Rev. Keli Shipley Cooper | 4.24.22
Last week, we celebrated Easter Sunday! The empty tomb! We started a new season in the life of the church—fifty days of celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Resurrection means to “make straight” or “to stand up”—and in this case, Jesus stands up after death and stands back into life itself. And today, our Gospel reading begins with the disciples hidden in a locked room. Quite a shift in celebration.
Immediately before the Gospel reading for today, a resurrected Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. She thought Jesus was a gardener until he called her by name— “Mary!”—and then whoosh— “Jesus!” or rather, she exclaimed “Teacher!” She goes and tells the disciples.
Yet here they are… still scared and locked away in the upper room. But I can’t blame them. They personally haven’t seen Jesus, who was just crucified and buried in a tomb. They fear their own death now more than ever.
According to the Scripture, it was the first day of the week—perhaps a new beginning. And then whoosh- Jesus appears before the disciples.
Imagine, before he speaks, their initial reactions. My spouse Marcus is the jumpiest person I’ve ever met. Nearly every time I walk into the house, he screams “AHH!” You know one of these disciples probably screamed out loud—maybe held their breath for a moment. Astonished. In disbelief. Even when the disciples are locked in a room, Jesus appears to them- Jesus is with them—a resurrected Jesus. Jesus joins them in their fear, in their disbelief, in their grieving.
And then Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Of course, he said that. I mean, not just because he often exclaims “Peace!” but because he wants them to be calm. To feel whole once again. To have their hope restored. Just as Jesus calmed the storm during his earthly ministry, he calms the hearts of the disciples. Jesus proved that he was Christ by showing the marks where the nails had been driven into his body- either on his hands- or likely on his forearms.
And then Jesus exclaims again- “Peace be with you! As the father has sent me, I am sending you.” Just as God breathed life into Adam in one of the creation stories, Jesus breathes life into the disciples. This is a Pentecost moment-a moment of the Holy Spirit breathed into the disciples. A new life- life into those who feared for their lives. There’s a prayer in some yoga traditions that goes “Your inhale is God’s exhale.” Take a few deep breaths and hear this again. “Your inhale is God’s exhale.” “Your inhale is God’s exhale.”
When our daughter Annie was a newborn, I used to sing her the chorus of Michael Jackson’s song “Smooth Criminal.” It sings— “Annie, are you okay? You, okay? You okay, Annie?” During those first few weeks, I was 100% one of those parents who checked to make sure she was breathing while she was sleeping. In this song, Annie references the Resusci Anne, or Rescue Annie used during CPR training classes. The first step of administering first aid or CPR is asking “Hey, hey, are you okay?” Or as the song sings, Annie are you okay? CPR- Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. Breathing new life into someone in distress, in fear, in danger.
Jesus makes sure the disciples are okay, breathes new life into them, and then sends them away from his physical body and out into the world. While pre-resurrection Jesus will not be with them, Jesus continues to be within each of them and within each of us. We are all made in God’s image. We are all given life with the breath of God.
Today’s story continues with Thomas. Thomas, yes, called the “Twin” in Scripture—but often known to us as “doubting Thomas.” Let’s remember that it’s not that Thomas didn’t see Jesus the first time, he wasn’t there with the other disciples. Not unlike many of us, we want to see things ourselves. We want to be in the front row. We want to witness it with our own eyes. And here the disciples are telling Thomas that they saw Jesus.
Thomas says, “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.” But then Jesus does appear to him. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus is not shaming Thomas. Jesus is using this as a teachable moment, as Jesus often down, highlighting that there will be at least one but likely many who do not believe. The writer of the Gospel of John is speaking to communities who are doubting because they have only heard but not seen this good news. Yet even in this disbelief and doubt- even when in a locked room, Jesus is with them, and Jesus is with us. Jesus breathes new life into each of them- and each of us.
The gospel of John is a book of signs. As this passage concludes, we are told that Jesus did many signs and they’re not all in here. But they are written down- retold for generations- so that people may come to believe- or people may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. It is through the sharing of the words, the breathing of our breath, the living of our lives that Jesus’ life continues.
If you look above the chancel, it says “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” At one point, it read, “The Lord is in His Holy Temple, let all the Earth Keep Silence Before him.” – and then “Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power be unto the Lamb Forever.” This went back and forth until about thirty years ago, the vestry approved of “Peace I leave with you, My Peace I give unto you.” This comes from John 14, which also continues “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
The Vestry was hoping for something less intimidating. For me, this is true and offers an evergreen message- a message which we need and long for- peace, Wholeness. We sometimes hear the blessing, may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of the love of God and his son Jesus Christ. Jesus comes in peace to the disciples and offers them peace—and Jesus meets us in our doubts and disbelief and offers us peace time and time again.
I’m a huge fan of foreshadowing—and the Bible is filled with it- especially the Gospels. The beginning of John is one of my favorites. John was the last gospel to be written- informed by the synoptic gospels and charged with a later longing for a continued faith in Christ.
Listen now to the beginning of the Gospel of John- the beginning of where our reading comes from today. Listen now, even if there is disbelief and doubt, remembering what you know and have always known- that Jesus breathes new life into us and is always with us.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.