The Wounded Healer

Trinitarian Congregational Church                                                Second Sunday of Easter

Anthony S. Kill                                                                                                 April 8, 2018

Texts: Acts 5:27-32, John 20:19-31


Today’s Gospel passage is in fact John’s version of the Pentecost Story that Luke tells in the book of Acts, where the Spirit entered the apostles’ room like the breath of a mighty wind, and set them on fire with the message of life. In other words, this Easter Story is actually a story about the birth of the church. It’s the story of how we got started, of how Jesus came and got the ball rolling after the resurrection. I came upon one pastor’s reflection on John’s version of the birth of the church that really struck me, so I’d like to start by sharing that with you. Rev. Delmer L. Chilton wrote this: QUOTE “What do you think of when you hear the word church? I’d almost be willing to bet none you imagined fifteen or twenty scared and lonely people, huddled behind closed and locked doors, whispering among themselves, jumping out of their skins at every noise from the outside. Whatever our image of church is, it usually doesn’t include locked doors and frightened people. Yet that is the picture John paints of the very first church. First Church, Jerusalem: gathered together on that first Sunday after Jesus’ death,  huddled and hiding, trembling and terrified, lonely and loveless. They’re not much of a church; no organ, no pews, no pulpit, no stained glass windows, no joy, no praise, no word, no sacrament. Nothing but a room to meet in and memories to talk about.

“What was it he said at Supper the other night? Something about the bread being his body and the wine his blood? Peter, what did he mean by that?”

“Did you hear what Mary Magdalene and the other women said? They said they went to the tomb this morning and Jesus’ body was missing, the stone was rolled away and the body was missing. And Mary Magdalene said she saw the Lord?”

“Well, sure, did anybody check her breath to see what she’d been drinking? She saw Jesus alive this morning? Right!  And so on.

They talked, they fretted; they worried themselves sick about what it all meant and what the Roman soldiers or the Chief Priests might do to them. And maybe, just maybe, somebody in the room was praying, but it’s not likely. Doesn’t sound like much of a church does it?” Clinton goes on to say, “Preaching professor Tom Long said they are a picture of the church at its worst, ‘scarred and scared, disheartened and defensive.’ Long wonders what sort of advertisement might this church put in the Saturday paper to attract members? THE FRIENDLY CHURCH WHERE ALL ARE WELCOME? Hardly. Locked doors are not a sign of hospitality. THE CHURCH WITH A WARM HEART AND A BOLD MISSION? Forget it. This is the church of sweaty palms and shaky knees and a firmly bolted front door.

Here is a church that has almost nothing going for it, has practically no claim to being church except . . . .  except that when they gathered, the Risen Christ pushed through the locked door and stood among them. That is what turned that little group of scarred and scared people into the church: the Presence of the Risen Christ in the room. It wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do, it wasn’t anything they said or didn’t say. Church happens when the gathered community pays attention to the presence of the Risen Christ in the room. And, when that presence is ignored, nothing of any consequence can or does happen. It was the disciples’ awareness of and attention to the presence of the Risen Christ that made the difference then; and it is our awareness of and attention to the Presence of the Risen Christ that makes the difference now. Jesus comes to us today, Jesus comes to us showing us his love for us by showing us the wounds he has suffered on our behalf. Jesus comes to us offering us peace and the fiery breath of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus comes to us, to tell us, I love you and I have great plans for you!” END OF QUOTE

So today’s Gospel continues to tell the Easter story – not at the empty tomb this time, not on the road to Emmaus, but in the house where the shattered and terrified disciples were sequestered together, with the doors of the house “locked for fear of the Jews”. Into this shaken and fearful band Jesus’ presence comes – not through any door;  suddenly, he was just there.

And I don’t think he appeared in the midst of the disciples to prove the resurrection, or to give evidence that he had arisen.  No, Jesus’ words indicate that he had a different purpose for being there. And the purpose was not about him, but about the disciples themselves. What does Jesus do and say at this appearance?

First, he says “Peace be with you” – not a surprising thing to say to a group of already terrified folks, especially if they think they’re being visited by a ghost. The word of peace is both a word of greeting, and a word of assurance – ‘Peace is with you’; ‘peace can be with you now.’  Then he shows them that he really is the Jesus that they knew, and whose torture and death they witnessed.  He shows them his hands and his side – his wounded flesh. Then he wishes them peace again, but adds more: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to 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.”

So Jesus’ Easter appearance to the disciples is about their mission and ministry, not about his. He appears to them not just to offer them peace and assurance, but to send them forth with a message of peace and forgiveness into all the world – indeed, into the very hostile, threatening world that they are trying to hide away from.  How on earth are they ever going to do that?

Well, we learn how in the very next verse. ‘When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”’ The Greek word used here for “breathed on” is a form of ejmfuvsaw, (emphusao) and this is the only time this word is used in the New Testament.

But in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, we find the word on a few improtant occasions. One of which is in Genesis 2, when “God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

And the other well-known use of this word is in Ezekiel 37, when the prophet is called upon by God to prophecy in the field of dry bones, and the bones come together into dead bodies, and then the prophet is told to say, “Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” and again, the word used for ‘breathe upon’ is jmfuvsaw, (emphusao). And the dead bodies become alive and stand up.

Obviously, this is no ordinary breathing. This is the breath of the Spirit of God.

This breath has the power to turn dead men into living beings, and to turn scared-to-death followers into vibrant, bold apostles. This is the breath of life and resurrection and empowerment.

Jesus breathes on them, and sends them forth: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” Then he gives them power over sin – or more exactly, gave them power over sin’s power in peoples lives “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  The church’s charge is to teach the power of forgiveness. That’s an interesting concept. The church’s business is not defining morality, but inviting to forgiveness, by bearing witness to the unconditional love and mercy of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. We are not in the morals business – that is the role of the philosopher and the ethicist. We are in the forgiveness business.  That’s what Jesus sent us to do.

In the Gospel passage, the next sentence mentions that one of the disciples was absent from this encounter. Then the scene abruptly shifts to the following Sunday night, when basically the same sequence happens again, but this time Thomas is present, and he is personally invited to see the hands and the side, the wounded body of Jesus that he had shown the others the week before.

Thomas was probably no more “doubting” than any of the others, but he needed to be included – he wouldn’t take second-hand evidence. Jesus grants his wish that he, too, get to see for himself      – but then Jesus commends even more those who will believe the truth of his living presence  and the Spirit’s power even when they don’t see first-hand.

So Jesus came into the disciples’ midst that first Easter to breathe life and peace and power into their souls, and to send them forth to a world that has not seen, and yet can believe. He sent them forth to create a spiritual community, where faith and forgiveness and hope and healing could be found. And they become that open, selfless, sharing community That is described in chapter 5 of the book of Acts.

How is the breath of Jesus’ spirit breathing into us this Easter season, raising us from death to new life, calling and sending us to new visions of ministry in the world?

Jesus broke through the disciples defenses to breathe new courage, new vision and new life into their despondent and disillusioned hearts. He gave them a vision of what might be, and the hope and courage to make it happen, with the help of his grace and his dynamic Spirit. And their church did grow and thrive, despite all kinds of opposition and adversity and persecution.  through age after age, and it continues to give life today in countless corners of the world, where faith and forgiveness and grace and healing continues to transform people’s lives. We are part of that dynamic, spirit-filled church, and we are still the recipients of that Spirit-powered breath.

How do we now carry that Easter vision and the mission forward into the next year, and the next, and the next? That’s up to you – and you—and me.