They are safe and secure, but they are also miserable. It is evening of Easter Day, and the disciples have very likely walled themselves into the upper room where they had celebrated their last 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 suffered. There has been talk that Jesus is alive, some folks have even made the claim that they have seen Jesus. But mostly that talk has only come from women, and right now, at least, no one is believing it. In the first century, even among the followers of Jesus, there was not much credence given to what women had to say. And in the rest of the culture, women were treated like property and frequently abused. Sadly, if we consider our own culture, more than 20 centuries hence, not much has changed.
It has, of course, never been God’s intent that we should treat women in this way. Both male and female are created equally in God’s image, but we are slow to learn this. And so from time to time, God teaches us some important lessons, that should be impossible to ignore. It was God’s intent, and God’s good privilege, and great joy to honor the dignity of all women by making them the first witnesses to the greatest event in all of human history. No male encountered the risen Christ, until the women who were closest to him had witnessed his glory.
During his ministry, Jesus consistently elevated the status of women in his world in both his teaching and in his actions. But right now, at least, Jesus’ disciples are not practicing what their Lord has preached. It seems to them that the women have concocted an idle tale, because they have nothing better to do than to imagine the unimaginable. The disciples have forgotten that while Jesus had been very clear with them that he must suffer and die, he had also been very clear with them that he would rise from the dead after three days. Disbelief, even among the supposed followers of Jesus, even today is not entirely absent.
But in spite of their disbelief, the 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 and to bring sight to the blind, and to heal diseases of all kinds, 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. The four words that Jesus spoke to his disciples demand our complete attention. They stand in stark contrast to that which we too often struggle to achieve for ourselves. The words, “Peace be with you” crumble the walls of security that seem to be so important to the disciples. The impartation of peace makes the need for security unnecessary. Jesus himself has proven that security can be breached. The lesson is rather obvious.
Peace, on the other hand, as Jesus imparts it, is impenetrable. When Jesus says, “Peace be with you” he is bringing the whole concept of Hebrew shalom to his disciples. Shalom is wholeness, it is healing, it is joy, it is contentment, and it is hope. It is everything that is good. Security is fine, but it is useless without shalom. Security is something that we can achieve on our own, all by ourselves. Shalom is the gift of God. Only God can give shalom. Too often, we confuse the two. We elevate our need for security above our need for shalom. But we do this to our severe and great disadvantage.
Walls of security can be very powerful things. We build them ourselves, brick by brick and stone by stone. We make them strong and secure, because we know exactly what we need to keep out. We know what we are afraid of, and so we build them accordingly. But when we build those walls, we also trap ourselves within them. We become our own victim.
But then Jesus breaks through those walls, and says, “Peace be with you”, and we stumble; we miss a beat, we are much perplexed by his words, and we wonder what sort of greeting this might be. And we think that it might not be anything at all. We aren’t sure if we are willing 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 re-creative breath of God is the second. It is interesting to me that when the disciples finally realized that Jesus was alive, that there wasn’t a joyful round of hugs and kisses for everybody. What a grand celebration of reunion that would have been! Hugging and kissing is a very traditional form of Palestinian greeting. And before covid, hugging and kissing was how we greeted our loved ones, too. But instead of hugging and kissing his disciples, Jesus breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. I have three important things to say here: God is the creator of all things, seen and unseen. Jesus is the creator of all things, seen and unseen. The Holy Spirit is the creator of all things, seen and unseen. Never forget those three things. In our passage this morning Jesus is re-creating his disciples by bestowing on them the Holy Spirit. And he is doing that by breathing the creative breath of God into his disciples. This is the same breath of life that God breathed into the first human creature, Adam. The Holy Spirit is the breath, or the wind that brooded over all of creation. The Holy Spirit is the breath that hovered and brooded over Mary of Nazareth so that she conceived and bore a son who is called the Son of the Most High. This is all a very great and wonderful mystery that we will have the joy of pondering for all of eternity.
And as Jesus breathes on his disciples, he is giving them new life. This is resurrected life; the same life that is powerfully evident in Jesus. In their fear and disbelief, they are as dead as they once believed that Jesus was. This breath of life that Jesus is breathing into them is the very power of God. This is power to leave their security behind and 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.” There is no greater commission for God’s people.
Part of the power that the disciples received that day was the power to forgive. Power to forgive is an awesome and amazing power. It is power to do the work of God. When we forgive, we are exercising the very authority of God. We are God-like, bearers of his image. Forgiveness is an essential part of living within the realm of shalom, both for us, and for others.
For whatever reason, Thomas, one of the disciples, was not with the rest of the disciples the first time Jesus visited them. He did not receive the gift of shalom, he did not inhale the breath of God. Instead, he steadfastly maintained the walls of security that he had built around himself. His comments in this passage make that abundantly clear. He will not be moved. “I will not believe,” still echoes down and through the years. It is not Jesus’ intent, however for Thomas to remain long in his disbelief. It is not Jesus’ intent for us to remain long in our own disbelief. One week later, when given the invitation to explore the words of Jesus, Thomas fell into the glorious state of shalom. His affirmation, spoken from a dramatically transformed heart, speaks for all of us, we say with him, “My Lord and my God.”
The third gift of the risen Christ then, is faith. When shalom enters our lives and breaks down our walls of security, and when we breathe in the breath and power of God, true faith ensues. Like the disciples, we are created anew. We are alive in the resurrected power of our Lord. We have shalom in all of the fullness that our Lord provides. We have the power of God’s Holy Spirit breathing in and out of us. These are the risen Christ’s gifts to us. Let us not only receive them, but put them to use. Let us break out of this place with the good news of salvation and eternal life on our lips.
But let us also go with this glorious benediction in our hearts, that our Lord has spoken over us and upon us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”