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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.”
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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.
Pastor Marc's sermon on Second Sunday of Easter (April 28, 2019) on John 20:19-31. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
One of the things we don’t always notice about Jesus is just how physical he was. We have no problem remembering him as the Son of God but we forget that he was also the son of Mary. Jesus was fully divine but he was also fully human which means he had a human body that did all the things human bodies do. So let’s take a second - and pay attention to what our bodies are doing right now. Notice whatever it’s feeling. Pay attention to what aches. Listen to your stomach as it rumbles. And accept that the yawn you’re about to make is a sign you stayed up way too late. Your body is, for better or worse, doing exactly what bodies do. And Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, had a body that did those things too. He knew what it was like to ache. He knew pain. And I also believe there were times when Jesus laughed so hard, he literally fell off of whatever he was reclining on. God chose to be bodied and through that body God showed how Love can be embodied too. Jesus’ body wasn’t a costume God wore while Jesus moved from Christmas to Good Friday. Instead, God became incarnate, became human, because our body is where we meet God.
Today’s reading from the gospel according to John is a reading we hear every year on the Sunday after Easter. After walking in the early dawn hours with the women who discovered Jesus’ tomb empty after his crucifixion and death, we take a week before listening to John’s version of what happened later on that first Easter day. The disciples had locked themselves behind a closed door, afraid that the authorities who killed Jesus might soon come after them. We know that many of the disciples heard that the tomb was empty because Mary Magdalene told them about her personal encounter with the risen Jesus. But we get a sense by the actions of the disciples that Mary’s story wasn’t enough. Her words, by themselves, were not able to bring peace because the disciples were filled with anxiety and fear. Some might have been sitting by the cooking fires, eating their feelings while others hadn’t felt hungry in days. Even if some of the disciple were able to tell a joke, their laughter couldn’t hide just how broken and weary their hearts actually were. The disciples didn’t know what to do next - so they ended up staying together. And while they were locked in that room by themselves, Jesus entered and said “peace be with you.”
But the Jesus in John does more than just speak. He’s, instead, completely there. Everything that made Jesus, Jesus, showed up to those disciples behind that locked door. At first, we might be a little skeptical, seeing as how he either walked through a locked door or materialized out of nothingness in front of his friends. The Jesus we know was embodied and the last time I tried to take my body through a locked door, I didn’t get very far. Jesus’ first movement in this scene made him appear to be immaterial or to have at least transcended beyond what we know the physical world to be. We expect him, then, to be something like an angel or maybe a bit more like we imagine God to be - more divine, more healed, and more perfect. We don’t expect Jesus to keep doing bodily things. And yet - he did. He stood among his friends instead of floating or hovering above them. He showed everyone the spots in his hands where the nails were driven through and the part of his body where the spear pierced his side. Jesus’ resurrected body wasn’t scared. Instead, it’s still hurt, still wounded, and marked by what life had given him. And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus then breathed on everyone in the room…. which sounds a bit gross. How often do we like being breathed on? The smell, the dampness, the sound, and just the act of being breathed on can make us squirm, especially if it’s unexpected or unwanted. And the act of being breathed on is incredibly intimate and very personal. Yet that word “on” probably isn’t the best English translation of the original greek this passage was first written in. We don’t have to worry too much about what kind of Altoid would be able to deal with death-and-resurrection breath because that word should really be “into.” Jesus breathed into his disciples, not just on them. This kind of breath is more than a few bits of exhaled air hitting our face. The breath Jesus gives is the same breath God used way back in Genesis 2 to give life to all of humankind. The disciples, as they see the resurrected Jesus in their midst, do more than bear witness. They are, instead, caught up in a moment of new creation. The very breath of God that formed the universe - now lives in them. The Holy Spirit, the life-energy of God that sustains, creates, and makes all things new, is now part who they are. No longer are they merely people with bodies that are broken, aging, and never doing exactly what we want them to do. Now their bodies, while unchanged, are brand new because they are filled with everything that God uses to give life.
In a few moments, I’m going to invite G. and her family up to the front. She’s pretty young, with a lifetime ahead of her to see what bodies can do. She’ll start small, working on getting her fingers into her mouth. But then she’ll crawl, climb, and feel what it’s like to have grass between her toes. She’ll learn to laugh, to feel love, and to hold onto hope. She’ll discover what it’s like to reach her limit and what happens when she goes past it and makes a new personal best. She’ll also learn what it’s like to fail, to mess up, to be anxious, and to sometimes be afraid. G. will soon discover what our life with our bodies is all about. Yet, no matter what, the God who created her will always love her. We will, in a few moments, join everything that makes G., G., with everything that makes Jesus, Jesus. She will hear, in the words we share, how God’s story of salvation includes even her. She will feel, with water pouring over her head, how the gift of faith, hope, and love belongs to her. She will smell the olives in the oil that marks her forehead with the promise that Jesus will be with her wherever she goes. And she will see the bright light of a lit candle, knowing that God’s life-giving light now burns in her. She won’t always remember this - but she will have an entire community alongside her as Jesus leads her on the way. Because all of us meet God through our bodies. And it’s these bodies, exactly as they are, that God uses to make everybody discover just how much they are included, welcomed, and loved.
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