19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Friends, today is Second Sunday of Easter. I share that because I actually think the title for today is significant. Today is not the Second Sunday after Easter, but the Second Sunday of Easter. Easter is a season in the church, not just a day. It is fifty days long – a whole season of death and resurrection. Which is to say that Easter is not over. In fact, it is never over. But rather as Christians, we are called to be Easter people. Resurrection people. To live an Easter life. To be a people, a community who is always looking for life out of death.
And yet, to be honest, Easter is always the hardest season of the church year for me. Out of all the Christian seasons and Holidays, Easter is the one when my faith feels the thinnest. And my doubt seems to come back with a passion.
The resurrection is at the heart of our Christian story and yet too often it can be the hardest one for me to believe in. I don’t know if it is just the strangeness of a dead man rising from the grave and the seemingly impossibility of that, or the joy of the season doesn’t seem to match the heartache and the heaviness of the events themselves. Of Jesus’ death and the disciples’ abandonment. Of Mother Mary’s grief. And even of the disciples’ response to the resurrection which was…fear.
So this is my doubting season. It’s like allergies. It always comes out like clockwork. I can remember in 2008, while I was at seminary, I experienced my worst Easter to date. I was playing trumpet at church service, and everyone came into the church shouting, “Alleulia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” There were the banners with bells on them, the brass instruments, the Easter lilies. And for me, that doubt start to creep in. But then to make matters worse, the sermon that Sunday was all about if you don’t believe in the resurrection, if you don’t believe Jesus’ literal body was raised from the dead, then you’re not a Christian. Then you have no faith at all. And as a person who was already doubting, it was the final blow. I left that Easter service with a crushed faith, not a resurrected one.
Because of my struggle with this season, today, the second Sunday of Easter, has always been one of my favorite Sundays of the year – because it is Thomas’ Sunday. Thomas the disciple. The patron saint of doubters. And I’ve always loved him for it. Because he doubts like I do. He asks questions that I want to ask.
And you know, I think we have done a disservice to the church and to Christians everywhere by scarring Thomas with this nickname – Doubting Thomas. As if doubts and questions are an absence of faith, when in fact they are an element of faith. For far too long, people have said, “Don’t be a doubting Thomas. You just gottta believe.” Well, it’s not always easy, I say.
But, for as much as I love Thomas, I want to leave him behind for today. Sometimes I think Thomas has become a distraction for us to everything that happens before him in today’s gospel text and I think we’ve missed the whole point of this story. I think we missed the point by looking at Thomas and what Thomas does and then telling others not to be like him. Because if you make it about Thomas and that we should never doubt, then I think all we end up doing is crushing people’s faith on Easter. I mean, that’s what we love to do, right? We love to make things about what we do, and some morality lesson. When in reality, perhaps this is a story about what God does for us and the promise God gives us to hold on to.
So let’s leave Thomas behind for today and instead pay attention to the details of what Jesus is doing in this story.
It was the night of Easter. Mary and some of the disciples had been to the empty tomb and discovered that Jesus was no longer dead, but alive. And now it was evening. And the disciples were huddled together in a house behind a locked door. Why? Because they were afraid. It says they were afraid of the Jews, but I suspect that’s not the whole truth.
I mean, if you deny and betray and abandon your leader unto his death and then you find out he’s alive….that would strike fear in all of us. Is he coming back to (gulp) get us?
And Jesus does come back to get them. Only not to punish. To rescue them from their fear and their trembling.
The disciples are hiding in fear behind a locked door and somehow and someway, Jesus sneaks through and he stands before them and he says….not where were you when I needed you. Not how could you leave me when I needed you the most. Not I just knew you would deny me. No, Jesus breaks in to say to them – “Peace be with you.”
So just from those few verses alone, we learn a few things. We can try and lock Jesus out of our life, but it will not work. He will find a way to barge back in unannounced and uninvited. And when he does, he will come to bring peace to our fearful self. Or put another way, when we are completely unworthy of Jesus’ presence is exactly when Jesus will show up offering us peace. Jesus doesn’t show up once we’ve become good and moral people, but when we’ve messed up and are frighten – that’s when he will break in to our lives.
