Breath of New Life

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The resurrected Christ breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples, so they may empowered to continue to believe. Even when Jesus ascends to heaven, they are still called to spread the good news. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that this good news has continued to spread, for the last 2,000 years, and meets us here in this place, today.

2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B, April 15, 2012

Psalm 133; Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Diaconal Minister Shera Nesheim

After Easter it is easy to get caught up in the “happy ending” filled with rejoicing and Alleluias for the joyous resurrection of our Lord. But what we forget to pay attention to, is the disciples are faced with quite the opposite emotion, at least right away. The climate surrounding the death of Jesus is one of grief and fear.

Can you imagine it? Their best friend. Their teacher. Their mentor. Has just been publicly humiliated and brutally crucified on the cross. He has died. They are overwhelmed with sadness and grief. This person who has given them new purpose and a new outlook on life, is no longer with them. Not only that, the air is charged with fear and people pointing fingers, ready to persecute anyone affiliated with this so-called “King of the Jews.” They do not want to be associated with him because of what he has done. They could end up dead, too. People are angry. 

How could he just leave them in this mess? They are afraid. They have left their jobs, left their families, they have no where to turn. So the abandoned disciples gather. They lock themselves in a dark, quiet room, in fear of being found by those who are angry – those who had killed Jesus just days before-. Everyone is on edge.

Picturing this small group of people who have locked themselves in a tiny room made me think of a very similar story:

It was Sunday evening, Easter Sunday, no one at the office on Easter Monday, so none of us could budge until Tuesday morning. Think of it, waiting in such fear for two nights and a day! No one had anything to suggest, so we simply sat there in pitch-darkness, because Mrs. Van Daan in her fright had unintentionally turned the lamp right out; talked in whispers, and at every creak one heard “Sh! sh!”

It turned half past ten, eleven, but not a sound; Daddy and Van Daan joined us in turns. Then a quarter past eleven, a bustle and noise downstairs. Everyone’s breath was audible, otherwise no one moved. Footsteps in the house, in the private office, kitchen, then . . . on our staircase. No one breathed audibly now, footsteps on our staircase, then a rattling of the swinging cupboard. This moment is indescribable. “Now we are lost!” I said, and could see us all being taken be the Gestapo that very night. Twice they rattled at the cupboard, then there was nothing, the footsteps withdrew, we were saved so far. A shiver seemed to pass from one to another, I heard someone’s teeth chattering, no one said a word.

(Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Translated by B. M. Mooyart-Doubleday. New York: Bantam Books, 1952.)

 

This story is from the diary of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who hid with 7 others in a tiny room called the Secret Annex from the German police during World War II. The room was hidden behind a bookshelf, and she and her family lived in constant fear of being found for more than 2 years. Much like the disciples, this small group of people have a persistent nervousness in their bellies. This Jewish family is always on the verge of being found as German soldiers prowl cities and towns, looking for Jews and punishing those who give them refuge or help. 

Two thousand years earlier, the disciples are in a similar state of anxiety. They hide away because they too, are afraid those around them will turn against them. The roman soldiers. The Jewish leaders. Their lives are in danger if they are discovered as being followers of Jesus. But what we hear next, in the midst of terror in a dark secret room, surprisingly, is a word of peace.

Suddenly, a stranger appears. Their jaws tighten with panic. What could this man want? But he says, quietly – “Peace be with you.” They begin to breathe again, ever so slightly, wondering what this person could want with them. How did he find them? Before they can ask, he shows them his hands. His hands have bruised and dark rusty marks, where nails have been. He shows them his side. There is a large open cut, just under his ribs. This man is all too familiar. Just as they are about to ask him where he got these terrible wounds, it occurs to them – this is our Lord! He is here, with us! Their hearts begin to race, palms sweat. How could this be? How is he standing here? The last thing they heard was that his body was missing from the tomb where he was laid. And now he’s here?! Mary Magdalene had said something about Jesus appearing to her, but they didn’t believe her. They just thought it was foolish talk from a grieving woman. 

