Breath of New Life

It’s the second Sunday of Easter,
which means we meet the
most-maligned disciple after Judas:
Thomas the Twin,
more famously known as “Doubting Thomas,”
the only disciple
that is known primarily
for an adjective—doubting.

Thousands of sermons have been preached
about poor Thomas,
about his doubts,
some criticizing him,
some sympathizing with him,
but, frankly, mostly getting it wrong.

After all, Thomas isn’t the interesting one here.
He’s not even, really, doubting.
After all, He doesn’t ask
for anything that the others
haven’t needed and gotten.
He just wants to see
what they have seen,
what they needed, too, to believe.

For the disciples were cowering
behind a locked door
that Easter evening
even though Mary Magdalene
had come to them earlier
after meeting the risen Jesus
in the garden,
declaring to them, “I have seen the Lord!”

Her declaration hadn’t turned them
into devout believers
in the resurrection.
No, they had locked themselves
in a room, fearful.

I can’t blame them,
but they’re not the
interesting ones in this story, either.

No, the interesting one here is Jesus.

He’s certainly not what they expected.

They were hiding, fearful,
because they expected to be next:
next to be persecuted
by religious authorities,
next to be arrested, tried, even killed
by the Romans.

They certainly didn’t expect
Jesus to appear,
and if they had expected it,
I’m not sure they would have been excited.

After all, ghosts returning after a violent death
aren’t usually very friendly.
Especially when they return
to those who abandoned or denied them.

All we have to do is look
at ghosts in literature to know that.
Are there any friendly ghosts in Shakespeare?
King Hamlet returns and demands
vengeance for his murder,
and a whole play spins out from there,
ending in more violence, more death.

No, no one really wants
the return of a murdered man.

And that’s what makes Jesus interesting.

He appears suddenly in the locked room,
and he shows his wounds,
and they know this is no ghost,
it is the Lord.

It says they rejoiced when they saw him,
but I have to wonder:
were they afraid now in a new way?
Did they fear his anger at their failure?
Were they ashamed to face him?
Were they distraught
to see the one they loved but had abandoned?

Whatever they feared,
whatever they expected or worried about,
what they got was Peace:
“Peace be with you,” he says.
What they got was Forgiveness:
“If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them.”
What they got was New Life:
“through believing you may have life.”

And then, as if all of THAT isn’t interesting enough,
Jesus breathes on them
so they might receive the Holy Spirit.
He breathes on them so that they might have new life,
a resurrected life.

This is a kind of last act
in the Gospel of John,
which is a sort of reenactment
of the Creation story itself.
Echoing the “in the beginning” of Genesis,
John’s Gospel opens this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Later, on Easter Sunday, the resurrected Jesus
appears in a garden on the first day of the week,
reversing the sin of Adam in the garden.
He appears to Mary Magdalene,
a new Eve,
a woman in the garden
who doesn’t listen to the slithering serpent
but who believes and announces
the Good News of the Resurrection.

Finally, the Gospel ends with Jesus
breathing on the disciples,
filling them with the breath of God,
breath of life,
just as God breathed over
the waters in Genesis,
just as God filled Israel
with life symbolically
by breathing life into dry bones,
just as God blew
the breath of life
into the human
created from the dust of the ground
in the Garden of Eden.

Jesus breaths on them,
filling them with new life,
making them into a new people,
joyful, resurrected, hopeful, free.

There are some who say
that the very word for God is our breath.
The word we now pronounce as Yahweh
is actually four letters in Hebrew—
YHVH in English or Yod Heh Vav Heh in Hebrew,
unpronounceable as a word,
but some surmise is actually the sound
of our inhalation and exhalation,
implying that God is always
as close to us as our own breath,
woven into our very breathing. . . .

Before the pandemic,
before we came to fear
one another’s breath,
before masks,
I used to follow an old tradition
of breathing over baptismal waters
after blessing them and, God willing,
I will do so again one day.
This tradition represents
God’s breath over
the waters of creation,
that God’s spirit
is in the waters we use
to bring people to new life.

It is to those waters,
the God-breathed sacrament of baptism,
that today we bring five children:
Anderson, Charlotte, Hugh, Joshua, and Sloan.
We are inviting and welcoming them
into new life in Christ.
It is the new life that all of us have, too,
life filled with the Holy Spirit.

And that life is a life
that we can live without fear
because in the resurrected Jesus
we can place all our trust,
for he has offered us
the peace that passes all understanding.
In him we are forgiven
and given the ability to forgive.
In him, we can practice resurrection,
a new life of grace, forgiven, free.

And to that, what else can we do,
but echo Thomas in wonder:
My Lord and My God!