22 Apr “Forgiven and Blessed” (Read)
Rev. Peggy O’Connor
April 22, 2018
We continue our Easter journey today, hearing about Jesus’ visits to the disciples as they hid in a locked room. Last week we explored the first part of the story, looking at the doors in the story…the rock at the tomb and the locked doors of the house…and the fear that they represent…as well as the locked doors of our hearts, minds and souls and what they cost is spiritually. Today, we repeat the first story and add the second.
In the first story, Jesus, unimpeded by locked doors, comes to the disciples saying “Peace be with you.” He shows them his wounds and they “rejoiced.” He says again, “Peace be with you,” adding, I send you as God sent me. Then he breaths on them saying: “receive the Holy Spirit.” The end. But wait…there is more. Thomas, who wasn’t there at the time, returns and refuses to believe the story they tell him. He says “unless I see and touch his wounds, I will not believe.”
This gets our attention. Reading on, we learn that a week later, they were all in the same room…again with doors closed and locked and Jesus returns. He says, “Peace be with you” and then invites Thomas to touch his wounds saying “do not doubt but believe.” Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God” and Jesus asks, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.”
Since this story could have ended with the first visit we have to ask ourselves, why was the part about Thomas added? What is the lesson? What do you think? Is it about Doubt? Faith? Fear? Proof? Belief? These are the traditional interpretations. But is this really what the story is about? I think not. I do not think the point is to chastise Thomas for doubting…after all the others did not believe until they saw and touched Jesus.
But then what is it about? Well, as usual, I believe we have look past the plot to Jesus’ words and actions. We have to change our perspective. I remember when my wife, who is a minister, was in search for a new church, one of the churches interested in her had this line in their profile: We are Conveniently located just an hour East from…and hour west of…and an hour south from…. They clearly saw this as a great place to be. I heard it and said, in other words they are an hour from anywhere which places them in the middle of nowhere! Two different perspectives on the same reality. Both, I would argue are true and accurate. Neither is wrong. They are just different truths. So, this passage may have things to say to us about the quality and depth of our faith but it also has something else to say to us. And that something is a message of comfort.
Jesus said “Peace be with you” three times. He breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit.” I believe these statements are gifts that Jesus gave the disciples and so gives to us as well. What are the gifts? The gifts of forgiveness and blessings.
That Jesus appears to the disciples, who deserted him and denied even knowing him, saying “Peace be with you” is amazing. You would think he would have a few choice words to say first. You would think he would have been angry at them or at least disappointed in them. But instead of anger or guilt, Jesus offers them his peace…his forgiveness. This act, which is beyond what any of us could do, reinforces the primacy of forgiveness for Jesus and the centrality of it in his ministry.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus forgives. He says, judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven…Luke 6:37. He tells us that forgiveness is unconditional in the story of the Prodigal Son…when the father welcomes the son back with open arms. He tells us that forgiveness is endless…we are to forgive the same person not 7 times but 500 times…Matthew 18:22. He tells us that it is our responsibility, as forgiven people, to pass forgiveness on to others.
For Jesus forgiveness is not a deed to be offered now and again. For Jesus forgiveness is a way of life. He forgives his executioners in the moment before death! And now, even beyond life, forgiveness is at the top of his list. It is the first thing he offers the disciples. That he repeats it three times is an acknowledgement of how hard it is for us to hear and accept God’s forgiveness. Our task this morning is to consider how good we are at forgiving…as well as how good we are at accepting forgiveness… which ultimately means forgiving ourselves.
It seems that God understands how hard it is for us to accept forgiveness. This is why Jesus offers it three times to the men who do doubt were feeling terribly guilty for the actions and words. He knew how hard it will be for them to hear and accept. That Jesus was still ministering to them tells us that he is still ministering to us. Good news indeed. The question is will we accept it. Will we incorporate it into our being so that we can pass it along? Will we make forgiveness our way of life.
We all have people in our lives who have wronged or hurt us. Can we forgive them? Can we forgive ourselves for our part in the hurt? Throughout the Bible, Jesus is forever forgiving the people he meets and telling them to go and live their lives differently. He tells them to start anew…having learned from your mistakes make a new start…be a new person…and pass the forgiveness that has changed your life on to someone else.
Forgiveness is a huge topic. We could talk about it for weeks. But I want to move on to Blessing. Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.” What an amazing blessing is my first thought when I read this. Don’t you want that blessing? Well the good news is that you probably already have it. We believe that is it by the action of the Holy Spirit that we are baptized and confirmed in faith. So, everyone who has been baptized and confirmed has had two encounters with the Holy Spirit and received the Spirit. Think about that for just a moment. You too have received the Holy Spirit.
I think this is amazing. I mean, God’s breath is responsible for all that was and is created…the universe…the earth…all life and matter…and the very spirit of humankind. God’s breath, Ruah in Hebrew, animates and brings to life through God’s initiative and action of breath. And, we believe, that in the moment of baptism and confirmation a new person is created through the actions of the breath of God, the Holy Spirit. All who have been baptized are such people. We are such people. Through the blessings of the Holy Spirit we are empowered to put our full faith and trust in Christ.
This is what Jesus wants from the disciples even after his death and what he wants from us. He wants us to be His. And what do we have to do? Embrace Him. Live as He lived. Forgive…love…heal… touch…protect…feed… clothe…defend…forgive…love…heal…it is a continuous circle. By living it we discover that we are forgiven…loved…healed… protected…fed…clothed…and defended…again and again…continually.
How do we do this in our helter-skelter world? In our internet powered world where instant is the only acceptable pace? Where individuality and entrepreneurship are of the highest importance? We gather to support one another, reminding ourselves of Jesus’ way of love and forgiveness. We give in every way we can to make a difference in the lives of others. And, we repeatedly go to God, to Christ, to Jesus seeking solace, nurture, connection, and forgiveness. We can do this through prayer and Bible study and we can do it through simple exercises like this: