blows that spirit over the disciples. That brat is he animating wind of life. That thing that makes things alive - that thing that is missing in a dead body, that you can tell is gone. Not just the rise and fall of the chest, but the LIFE.
The disciples are numb with shock over losing their friend. They are devastated at having seen him hurt and killed. They are confused over the loss of their movement, this leader. They are afraid to hope that what Mary said might be true. And Jesus came with the very breath of God and blew life back into the room, the group, and their hearts and souls and bodies.
And Jesus said, “Recieve the Holy Spirit.” And then, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” That’s what you get with the Holy Spirit, apparently. With life. The power to forgive sins, or hold on to them.
When you are alive, fully alive and animated with the Spirit, you can forgive. You don’t need to hold on to the sins of others, you can let them go and live on, and free others to live, too.
Thomas wasn’t there, he missed being breathed on, he missed hearing the words of peace in the very voice of their friend. So Jesus came again. That’s what he does. He comes back and back and back and back. God finds the lost sheep. God sweeps every corner to find the lost coin. Jesus comes back a week later to find Thomas, to make sure he is not left behind, left scared to death. To give Thomas the spirit of life and send him out to find others who are lost.
We will, like the disciples, stumble about as we recover from this strange, disorienting time. We will fumble, too: we’ll start back to normal too soon in some ways, and too slowly in others. We’ll miss things. And Jesus will keep showing up. And we will get more sure of what this new normal looks like. And we will feel that breath, that Holy Spirit. And we’ll smile, and we’ll know what it is. And then we’ll go out and find those who have not found their way out of fear or whatever tomb they are in, and we’ll tell the our story of being loved back to life, and we will walk with them through the hard parts of this life, to show them the truth: that life comes back. That love has the last word. That the world goes on, again, after the dark times, and we keep telling our one true story: death —and resurrection. The story we learned from the one who came back for us and gave us peace.