Jesus speaks. They desperately want to hear the texture in his voice. Every word he says. They promise themselves they will remember, this time. They will believe him. He tells them that he is sending them. “Where could he be sending me?” They wonder. “It’s too crazy out there. We can’t possibly leave yet!”

Before they can ask him questions, a sense of calm washes over the room. Peace floods this tiny space where they hide. They can no longer hear the voices in the street, or the footsteps of those who walk by, they no longer listen for a knock or a rattle at the door. 

Jesus takes the a long deep breath in. —- In…and… out. With certainty he tells them, “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.”

What does it mean that the Holy Spirit is here? What’s all this talk about forgiveness? I’m sure they are thinking, “Can’t we have this discussion over a meal? Oh Jesus, won’t you stay here awhile, teach us how to live without you here!”

When the disciples witness this risen Jesus, this is when they truly witness the divine aspect of our Lord Jesus Christ, who conquered death and is resurrected, This dear one, is standing before them, beckoning them to believe. To put their hands in his side. To forgive others, just as he forgives.

The resurrected Jesus is not a ghost. This is a man, with flesh, whose wounds still mark his body. The reality of the cross does not disappear on the body of our risen Lord. This is a divine man who breathes again. God’s power defeats brutal death. Jesus’ entire body is resurrected. The same Jesus the disciples saw take his last breath is now standing before them and he breathes. It is unbelievable. Unheard of. Impossible! He later eats fish with the disciples. Jesus is able to show the disciples his wounds, that they might see and believe. But what about us here today? We have not seen the risen Lord. Or have we?

*****

Jesus breathes into the disciples and this is the very breath of God. Jesus gives the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, by breathing. The word breathe, here, is deeply connected to Genesis 2:7 where God breathes into dust, and creates human life. This is an intimate connection between the Creator and creation. The resurrected Christ breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples, so they may empowered to continue to believe. Even when Jesus ascends to heaven, they are still called to spread the good news. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that this good news has continued to spread, for the last 2,000 years, and meets us here in this place, today. 

We encounter the risen Christ through the good news we hear today in this 20th chapter of John – but we also meet Jesus, embodied in those around us. You may say, “But I haven’t seen the risen Jesus, I haven’t put my hands in his wounds!”

Maybe you have. I see Christ in the countless groups who will come volunteer to help with flood relief this summer in Minot. Christ is present when love and support pours out for families who have to say goodbye to their soldiers. People touch the living Christ volunteer here at YCC, or at community gardens, or food shelters, or at the Banquet. I see Christ when a girl forgives herself for the unbearable mistakes she has made, and is able to see hope in her future. Jesus can be found in a smile, a laugh, someone who actually listens and cares. Yesterday the body of Christ gathered to celebrate and witness God’s love in the beautiful marriage of Pastor Renee and Jon. All of these, to me, are evidences of the risen Christ, present here and now!

Take a moment. Take a deep breath in, and out. Close your eyes. I’d like you to think about where you see the embodied Christ in your life?

********

By witnessing the embodied Christ in the world, the disciples can believe. They can forgive. We, too, are encouraged when we witness the embodied Christ in those around us. Not only that, but we rejoice and are able to show others Christ! The disciples were sent to show the world who Christ was, and we too are called and sent. 

Just last week, Hannah was baptized. Tim, myself, her sponsors, and you as a congregation, all promised to show her Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. We are all called to teach her, lead her, and show her how Christ lives in our hearts and in the world. So that she believes. So that she has the power to forgive those who hurt her, and to forgive herself. So that despite her fears and anxieties that the world often brings, she finds hope in a God who breathes life into her each new day. May we live, learn, and show Christ to each other – so that we all can believe and forgive – despite the fears and anxieties that the world overwhelms us with – because we have hope in a God who breathes life into us, each new day.