There have been conflicting reports, you know, of what happened on Easter morning; who saw him first, or whom they saw, or what they said, or where they were. Be that as it may. The afternoon passed away. And what had been said or heard in the morning seems to have been forgotten, lost in the anxiety of the afternoon.
And that evening, gathered, afraid, disciples gathered, closed the doors of the house behind them, and waited, in a locked room, for they knew not what. They were afraid.
By the time John wrote his gospel, it was the people of their own nation that they feared; the ones who had betrayed their Lord, they thought, would tip the word to the soldiers and they, too, would suffer at the hands of Rome.
But it was not Rome that came. It was he, himself, alone, who appeared among them. And his first words were words of comfort, of greeting, and, yes, of challenge. Peace be with you.
Shalom be with you, it means. And shalom means the peace and the reign of God. That is comfort. It is greeting. It is also challenge. For their vocation, their business, was to proclaim that kingdom at hand.
That was his work, until then, and now it was theirs. And, after he had shown them that it was truly him, he spoke again. As the Father sent me so I send you.
And then he breathed on them: he breathed, and said, receive holy spirit. He breathed on them the very breath of God, that had enlivened Creation at the very beginning, in Genesis, when the spirit, the breath, had moved upon the primordial waters.
It was the same breath, by the way, that Ezekiel prophesied to, in the valley of dry bones. That was a vision Ezekiel had, that all of Israel was like a boneyard, a deserted battlefield strewn with the remains of defeated warriors, but that at God’s words those dry bones had come together again and with God’s breath upon them they were kindled again into new life.
And now Jesus, their Lord, their Master, was breathing that holy breath upon them, putting that same spirit into them, that they might find new life and share it, spread it, throughout the world.
Receive holy Spirit - and the breath came into them.
The once-dead man, Jesus, had brought them new life.
They had been given a message and a mission: to bring the world the news of the kingdom of God - and now they had the power to achieve it: to speak and to act, that God’s love, God’s reign, might be known in the world.
This meant that the kingdom of the power of love had conquered the kingdom of death. And the ones who followed his way were there to proclaim it.
But hold on there! What if I have not seen? Can I yet believe?
Not everybody was present that evening. In fact, one of the twelve, Thomas, speaks up on behalf of those who have not seen.
Speaking to comrades who were wrought with despair the last time he saw them, Thomas says I won’t believe it until I see it - and not only that, have tangible evidence in my own hands, my own body, that it is true. I have to see, I have to touch, before I can join you in your happy party.
Eight days later they are all together in the same house, doors closed again, and Christ reappears: Christ reappears, reassures, and reconciles the “doubter” Thomas to community. And Thomas, through his stupendous confession, returns and more than returns to fellowship. For it is not a return to how things were Before - this day begins a new relationship with Christ, and therefore in Christ with the other disciples.
Their whole relationship to each other, God, and themselves, is changed, made new by the transforming power of the resurrected Jesus: who is here among us today, in the reconciled community of the beloved-by-God.
God is with us! In the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers… he is here with us as we go forth into the world in the name of Christ.
What Christ gives us in this story of the locked-up house, and the freed-up disciples, is more than a new set of rules: it’s the good news of a living Lord, a life-giving breath. God is present with us, empowering us, enlivening us.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.
Jesus Christ our Savior, you have delivered us from sin and death. You have filled us along with your first disciples with the enlivening power of your spirit and made a new beginning; grant us strength and humility, love and courage, hospitality and faithfulness, wisdom and compassion, mercy and grace, to enter into life, and to welcome into the new life in Christ the stranger we meet who becomes our brother, the foreigner who becomes our kinsman, the enemy who becomes our friend, the opponent who becomes our teacher, the sorrowful who becomes a wellspring of joy: all the gifts of the Spirit we anticipate may we receive with abundance of grace, through your transforming love. Amen.
"Breathe on me, Breath of God." #508, The Hymnal 1982.