“As the Father has sent me, so I send you…” (John 20: 21)
Recently I got a call from one of the residential drug and alcohol treatment centers that dot the region where I live in Florida. They are tragic signs of the times, I suppose. The call was from a social worker who I know pretty well; he asked me to come to the center and talk with a young man there who had just lost his mom. The social worker confided that the young man was having a tough time dealing with his grief.
Whenever I get a call like that, I feel humbled. Who am I to be a part of a person’s life in such a privileged way; in such a sacred place. It’s not only humbling; it’s frightening! I don’t know what to say or what to do; there’s no playbook for encounters like this.
I met the young man in the Social worker’s office; it was a dark room with no natural lighting. The person I met that day was thin; he had a beard, and he seemed like a nice kid. He was probably about 25 years old, and he sat slumped in the chair across from me. Everything about his body language shouted out that he was closed in by grief and shame and sadness. His mom, who lived in the Midwest, was diagnosed not long ago with stage 4 stomach cancer and he knew that she had been suffering terribly. He didn’t have a great relationship with God, but he did pray. He asked, “Lord, either save her or take her, but end her suffering.”
Because of the mistakes that he had made in his life, he wasn’t able to be with her at the end, and nothing could change that. Aside from his mother he had no one else in the world. She was his only family except for a half-brother, whom he hadn’t spoken to in years. In years. So there he sat, slumped, sad, ashamed, and alone in a dark room, locked in his being.
On the first Easter morning, Jesus’ disciples started their day similarly to the way this young man started his. It was the Sunday after their friend, their teacher, their Lord, their hope, had died in a brutal and humiliating manner. They were afraid for their lives because if Jesus’ enemies struck the shepherd, would they also try to harm the sheep?
But there’s more going on. Jesus’ fair weather friends fled when Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified. The women stayed close to Jesus during his passion, and so did the beloved disciple traditionally believed to be John. But the rest of them took off to save their skins. They weren’t there when he died, and there’s no way they could change that fact, so there’s an overlay in guilt in their hearts as they huddled together at night in a locked room fearing their enemies.
In John’s Gospel night is also symbolic of the inner state of a person’s life. They are in spiritual darkness. They are in the dark. And as they sit there with the walls and the locks and the darkness of their spirits and the darkness of the day, they begin to hear strange stories; things that are incredible. Mary comes from the tomb early in the morning saying he’s not there. A couple of them go out to investigate, Peter and, we presume, John. They found it just as Mary had said: “He wasn’t there.”
The tomb was empty. Dead men don’t rise. They don’t understand. Even John, who the evangelist came to believe when he saw the empty tomb, we don’t know what he came to believe except that maybe God was at work doing something good out of something bad. Then they hear from Mary Magdalen who tells them that she has seen the Lord. They think she’s nuts, delusional. They don’t know what to believe, so they’re confused, ashamed, and afraid.
Then all of a sudden, through the locked door, through the walls Jesus stands in their presence, alive and resplendent. “Peace be with you,” he says right off the bat. “Shalom.”
He’s not talking about the absence of conflict because the real battle is just beginning. They know that. He knows it. And looking back over the years since then, we are aware of it too. The peace he’s giving them is the peace that comes from being in a relationship with God. It’s wholeness. It’s being so “together” that nothing can tear you apart. It’s the conviction, born of our relationship with Christ that God is with us and nothing can harm us because he is sovereign.
The next thing he does is say: “Look. Here are my hands, here’s my side. It’s me!” By this gesture, Jesus proves to them that the risen one who they see before their eyes is the same person they saw crucified only days earlier. Jesus will always be Christ crucified. The marks in his hands are now emblematic of the glory of God, and the wisdom of God and the salvation of God poured out through Jesus’ blood on the cross. The marks of shame have become badges of honor.
He says again, “Peace be with you.”
Whenever you see anything repeated in the Gospel, listen to it. It’s what Jesus wanted his disciples to know, but it’s also what he wants you and I to know. As he spoke to them in the upper room, he now speaks to us through John’s Gospel.
