Wasnâ€™t that some Hallelujiah chorus last Sunday? And the trumpet and with the hymnsâ€¦Didnâ€™t you enjoy singing Christ the Lord is Risen today? It was joyous and it all seemed so easy. Christ is crucified and in 3 days risen! Easterâ€™s over. Everyone can go home happy. But the gospels are much more realistic than that about the transition time between the ending and the beginning, and about what this period of time that has come to be called Easter is all about. It was not a one day wonder! chocolate bunnies and easter bonnets.
The first group of Christians had to learn how to live in a world where the Jesus they had known and loved was no longer with them. They were in profound grief. They had to integrate the loss and shock and reality of what had happened. And that did not happen all at once. Easter, it seems, was not so much a one shot deal, the way it seems for those who only come on Easter Sunday. But rather a process of transition; of coming to terms with the ending of one way of being, and the gradual dawning awareness that the presence of Jesus was still alive with them; and called them to carry on with the ministry he began. They came to realize that all that he had taught them, all that he had shown them about God was still with them.
Resurrection transformed those who experienced Christâ€™s presence as we will hear over the next few weeks. Weâ€™ll hear stories of the people of God in a transition time. Stories that we will hear no doubt in a different way because of the transition we are currently in ourselves.
Today we meet the disciples in the locked room in Jerusalem in crisis. Jesus has been killed. They were in deep grief. They had responded to the crisis of Jesus death by closing themselves in. They were afraid for what the future might hold for them, and for the movment that Jesus had started.
We are no strangers to fear. Fear and insecurity are a huge part of our daily lives. We fear about our work future, we fear for our kids and the choices they make, we fear for our health or the health of those we love, we fear for our earth and global warming. We fear whether we will be able to find a new minister that we will like. We fear for the future. Fear can paralyze us; it can numb us; it can shrivel up our lives and our hope.
We react in different ways to loss as did the disciples… shock…denial…maybe it will go away if I just ignore it..depression; anxiety….feelings of helplessness; of being overwhelmed…What can one person do? Some of us get angry and lash out at the unfairness of it all, -angry at a world in which such things can happen, angry at God for allowing it. We look for someone to blame.
Where do we find a breath of hope in such times?
Our experiences of fear and anger make it a lot easier to identify with those disciples in our gospel this morning. The faith community was devastated; holed up behind locked doors holding one another after Jesusâ€™ execution. They had such hope and trust in Jesus who sowed seeds of new ways of seeing themselves and of Godâ€™s kingdom , which is really about what the world would look like if God were in charge, and not the rulers of this world.
The vision was defeated; the dream crushed. Jesus had been arrested and executed by state torture. Soldiers were looking for his followers. Theyâ€™d been lucky to escape. As soon as things cooled down they would have to return home, admitting to skeptical families and friends that theyâ€™d been taken in by this itinerate charismatic Jesus, who when all was said and done was powerless, just like them.
To make matters worse, the body had disappeared. At first they thought that the women who had gone to the tomb to prepare the body were hallucinating. But then some men went and saw the body was gone. It was definitely time to get out of Jerusalem! If the Romans were even going to go after a dead body, what would they do if they caught some of his live followers?
Besides they were getting sick of being holed up in that one little room they had rented for the passover. Though they needed the support of one another, they were getting on each otherâ€™s nerves and fueling one anotherâ€™s fears and anger and disappointment. No one knew where to turn or what to do next. Who would have believed that it all would have ended like this?
And then it happened. It happened right in that very place of total despair, cynicism, and resignation. It happened in the place where they were locked up. There came an experience that left them all knowing that Jesus had been with them. They knew they were not alone.
When Jesus entered the fear-locked doors, his first words were: “Peace be with you.” â€œPeace be with youâ€ said not once, but three times in this passage. â€œPeace be with you.â€ Peace was the last thing they were experiencing!
Yet there was a knowing; in that way that many of us also have experienced after the death of a loved one/ The presence of the one who has died has come to us. It has happened on more than one occasion to me. I have been in a locked room (well at least the door was shut) and have had the powerful mystical experience of presence. In one case it was to offer the most powerful blessing I have ever experienced. In another it was to ask me to look after his wife. He had died at 50 years old of a sudden heart attack. The disciples that day in the locked room knew that the the Spirit of Jesus was still alive and was with them. They were not abandoned or alone in their pain. Life arises to meet them at the very moment where they feel all is lost.
Jesus speaks of a different kind of peace from what the world calls peace. It was a peace that spoke to the heart and soul of those who so desparately needed to connect with purpose, with meaning, with healing. The kind of peace which lets you know that life holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. One gifted with this peace could perhaps function productively in a tumultuous time.
Jesus said a second time, “Peace be with you”. Then he adds “As Abba has sent me, so I send you.” This peace leads to calling; to mission. Jesus reminds them of the ministry to which they had dedicated themselves. Theyâ€™d forgotten that in the chaos of the loss. But now Jesus reminds them that he is with them, he gives them his spirit and asks that they continue faithfully in the ministry he began. As God has sent me, so I send you. Jesus points beyond himself and points them back into life….out into the world to continue to live lives of faithfulness. They are called to live the ministry Jesus gave them, not simply to be attached to his person.
Jesus then breathes the Holy Spirit into them, evocative of the Creator’s gift of the breath of life that breathed order out of chaos; evocative of the breath of God over the valley of the dry bones in Ezekielâ€™s day, restoring hope and new life to a people grieving in exile.
Jesus breathes peace in the locked rooms of their souls. Jesus breathes peace into the places where they have lost centre. Jesus breathes peace into their fear about the future. Jesus breathes peace……deep peace…..and call to be willing to be sent by God.
This blessing, this peace, this breath of hope, of resurrection power gradually takes root in them. It both challenges and comforts them, it empowers and embraces them, and it transforms them over a period of time from disciples, (students), to apostles, (those sent out). It leads them to a mission of healing and reconciling, and passing on the peace and power of Christ.
But it did not happen all at once. A week later, they were still locked up in that same room. Thomas had not been with them the first time Christ appeared. Thomas is one who has deeply believed and has had his trust and faith shattered by devastating loss. This happens when we have been woundedâ€”when weâ€™ve felt betrayed and abandoned. We wonâ€™t let ourselves trust easily again, not daring to risk further hurt and disappointment. Faith in the goodness of life is one of the deepest casualties of devastating violating experiences. It is not enough to be told by others that there is resurrection. We wonâ€™t believe until we have been able to experience it ourselvesâ€”feel the wounded Christ , know the presence of the God who feels totally absent until the Spirit finds a way through the locked door and the protective shell we build around ourselves.
Thomas recognizes Jesus by his wounds. Jesus had a deep scar in his hand that reminded Thomas of the crucifixion; scar tissue still there, even in the new life of reconciliation.
The Spirit of the risen Christ is able to move beyond the wounds, beyond the devastation of violence and death, beyond the walls of fear. The Spirit is able to break through the walls to the core of the hurt, and to remind them that life has not forgotten them, that it holds them in its hand and will not let them fall.â€
May we experience this in our own lives, especially in this season of loss and transition. May we touch it with our own hands, so that we can pass it on to others in the spirit and power of this risen Christ. May we, like the disciples move from fear to confidence, from paralysis to action, from merely existing to newness of life. May we take up our ministry to continue the peace-making work of Christ in the times that are ours. May the breath of hope breathe peace and power into us and into our hurting church and our hurting world.