Day of Pentecost: June 4, 2017, Year A
Acts 2.1-21: Psalm 104.24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12.3b-13; John 20.19-23
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the crucified and risen One, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“When it was evening on that day …”
What day? Even though it is now 50 days after we celebrated Easter, the Gospel of John takes us back to the evening on the day Jesus was resurrected from death to eternal life.
Evening on “that day” began in the morning with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb expecting to find a dead Jesus. Instead she finds the tomb empty and mistakes the resurrected Christ for the gardener … up until the point when he calls her by name.
“Mary,” he says, and she knows the impossible has happened. Jesus who had been crucified has been raised.
She runs to tell the disciples what she has seen, that Jesus lives. And when it was evening on that day we do not find the disciples out and in the streets telling people that Jesus is no longer dead, but alive, but rather we find them huddled in fear in a house behind locked doors.
This empty tomb, this incredible Good News that in the end life has the final word over death, is not enough to dispel the disciples’ fear. Even though Peter and the beloved disciple had seen the empty tomb, and all the disciples heard Mary’s witness, they were still afraid.
Why? For the disciples, at any point in time, the Roman soldiers or the Jewish leadership could break down the door of the house and arrest them all. Anyone of them could have been brought to trial for being associated with Jesus, whom the authorities had just killed three days earlier.
Jesus’ arrest, trial, whipping, crown of thorns on his head, and being nailed to a cross until he died would have been fresh in their minds. And it could happen again at any moment to any one of them. Darn right they were afraid, and I’m sure you and I would have been trembling right there with them.
So this is where Jesus enters the scene … he comes to them and meets them in their fear.
He says, “Peace be with you.” He doesn’t say: “Why did you all abandon me when I was arrested and hanging on the cross?” He doesn’t say: “Why are you afraid?” Instead, he graciously gives them his peace and shows them his hands and his side in order that they may know it is really him.
This is where Jesus meets us too, in our fears. We know there are all kinds of things in this world to be afraid of: staying in corrections, getting out of corrections, dying, accidents, diseases, war, running out of money, failure, the future, judgment, addiction … the list could go on and on.
Jesus comes to us this day through the living Word and says to you: “Peace be with you.” Wherever you are in life, peace be with you.
The kind of peace Jesus offers does not mean some kind of inner tranquility, but ultimately it is about offering you forgiveness and a right relationship between you and God, and you and others.
Jesus did not hold the disciples’ abandonment, or denial, or lack of trust in him, or hiding in fear, or doubt, against them. Same with us. The peace he offers is his forgiveness and his unconditional love. Whatever ways in which we fall short, or doubt, or fear, Jesus says: Leave it all behind and let’s get on with what is really important.
We can get stuck and dwell in our past mistakes, the ways we hurt others or have been hurt ourselves. Jesus says, “You are forgiven! It’s been done. Embrace life … and … now I have a job for you.”
Jesus says to the disciples and to us again: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
The peace and forgiveness Jesus gives is not meant to only be between me and God, but is meant to turn us out into a world God loves very much.
A mentor and friend of mine, Pastor Rafael Malpica Padilla, presents a lot to groups of Christian people. Most of the time he begins the dialogue by making a statement and asking the audience if they agree with it by raising their hands.
He will say: ‘The church of Jesus Christ has a mission.’ Sounds good, right? In his visits, nearly all people have raised their hands. He then tells them they are all wrong. He says, “’The church of Jesus Christ has a mission’ is not the same as saying, ‘the mission of Jesus Christ has a church.’”
This mission of Jesus is all about reconciliation, which means, getting our relationships right with one another and with God. What Jesus is communicating to us and to his disciples is that he has made our relationship with God right already. That part is done. He has taken care of that on the cross. You are forgiven and loved by God. That’s it.
And that is our message for the world. The last thing Jesus says in our Gospel reading today is: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This line is not about Christians having the ability to judge people or choose who is saved or not, rather, it has everything to do with offering the same peace Jesus offers his disciples and to us. This peace comes through the pronouncement and enactment of forgiveness and reconciliation. The world has enough hate and division.
We are to be a people who actively strive to love and care for one another; to believe with all of our hearts that we are indeed for forgiven, and not only ourselves, but those we struggle to love, those we may even hate, those we are angry with, those we cannot understand why on earth Jesus would also give up his life for them. This is tough work and it is the mission of Jesus given to all of us for the sake of the world.
How are we to do this hard and difficult work? Our answer is in verse 22. Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The Greek word that gets translated, “Breathed on them,” is the same word in Gen. 2.7: “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
This is the very breath of God, the Spirit of Christ, that animates us and gives us life. Luther truly believed that there was no good we could do in the world without the Holy Spirit empowering us to do it. When Jesus gives his disciples and you and I his Spirit, he gives to us the will, the ability, the power to carry out his mission of forgiveness and love in the world.
Often times when we simply breathe we don’t think of the breath God has given to us. We aren’t reminded that the Spirit of Christ dwells in us. That the air that moves through us and gives life to our body is the life force that draws us into right relationship with God and one another.
Jesus saves us from a life of fear and hiding, and gives us one where we go out through the power of the Holy Spirit, and work for peace and forgiveness so that we and others may have life in his name.
Let us pray:
“O Spirit of God, seek us;
Good Spirit, pray with us;
Spirit of counsel, inform us;
Spirit of might, free us;
Spirit of truth, enlighten us;
Spirit of Christ, raise us;
O Holy Spirit, dwell in us.
Bread for the Day, 2017 – p. 175