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On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Today is the Second Sunday of Easter! Imagine with me what that First Easter was like for the disciples. Less than 96 hours earlier, the disciples had gathered with Jesus for the most important meal of the jewish calendar, the Passover. They had gathered over lamb, unleavened bread, wine and bitter herbs. They had remembered the story of God’s deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt.
And then their world collapsed. Jesus said they would deny him; they fell asleep while he prayed; they were awakened by the hobnail boots of the temple guard; they had scattered as Jesus was arrested and taken from them. Peter and John had followed at a distance and Peter, probably John as well, denied even knowing who Jesus was.
They heard about the trial and the sentence; they learned of the beating the mockery. A few gathered at the place of execution and watched while Jesus slowly, torturously suffocated on the cross.
From a distance they had watched as Jesus body was removed from the cross; they followed to see where he was laid; they watched as a stone was placed at the entrance of the tomb; they learned of Judas’ death. And then they returned to the place of their dinner, and there they hid.
They were terrified and huddled in the hiding place for the rest of the day, they hid through the night, they wept through the Sabbath, they struggled through another night. When dawn arose, a few of them, all women, ventured out to the tomb, only to discover that Jesus body was missing. The women who had come to grieve were devastated, not only was Jesus dead, but now his tomb had been desecrated.
They returned to the hiding place, two of the men snuck out and ran to the place of burial and found the tomb empty, his body gone, and even unwrapped from the grave cloths. They believed the women, Jesus body was gone. They returned to their hiding placel, wondering who would be next.
And then, one of the women, one was close to Jesus, one who had stayed near the tomb, came back to the hiding place, she said, “I have seen Jesus! And he has a message for you! Jesus wanted me to tell you, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
And then it was the evening. Confusion, fear, wonder, grief, loneliness, anger, giddy questions, disgust, shame, helplessness, hope against hope, hatred, and horror all swirled in the minds and spirits. The windows were locked, the doors were barred, those inside when they spoke, spoke in whispers. They closed the doors to keep others out and feel secure within. The comfort they received from one another was beginning to help. Some of the disciples were actually able to venture out and return to their homes. As Jesus family, together they were sitting shiva.
When a Jewish family sits shiva today, they simply sit and receive into their homes and lives visitors who share their love and comfort. The disciples were gathered as a family, they were comforting one another, but their doors were locked, they were afraid. Rather than welcoming those who could bring comfort, they remained locked away. They trusted one another, but no one else.
And then Jesus entered the room. He did not knock, he did not force his way in, he simply entered the locked room. Only one word described the emotion of the room at that moment of grief: terror and the terror was palpable. Jesus stood among them, looked over the scene and simply said said, “Peace. Now go and fulfill your mission. Receive the breath of God.” And then he breathed on them.
Close your eyes. Imagine that moment if you can. In the midst of this life changing terror, He breathed on you. What did that feel like? Was it cool? Was it hot? Was comforting? Was it unsettling? Did it give you a chill? Feel the breath of God. What did it smell like? The room had been closed and locked for days now. It was becoming stuffy and filled with odors we don’t even what to think about. Then Jesus breathed on you. Was it fresh? Was it bitter? Did it hurt your lungs to take in Jesus breath? Can you taste it? Is it sweet or stale or intoxicating? Taste the breath of Jesus. Taste and see that the Lord is Good! Those were the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 38. Eagerly taste of the gift of God! Let Jesus breath wash over you. And you will be surprised by the presence. The hymn writer wrote,
Breathe on my breath of God,
Fill me with life anew.
That I may love what thou dost love
And do what thou would do
Breathe on me breath of God
Till I am wholly thine
Until the earthly part of me
Glows with thy fire divine.
We need the breath of God because as followers of Jesus, we often fall into the trap of fear, and do exactly what the disciples did. We lock the doors of homes, our churches and our hearts. We bar the windows so no one can look in and we do not have to look out. From behind closed doors we try to comfort and support one another, but because we each share the same fears, we feel stuck.
How do churches lock their doors? We insist that people seeking God, come to us. Special outreach events invite people to come to the church. Getting people in the doors is the most important thing. Once they are in we use language that outsiders will not understand. We cling to traditions that in times past provided us with comfort and then insist that everyone follow our traditions. We lock others out, not with deadbolts on our doors, but with dead theology. Our activism is designed to keep us comfortable. And when others finally take the risk of walking into a church, we fail to greet them, we let them sit by themselves, we assume they know how to fit in, and then let them leave n silence.
Every church I have ever encountered has declared that they are a warm and welcoming community of believers where all are welcome. And yet, those not part of the community within the walls, often feel as unwelcomed as Jesus did on the day of resurrection.
This year, as a congregation, we are going to explore ways that we can individually and corporately taste and see that God is good. Often we have a small menu that we taste over and over. It is good, it is satisfying, but it does not invite us to leave our comfort zones. I recently saw a list of 30 foods and people were asked to identify those things on the list that they would refuse to eat. Some of you would be able to guess that I was willing to eat everything on the list, but I was surprised that others would refuse 20 or more offerings. It made me sad, it seemed that people were missing out on some wonderful experiences.
So, as we prepare for our tasting, I want to once again challenge you:
1. to Taste and see that God is good
2. to hear the words of Jesus, “Peace.”
3. to make our actions of welcome match our words of welcome.
4. To take a risk and try something new (maybe even try sitting in a different seat at church)!
Or better yet, reach out to some who are different than you. Welcome an LGBT neighbor into your home and your life, step in to help a single mom next door. Let Jesus breathe his refreshing into your life.
5. I challenge to unbolt the door of your heart and venture out into a world that may be hostile to you. Because after Jesus said Peace, he declared: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
The disciples were surprised by the taste of Jesus among them, may we be open to the surprises the Father is eager to bring into our lives as we go in response to Jesus’ command.