12 April 2020
It is evening on the first day of the week, and the disciples of Jesus have cloistered themselves away in a very secure hiding place. It is quite possible that this hiding place is the very same upper room where Jesus had celebrated his last Passover with them only a few days before. Much, of course, has transpired in those few days, and the disciples have been tossed into a sea of confusion, regret, loss, grief and outright paralyzing fear.
Just when it seemed that Jesus would emerge as the ruling and reigning Messiah, he had been arrested, tried, condemned and put to death, in what must have been for the disciples, mind numbing haste. I would imagine that they are just sitting there, hunkered down, staring blindly at one another. We can understand this, because under normal circumstances when one of our loved ones dies, we sense the need to be together, and so we gather in one place, but mostly, for a time, at least, we just sit there, and ponder our loss and grief in silence. There’s a helplessness in that, and a paralysis that just can’t be described.
So far now the disciples have found a safe place in which to ponder their grief. The locked doors and the walls that surround them provide for them the measure of security that they so desperately need.
But the walls that they have surrounded themselves with will not keep the risen Christ at bay. He will come to them, and the first thing that will emerge from his mouth will be “Peace be with you.” Now, curious people want to know, how did Jesus get in there, if the doors were locked? Quite frankly, I don’t think it matters all that much. But I don’t think it matters all that much for a very important reason that I hope eventually to get to. For now, though, don’t you think that the one who created the universe, and who had the power to cast out demons and to cure the sick, and to bring hope to the hopelessly lost, could not have overcome the walls of security that the disciples have surrounded themselves with, so that he can bring them peace? Isn’t having peace far better than having security?
When Jesus says, “Peace be with you” to his disciples, he is bringing the whole concept of Hebrew shalom to them. Shalom is wholeness, it is joy, it is contentment, it is hope. It is everything that is good, even in the midst of a situation of despair. And the disciples are certainly in a despairing situation. But Jesus is there with them, helping them to exchange their security for peace. The primary difference between security and shalom is that security can be achieved, while shalom is solely the gift of God.
And here, to the disbelieving disciples, Jesus is imparting to them the gift of God. When true shalom comes to the disciples, it will break down the walls of security that the disciples have built around themselves. And shalom is what will break down the walls of security that we have built around ourselves. Remember how I said that it wasn’t all that important how Jesus got into the room where the disciples were? What was important was that he got in. The same is true of us. The circumstances of how Jesus gets into our hearts and into our lives are not nearly as important as the fact that he does, in fact, get into and inside of our hearts and our lives.
Nevertheless, walls of security can be pretty powerful things. We are very good at building them. We know the exact specifications that we need so that our own personal walls will keep us safe from all threats from without.
And along comes Jesus, and he says to us, “Peace be with you.” And we are not ready for that sort of greeting. Many of us have invested a life time in building our walls of security. It is not easy for us to exchange the security that we have established for ourselves, for the shalom that Jesus offers. But exchange we must. Security will never bring us peace. We must never confuse the two.
If shalom is the first gift of God for Jesus’ disciples, the breath of God is the second gift. It is interesting to me that after imparting his peace to the disciples, that Jesus did not hug or kiss them. That would have been a very normal greeting. Instead, he breathed on them. This takes us back, literally and symbolically, to the moment of creation. When God created Adam’s body out of the dust of the Earth, God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils, and Adam became a living being.
And here in John’s gospel, it is Jesus who is doing the creating. John has already drawn our attention to this creative activity of our Lord at the very beginning of his gospel, and now as he closes the gospel out, we witness it once again.
And so when Jesus breathed on the disciples, he was creating them anew. He was raising them from the dead. He was filling them with life; resurrection life. Life that can come only through the power of the Holy Spirit. This life, this breath of God is power. Power to go out into the world with the good news of the gospel. Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” For the disciples, this Holy Spirit driven power gave them the courage to break out of their walls of security, so that they could better meet the challenges and the callings that Jesus had in store for them.
For whatever the reason, one on the disciples, Thomas, was absent from this peace giving, life giving, God breathing, Holy Spirit empowered event. He did not receive the gift of peace, he did not inhale the life giving breath of God, and so he persisted in his disbelief.
But in the presence of the risen and living Christ, persistent disbelief cannot last for very long. When Thomas was given the opportunity to exchange his security for the peace that Jesus offered him, Thomas became completely undone, and blurted out, “My Lord and my God.” This was no halfhearted affirmation. It is the exclamation one who’s life has been suddenly and dramatically altered.
The final gift of God, beyond shalom, and resurrection, is faith. And faith is indeed a blessing. We first hear Jesus say, “Peace be with you,” through the words of the Scriptures. And yet, we can also hear him whispering it into our hearts. We first see Jesus breathing resurrection life into his disciples, in the words of the Scriptures, but if we will listen, we can also feel his powerful breath breathing in and out of us, recreating us, making us alive, filling us with the Holy Spirit so that we can answer the callings that he places on our own lives. We hear his voice speaking to us: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” But in addition to all of this, we are the recipients of the awesome beatitude that Jesus spoke not to his disciples, but to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
John closes this passage with these words: “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.”
And it all begins when Jesus gives us the courage to tear down the walls of security that we have so solidly built, and to exchange them for the gift of shalom. Peace be with you.