‘he breathed on them…’
Locked doors. Breath. A finger.
Let us begin by noticing the context of this morning’s reading from St John. The disciples met behind locked doors.
We are an Easter community. We celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are the church whose task it is to proclaim good news to all people.
Yet this was not immediately so. In the days of the first Easter the friends of Jesus met behind locked doors, because they were afraid. Easter is a drama, it is a journey, over these weeks we witness transformation. That frightened, beaten, despairing people were changed. If those friends of Jesus had only met behind locked doors we would not be here today.
God acts. God acts in people. God begins with ordinary people, people like you and me, not terribly clever, not always brave, not filled with confidence, and when the world falls to bits he acts in those people to make a new beginning.
We need to hear that today more than ever before. And we need to remember that like the seed that falls into the earth and dies, new beginnings are at first small and hidden.
We need at this time a sense of grace and generosity. I was reading this week a book by one of my favourite authors, John Lewis-Stempel – The Running Hare, the secret life of farmland.
It is the time he took a field in Herefordshire and sowed it by hand with wheat. He wanted to take a field from which all wild flowers had been eradicated, and all wildlife fled, and nurture life back into it. He quotes the old adage for hand-sowing, “One for the rook, and one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow.’ We get our term ‘broadcasting’ from the old way of sowing. It is a reminder that not everything will work as we think it will, or hope and expect it will.
God must surely know us in the same way, the failures are more frequent than the successes, but it is the seed that falls to the ground and dies that bears a harvest. God’s way is of grace and generosity, allowing the harvest to grow where it can.
What comes next may make us anxious, like the friends who met behind locked doors. But Easter is a time for transformation. We need to allow God to act in us. Small beginnings matter. Locked doors.
Next - Breath.
Jesus breathed on his disciples. This is how God transforms. Our bibles begin with emptiness, the earth was without form and void, darkness was upon the face of the deep, the breath of God moved over the face of the waters.
The word ‘breath’ is interchangeable with ‘Spirit’ or ‘Wind’. It conveys life giving energy. Every living thing is that which has been given the breath of life.
A new born child’s first breath is a moment of change, lungs formed in the womb that have never been filled with air suddenly start to work. Oxygen is absorbed, the miracle of new life begins. It is no wonder breath is understood as a gift.
In Luke the gift of the Spirit is given in the simplicity of this moment, Jesus breaths on his friends and so shares God’s life changing Spirit.
This gift is given to be used. That is made clear. 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.”
We often overlook the second part of that. There is nothing soft or woolly about our commission as followers of Jesus. We have a job to do and it matters. In the ordination of priests one of the charges laid upon those entering holy orders is the responsibility to teach and admonish, to feed and to provide for the Lord’s family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations.
Being a Christian isn’t about being nice to people. Sometimes what people need isn’t what they want. In our life together God calls us to be tough because love costs.
That is something else we need to bear in mind as we face what comes next for our churches. This will not be an easy time. Moments of change never are. A new born child’s first breath is usually a cry. Breath transforms.
You might expect that a new movement trying to introduce new ideas would make the most of its heroes. Naval stories of Nelson always focus on his grasp of strategy and boldness in tactics. You don’t hear many stories pointing out that he wasn’t actually a very good sailor.
So Christianity is a very odd new movement. Our gospels mostly tell us how the disciples got it wrong. Peter jumped overboard and sank. James and John wanted seats of importance. Thomas doubted.
Well, if anything, such failures give us hope, because – if I dare say it – the church is full of failures. Maybe it’s only when we know we’re pretty hopeless that we’re willing to listen to a different way of looking at things.
The fact that the gospels record the failures of the disciples is really quite astonishing when you think about it. You’d expect those bits to be quietly edited out – but they haven’t, and for that I am truly thankful.
More to the point - the resurrection does not deny the reality of Christ’s suffering. If Walt Disney has scripted Easter the risen Christ would be revealed as young, fit and healthy. But Luke tells us a different story, that the risen Christ still bore the marks of crucifixion. He invites Thomas to put his finger into the marks of the nails, to put his hand into the wound of the spear.
The risen Christ, indeed when we come to it, the ascended Christ, still bears in his body the wounds of crucifixion. So too does his body the Church.
This also is a mark of how we will be in the times ahead. Covid will leave scars. Scars in individuals, scars in communities, scars in our society, and scars within our churches.
Locked doors. Breath. A finger.
God acts in people. God acts in us. In the resurrection we see how God acts, and in whom.
Christ, our risen Lord, no tomb can keep you,
no door is closed to you, no heart is barred to you,
no mind is shut off from you.
Come lead us out of darkness into light,
out of doubt into faith, out of death into life eternal:
Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.
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