Breathing In and Breaking Out


John 20:19-31

They’re safe and secure, but they’re also miserable. It is evening of Easter Day, and the disciples have walled themselves into the upper room where they celebrated the Passover with Jesus just before he was arrested. The doors of the room are locked, because the disciples are living in fear that they are in danger of suffering the same fate that Jesus has suffered. There has been talk that Jesus is alive, some have even claimed to have seen him. But that talk has only come from the women, and right now, at least, the disciples are not believing it. Unfortunately, in the first century, women were often treated as second class citizens. They were treated like property, frequently abused, and not considered to be very reliable witnesses.

And, because it had never been God’s intent to treat women in this fashion, God, in his wisdom, chose women to become the first ones to meet and to bear witness to the Risen Christ. The lesson is obvious, but we often miss it, even today. God frequently chooses the most unlikely, least predictable means of getting things done, and in the process, the perfect will of God is accomplished. This often stands in stark contrast to the way that we try to manage our own lives. We want things to be neat and predictable, and we want to be in control.

There is ample evidence in the Gospels that Jesus and his disciples treated women for better than the prevailing culture did, but right now, at least, the disciples have lapsed, and they are not believing the women. It seems to them that the women have concocted an idle tale because they have nothing better to do than to imagine the unimaginable.

It has not yet dawned on the disciples that while Jesus was very clear with them that he must suffer and die, he was also very clear with them that he would rise from the dead. Suffering and death they can understand. It is resurrection that is a stumbling block to them.

But the secure walls that the disciples have surrounded themselves with will not keep the Risen Lord out. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” It turns out that the one who has the power to cast out demons, to cure the sick, and to bring hope to the hopelessly lost, also has the power to overcome the walls of security that the disciples have surrounded themselves with. And he breaks down those walls in order to bring them peace. And isn’t that the whole point anyway? Isn’t having peace far better than having security? In saying “Peace be with you”, Jesus is bringing the whole concept of Hebrew shalom to the disciples. Shalom is wholeness, it is healing, it is joy, it is contentment, it is hope. It is everything that is good. Security is fine. But security is something that we can achieve on our own, all by ourselves. Peace is the gift of God. Only God can give peace. Too often we confuse the two, to our great disadvantage.

When peace came to the disciples, it began to break down the walls of security and disbelief that the disciples had built around themselves. It will still take some time for those walls of security to dissolve, before the disciples break out of that room and go out and do some ministry. But that’s because walls of security can be powerful things. We build them ourselves, brick by brick and stone by stone. We make them strong and secure, because we know exactly what it is that we need to keep out. We know what we are afraid of, and so we build them accordingly.

But then Jesus breaks through those walls and says, “Peace be with you”, and we balk. We aren’t sure we can trust what he is telling us. We aren’t sure if we want to exchange the walls of security that we’ve spent a life-time investing in, for the shalom that Jesus offers. We aren’t sure if we want to trade something that we’ve so carefully crafted for ourselves for something that Jesus wants to create within us. Our walls are good…can Jesus’ peace be any better?

If shalom is the first gift that Jesus offers, the breath of God is the second. It is interesting to me that when the disciples finally realized that Jesus was with them, that he didn’t hug or kiss them. Both hugging and kissing are normal Palestinian greetings. Instead, he breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the creative agent of God. In Genesis, the Holy Spirit hovered over all of creation. When God created Adam, he breathed into him the breath of life. Here, Jesus is re-creating the disciples with resurrection power. Jesus is alive. He is breathing, and he intends to transform the disciples with the power of his breath. He is giving them new life, resurrected life. In their fear and disbelief, they are as dead as they once believed that Jesus was. This life that Jesus is breathing into them is the very power of God. This is power to go out into the world with the good news of the Gospel. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Without their walls of security around them, and having been filled with the Holy Spirit, they have been created anew. They are ready to move on ahead. Part of the power that they received that day was the power to forgive. Power to forgive is an incredible power. It is the activity of God. When we forgive, we are exercising the very authority of God. We are God-like. Forgiveness is an essential part of shalom, both for us and for others.

For whatever reason, one of the disciples, Thomas, was not with them when all of this transpired. He did not receive the gift of peace, he did not inhale the breath of God; instead he steadfastly maintained the walls of security that he had built around himself. He comments in this passage make that abundantly clear. He will not be moved. But in the presence of Jesus, those walls must crumble. He too, received shalom, and when given the opportunity to explore the wounds of Jesus, Thomas came to full faith in the Resurrected Christ. His affirmation, “My Lord and my God,” says it all.

The third gift of the Risen Christ then, is faith. When peace enters our lives and breaks down our walls of security, and when we then breathe in the breath and power of God, true faith then ensues. Like the disciples, we are created anew, and we are ready to take on the world with the good news of the Gospel. This is our calling, this is our life. We are alive in the resurrected power of our Lord. We have peace beyond all understanding, we have the power of God’s Holy Spirit breathing in and out of us, and we have the presence of the Living Lord, bolstering our faith and propelling us to proclaim the Glory of God. These are the Risen Christ’s gifts to us. Let us not only receive them, but put them to use. Let us break out from this place with the good news on our lips and with the power of the Risen Christ in our hearts.

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