After that, Jesus shows them his hands and his side. His wounds from the cross. Now, what could this mean? What we learn is that the resurrected Jesus is identified by his wounds. That the resurrection does not undo the crucifixion. But rather that the suffering that God endured on the cross for the love of the world, continues to be part of the life of God today. That God continues to feel the pain of this world and continues to bear the suffering of this world in love.
After that, Jesus does this remarkable thing. He says to them, “Just as the Father sent me, now I am sending you.” And then he breathes on them. Or another translation says, “He breathed into them.”
Which is pretty weird, right? And I don’t just mean for us today, but I imagine it was a little weird for those disciples too. That’s not something people normally do.
A couple of weeks ago, I was putting Elliot to bed, and I had to keep moving my legs because they were sore. And Elliot noticed this and he asked me, “Why do you keep moving your legs, Daddy?” And so I told him that my legs hurt. And then he said, “Oh, I can help you…” and he proceeded to get up and breathe on my legs. Haaaaaaaa…..haaaaaaaaaaaa.
And while it was super sweet and super cute, it was also a little weird. I have absolutely no idea where he learned that. And so I have to think it was maybe a little weird for the disciples too. There only like two social acceptable times when it is okay to breathe on someone – in a moment of passion and a moment of CPR. Neither of which is this moment between Jesus and his disciples.
But that’s what he does – he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What’s he doing? Well, can you think of any other time when someone in Scripture gets breathed into?
Adam. In the creation story. God gathers up some dirt and breathes into it to create the first human. To create something new. So what’s Jesus doing? He is making all things new. He is recreating his disciples into new creatures. So that they are no longer the ones who abandoned him and betrayed him. They are made new, freed and forgiven. That’s what our confession and forgiveness does. It breathes into us new life, so that we might be made new.
Jesus makes them into new beings – unburdened by the past and freed for the future. He fills them with the Holy Spirit and then he gives them a purpose in life – If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
What Jesus is saying to them is if you are going to be my disciples, if you are going to be Resurrection people in this world then you will take up my work in the world. The work of bringing God’s grave and forgiveness and love to the world.
You see Jesus knows that in order to get us out of our locked rooms of fear and darkness, we need to be given a purpose in this life. If you’ve ever seen someone going from having no purpose in life to finding purpose, then you’ve seen a resurrected person. Jesus knows that in order to free these disciples from their tomb of fear, they need a purpose.
So he gives them his purpose. His work. To send them out into the world to offer God’s life-giving word of grace and forgiveness and love. If you speak the words of God’s grace and love and forgiveness, then they will know. But if you don’t – if you withhold those words – how will the world know of God’s great love for them?
And so what we learn is that, as Jesus’ disciples today, you and I are entrusted with that same awesome responsibility. The whole world needs to hear the word – you are forgiven. You are accepted. The whole world needs to be made new. To be unburdened by the past. And Jesus has entrusted you and me with the responsibility to speak those words to the people in our world. Every week, when we gather together here, Jesus breathes his Spirit into our lives so that we can carry those words of love and grace and forgiveness out these doors and wherever we go in the week ahead. That’s our work as the church. As Parker Palmer says – to love the world, not to enlarge our membership, not to get new members to be like us,or to get more offering in the plate, but simply to love the world in every possible way–to love the world as God does. That’s the work Jesus is sending us to do.
And then did you notice what happened with the disciples after that? I didn’t until Lauren pointed it out to me. A week later…they’re still hiding in the house. I mean, c’mon, Jesus just said that he was sending them out and they haven’t moved an inch.
But then…Jesus shows up in the house again – even though the doors were closed. And once again, Jesus says – Peace be with you. Even though they didn’t listen to him from a week earlier.
And so, I guess what we learn from this is that we have some freedom about whether we will listen to God’s call in our life or not. Jesus is sending you into the world to be a bringer of God’s peace and love – but only you can decide to unlock the door and go.
But the good news is that Jesus will keep coming back to you, behind the locked doors of your heart, to shepherd you back out into the world.
Friends, we are called to live as Easter people. Which is not to have it all figured out. It is not to have all the answers. But rather it is to trust that you have been given a purpose for life and not for death in this world. A purpose that simply will not allow you to stay behind locked doors.
So, I invite you to close your eyes. And take a slow deep breath. Risen Christ, breathe into us. Enter us. Fill us once again so that we may embody you in the world.
Now, let’s unlock the doors. And let’s go. Amen.