Sunday, April 19, 2020

God's Breath and God's Hands (Sermon)

John 20: 19-31

Let’s talk for a few minutes about the gospel according to John. The Fourth Gospel is very different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Those three together are called the “synoptic” gospels because they provide a synopsis of Jesus’ life. The writer of the Fourth Gospel, on the other hand, has selected some of the highlights of Jesus’ life and ministry and then shaped his narrative to be a parallel to the whole biblical story. 

John begins in the beginning, with the understanding that the Word (capital W) has always existed. It is through this Word that God brought all things into being. As the second member of the Trinity, on equal footing with the first and the third, the Word brings forth life. Eventually, that Word becomes flesh for the purposes of the salvation and faith of creation, including us. 

Now I confess to you, friends, that this line of conversation is very near and dear to me and I am tempted to go on about it, but I also recognize that in this time of stress, it may be better to get to the main point. Some of you might argue that it is always better to get to the main point and you’re not wrong. 

Since the beginning of John’s gospel is focused on creation, all things coming into being through the divine power in the Word, I want us to think about the creation accounts in Genesis. In Genesis 1, God makes human beings at the same time, in God’s own image. What is that image- creative, capable of great love, caring, merciful, judicious, connected? We have to prayerfully consider what God’s own work tells us about the divine in order to consider what it means for us to be made in the image of that same glory. 

In Genesis 2, God makes the earth and wants a caretaker for it. God then makes a dirt man, which is what A-dam means because it seems related to the Hebrew word “adamah”, which means earth (as in soil or dirt). God breathes life into this creation. Life begins, then, at God’s hands and with God’s own breath. 

Now back to John, who has set up a creation story in the Fourth Gospel narrative. All the disciples, except Thomas, are gathered in an upper room. They are afraid for their own lives. They know that Peter and the beloved disciple went to the tomb and found it empty. They’ve heard Mary Magdalene’s account of the risen Lord. Yet, they are still confused and terrified. Even if Mary is right, and they probably wondered about that, they are now worried about what this news will do to the people who killed Jesus and who may still be looking for them (the disciples). 

In the midst of this chaos, this void of hope, Jesus appears. He speaks to them and shows them his hands and his side. Then he breathes on them and speaks a word of peace. Jesus, who is God, comes among the disciples in an image they recognize and, through his hands and his breath, reshapes their experience. In that very room, Jesus crafts a new creation- fear into hope, doubt into trust, grief into joy. The Word present at the beginning of creation repeats that work in the upper room.  

Reshaping or re-creation does not bring new elements into being. It takes what is and reconfigures it into something new and useful, alongside what was. Our hope is made from the same building blacks as our fears; it is just used in a different way. The same with our doubts reframed into trust. The questions are not eliminated, but they are re-arranged to be a tool for our faith. Our grief remains a part of us, but in its resurrection reformation to joy, it becomes something we can live with- can hold a little more lightly. 

When Jesus comes into that room with the disciples, he does again for them (and then for us) what God the Holy Parent does at the very beginning of all things. Through Jesus, a new creation has happened- a world where death does not have the last word. God needs someone to work in that creation, to tend it, and to cause it to flourish. Jesus comes into a room, full of people- who are made in God’s image- and makes them new. 

With his hands and his breath, the disciples- all who were gathered in that room- have their fear, doubt, and grief reshaped into hope, trust, and joy. And then they are sent, just like the first man of the earth, to tend God’s garden with those tools. 

In his own time, Jesus does this same re-shaping for Thomas. Through Thomas’s story, Jesus promises to do the very same thing for those of us who are not in that room, but who receive the gift of faith. We too have been recreated, born again, through Jesus’ own hands (crucified, died, buried, and resurrected) and his breath, which brings to us God’s peace for our own hope, trust, and joy. 

We are in a time of our own upper room. There is much fear, doubt, and grief. Just like the disciples, there is good reason for those things. We are not irrational to have those thoughts or feelings. At the same time, we are also not alone in them. Where we are, with whatever we have, Jesus comes to us. He comes to us to bring us new life, again and again. Through his hands, through his breath, we are remade as disciples of resurrection truth. Our fear is reshaped to hope, our doubts to trust, and our griefs to joy. 

To those of you who might say, “I hear your words, but I am not experiencing that right now”, I believe you. And I understand that. I urge you, friends, if that is the case, to remember our brother, Thomas, who received this blessing in his own time. The absence of personal experience does not make truth untrue. It just means it hasn’t yet happened to you, but what is true is true, regardless of our experience or understanding. 
It is true that God made all things, including people in the divine image. God’s hands and God’s breath gave life to the first humans and so it has been ever since. At the right time, for us and for our salvation, the eternal Word became flesh and was called Jesus. In his glory, he too gives us new life through his hands and his breath. 

And we are sent out into the world, even when we have to stay home- we are still in the world. We, like the first people and the disciples, are sent out to care for God’s world and to share Christ’s peace. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are called and equipped to work where we are- reshaping fear into hope, doubt into trust, and grief into joy so that all may believe and have life in Christ’s name.