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Faithful DoubtJohn 20:19-29
Psalm 16

Last week we celebrated Easter. We sang our Hallelujahs. It all seemed so easy. Christ is crucified and in three days risen! 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 much more honest about the struggle between doubt and faith. I’ve come to believe that faith is not so much about the absence of doubt, or about what we believe. Faith is rather about immersing ourselves in the presence of God doubts and all… Just like Thomas did.

The city is still in an uproar. Everyone is talking about the crucifixion. The disciples have been traumatized. Still in shock. they’ve gathered in a locked room. Perphaps it was the same room they’d rented for the passover feast just a few days before, an eternity before…. Everything has fallen apart. The vision, the movement, the future. They could never have imagined it could be so horrific, Jesus had been crucified. They’d watched it happen and could do nothing to stop it. Surely there should have been something they could have done to save him.

The Roman army were doing house to house searches, on the lookout for Galileans who were part of the Jesus’ movement. They knew how to stamp out rebellion before it could arise. The disciples are terrified for their own skins; They’ve barely begun to embrace their loss. And what next? It was too soon even to think about that! But they couldn’t hang around here forever. And there were these crazy stories that he was still alive. As if they had not seen him die with their own eyes!

We meet them in profound grief and trauma. The kind of violence they had witnessed attacks the very fabric of our confidence in life and its goodness, War and violence still do that and surely makes any shallow pollyanna approach to spirituality rather meaningless. Simplistic statements of belief don’t seem adequate. Only the experience of presence can make any difference.

We are no strangers to fear and to grief. Fear and insecurity are a huge part of our daily lives. We fear violence in our streets, escalating violence in our world, 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 for what will happen when the oil runs out. Fear can paralyze us; it can numb us; it can shrivel up our lives and our hope. And like the disciples when we experience crisis, we close ourselves in, the doors, lock ourselves in figuratively or literally, cocoon in safety, find ways to dull and even deny the pain. Some of us get angry that such things happen, angry at God for allowing a world where these things can happen.

Our experiences of fear and anger maks it a lot easier to identify with those disciples in our gospel this morning. They had so hoped and trusted Jesus who sowed seeds of new ways of seeing themselves and God’s kingdom. The vision was defeated; the dream crushed. Where does one find a breath of hope in such times?

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.” “Peace be with you” said not once, but three times in this passage. “Peace be with you.” Peace was the last thing they were experiencing!

Yet there was a knowing; in that way that many have had after the death of a loved one, 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.

I had the powerful experience just this week of experiencing one who came into a life that had been locked up for many years because of violence and fear. Presence in the place of pain, willingness to encounter wounds, healing presence spoke peace. And the Spirit of Christ was there speaking Peace be with you.

You may remember a time when someone has come into a place where your heart was hardened in grief, in fear…and spoke peace to you, and helped you know that you were not alone. This Easter experience continues to happen.

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. They’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, Remember the Creator’s gift of the breath of life in the beginning Breath that brought order out of chaos; Remember the breath of God over the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel’s day, hope and new life restored to a people devastated by 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 breathes also the 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 that first time. Thomas is one who has deeply believed and has had his trust and faith shattered by devastating loss. This happens when we have been wounded-when we’ve felt betrayed and abandonned. We won’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 won’t believe until we have been able to experience it ourselves–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.”

Into the locked rooms of our fear
Comes One
Who says
“Peace be with you”.
The breath of the Spirit be with you
God has sent me, now I send you.

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