Normal Dies, Resurrection Comes
“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 [coronavirus], Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”
That’s my rewrite of the first line of our gospel.
Of course the original text does not say “locked for fear of the coronavirus,” it says, “locked for fear of the Jews,” which was the label the community of the Gospel of John put on their fears.
But the fact that we can replace only one word of the gospel, the story of faith written two thousand years ago, and have it so exactly reflect our own experience, tells you something.
We are nearer in spirit to our ancestors in faith than we perhaps have ever been before.
Notice what happens here. The disciples are hunkered down behind locked doors just like we are.
They can’t go outside for fear of an external threat, just like us.
And the amazing thing is that Jesus comes to them.
Jesus doesn’t demand some heroic act of foolish bravado, the disciples rushing out into the streets to prove their faith.
Jesus comes to them, finds them where they are, enters their secret hideaway of fear and despair, and bids them peace.
The same will happen to us if we let it.
Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” a message we are as hungry for as the original Twelve.
“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
This verse captured my attention more starkly than ever before, that Jesus chooses to impart the Spirit by breathing on his disciples.
It jumps out at me first because right now, we’re afraid to let anyone breathe on us. It could be the difference between getting sick and staying well.
We’re encouraged to wear masks so we don’t breathe on others and inadvertently share the virus.
It also caught my ear because once people get the virus, the symptom that puts their lives most in danger is not being able to breathe.
And Jesus comes and breathes the Spirit onto the disciples. I’ve always pictured this as Jesus standing a few feet away (perhaps even the 6 feet of proper social distancing?) and some sort of cloud of grace coming out of his mouth and landing on the awestruck apostles.
But now I’m seeing it differently.
I don’t know about you, but I’m completely well and I often feel short of breath these days from sheer anxiety.
Sometimes the fatigue and disorientation and grief of this crisis make me feel like there’s a rock on my chest and I can scarcely draw breath.
I can’t imagine the terror and pain of those actually needing ventilators, not to mention their friends and family.
What if Jesus knows we’re having trouble breathing?
What if the same was true of the disciples hiding in the Upper Room?
The threat of arrest and execution must have made the air in their hideout seem scarce.
Suddenly my mental image of this scene has changed completely.
Instead of a Sunday school picture of a sedate and carefully groomed Jesus breathing a pretty cloud on the upturned faces of the disciples, I picture him doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on them.
I wonder if his gift of the Holy Spirit was closer to an emergency medical procedure than to a carefully choreographed holy moment.
Things are as bad as they can get in that Upper Room.
Jesus is dead, the authorities are closing in, the disciples are trapped and their chests are feeling tighter and tighter with panic and dread.
They’re starting to drive each other crazy in these close quarters and they can’t go out.
Their faith in Jesus and in the future is staring to flatline.
Their hearts for service and ministry are in cardiac arrest.
None too bright to start with, their poor weary minds are fading into functional brain death.
The patient is expiring. All immediate extreme measures are called for.
And Jesus arrives with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
He breathes into them and suddenly they can breathe again.
The Holy Spirit awakens and reenergizes them and the heartbeat of hope is back.
What a beautiful moment. What a blessing for us to believe in in these strange and difficult times.
But who doesn’t get the breath of the Spirit? Who misses out on the whole thing?
Today we celebrate Doubting Thomas, one of my favorites.
“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.’”
Thomas gets a bad rap, forever saddled with the name “Doubting Thomas,” as though he should have just automatically accepted this story his friends were telling him of their teacher miraculously risen from the dead.
But you know what Thomas is practicing? Evidence-based discipleship.
Evidence-based practice is important in all kinds of areas as we’re seeing in our news today, and Thomas was ahead of his time.
And once again, Jesus understands.
Jesus understands what Thomas needs and arrives to provide it.
Thomas thinks he needs proof, but proof is only an intellectual satisfaction.
Do you know what Thomas really needs?
“Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas needs the concrete human encounter of engaging with Jesus in his human body, warm, alive, real.
I understand this story in a new way in the midst of this quarantine.
I live alone, and although I know it’s small and insignificant next to so many people’s struggles, I haven’t had a hug for over a month. And I’m feeling it.
And none of us, big families in one house and singles and everything in between, none of us have shared the handshakes and hugs of the peace in worship together for that long.
Thomas felt what we feel, and a part of him deep down was very wise: one way resurrection becomes real is living bodily encounter.
That’s the heart of sacrament.
We are all engaged in our fast from Holy Communion, knowing that it is necessary and important even as we continue to hunger for the Eucharist.
There is something so real about receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, and being prevented from receiving it may help us value it all the more deeply.
Thomas spoke that hunger in this moment—I need to see and feel his resurrected body or I will never leave this room.
That day will come for us.
Right now, Jesus shows up and breathes the Spirit into our starved lungs and spirits.
And one day, we will go out and receive Holy Communion again, and Jesus will give us his crucified and risen body in the Eucharist.
And it is so significant that the way Jesus proves who he is to Thomas and the others is through his wounds.
“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
I hear Jesus saying that to us now.
He knows the pain we’re feeling. He has felt it himself.
And he gives himself to us, both in his suffering and in his resurrection.
When we’re asking ourselves, “How can resurrection be real?” Jesus shows up and says, touch these wounds, feel this reality of how badly we were hurt, and then see—see! We are alive!
Because it’s not just Jesus who was resurrected. He brings us along with him. That’s the whole point.
As we make our way through this time of COVID-19, things are changing every day and yet every day is the same, an endless round of trying to get a grip on the crisis and hold our families and our church and our sanity together.
The disciples locked in the Upper Room probably felt very much like that.
And the amazing thing is that Jesus did not appear and awaken them to resurrection after things had settled down a bit.
Jesus did not bring resurrection when things “returned to normal.”
He came right in the middle of the crisis, right in the middle of things falling apart, when they felt like they’d never be safe enough to go outside again, when they were starting to accept that “normal” had died right along with Jesus.
In this hour of darkness and grief and despair, Jesus came and breathed the Spirit into them. He came and said, “Touch my wounded body and believe.”
The day will come when we can gather back together in person.
The day will come when our children go back to school and camps and sports.
The day will come when we are back in our workplaces, and even maybe someday able to go back to concerts and football games and graduations and large gatherings.
But what we do now will impact what those days to come are like.
And I don’t just mean the social distancing and the work for a vaccine, as crucial as those are.
We are the People of God, and what we make of this time spiritually will critically impact the new world we reenter.
We’re huddled in the Upper Room right now, with the doors locked for fear of the virus. That is exactly what we should be doing.
But we should also be inviting Jesus in to breathe the Spirit into us, to give us the life-saving kiss of resurrection.
Because what the world will need when things reopen is resurrection people.
People who know they have been wounded but healed.
People who can show those scars as evidence that God is at work in the places of death and fear.
When the day comes that it is safe to hug, to kiss, to shake hands, we will have new wounds of loss and grief.
And the reality of those wounds healed by the reality of God’s love is the proof of resurrection we will offer the world.
Our old lives have died. They are never coming back.
We choose now, by our faith, whether we will offer new life to the world, resurrected life.
Hard to imagine right now how we could answer the call to resurrection ministry in the world? I hear that.
I’m counting it a victory every time I eat a semi-healthy meal or put on an entire outfit that doesn’t contain at least one article of pajamas.
Reentering the world as heralds of the resurrection seems pretty far-fetched to us right now.
But Jesus comes to us.
Jesus comes and says, “Do not doubt but believe.”
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