“Peace,” he says, “Live in peace. Have peace. Know that whatever you struggle with, I am sovereign and you’re going to be okay.”
Then He breathes on them.
Breath, his important stuff. When God created Adam (as we read in Genesis), He breathed the breath of life into him. Then, and only then, Adam becomes a living being. Flash forward to Ezekiel. The Lord brings the Prophet Ezekiel in a vision to the valley of the dry bones. There, before this image of death and corruption, the Lord says to the prophet, “I will breathe the breath of life into these dry bones, and they will come and live.”
Now in the upper room, Jesus breathes INTO these spiritually and emotionally dead people. He breathes a life of the Spirit. He gives them the gift that’s perfected at Pentecost but begins at this very moment. “Receive the holy spirit.” Receive the holy spirit because you’re going to need the holy spirit. You have work to do; you can’t stay in this room forever. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Christianity is not a religion of pew potatoes. Every Christian has work do to; God-given work. Listen to your calling: “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you.”
We need to understand Jesus’ mission to understand our own; His mission reveals our divine calling.
Jesus is sent to bring the good news of repentance and forgiveness to every corner of this sinful, broken world. Jesus went to everyone the world thinks is worthless. He went to little creep, Zacchaeus, in the sycamore tree, and to the Samaritan woman at the well, a woman who isn’t even liked by the Samaritans. He went to blind beggars and a woman with a hemorrhage who was ritually unclean. He went to kids who are possessed by devils. He went to everybody that the world ignored.
Who wants to look at suffering and pain? Or to be with outcasts and losers?
Jesus did, that’s who. Jesus did. Jesus went to everybody the world despised, to he gave them hope, not simply with His words, but with an abundance of real love.
What would our world be like if all of us treated others like that; if we showed everyone we met (Jerks included) an abundance of real love? Overflowing, over-the-top amazing love?
We don’t do that because we’re so buttoned down. We’re afraid of what people will think of us. But Jesus in that upper room says, “Forget the locks, forget the walls. Get out of the building. Stop being afraid. I give you God’s own peace, now, get moving. Let your love flow into the lives of the people around you. Be creative about it.”
“As the Father sent me, so I send you.”I was at the mayor’s prayer breakfast in Fort Lauderdale recently, and there was a fellow named Bob there, he was an attorney of all things, from San Diego. He was telling a story about having a neighbor who was diagnosed with cancer and living her last days. She loved life and wanted to “LIVE” every last day of it. Bob, “Every New Years we have a parade on our block. There are five houses there, but it’s a lovely little event.” Bob went on, “This year we had that parade go right up to her house and knock on her windows so she could see everyone coming by waving and wishing her well.” She died the next day, but she died knowing she was loved because her neighbors weren’t afraid to go over the top and express their love for her.
I was at the mayor’s prayer breakfast in Fort Lauderdale recently, and there was a fellow named Bob there, he was an attorney of all things, from San Diego. He was telling a story about having a neighbor who was diagnosed with cancer and living her last days. She loved life and wanted to “LIVE” every last day of it. Bob, “Every New Years we have a parade on our block. There are five houses there, but it’s a lovely little event.” Bob went on, “This year we had that parade go right up to her house and knock on her windows so she could see everyone coming by waving and wishing her well.” She died the next day, but she died knowing she was loved because her neighbors weren’t afraid to go over the top and express their love for her.
Can we be creative like that? Can we find ways to show the people in our life that we love them and that they’re special? They don’t have to do anything for it. Look at the disciples in this upper room. What do they do? They were doing nothing but being afraid, and Jesus came to them.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Get to work. Or, maybe work is the wrong word. Enjoy loving as Jesus loves. Enjoy being a blessing people’s lives. Enjoy letting your life follow into somebody else’s life in a positive, beautiful way. That’s what Jesus did for Bartimaeus and the woman at the well, and so many others. That’s what he does for us, and that’s what he asks us to do and be for each other.
And then he says, “Receive the holy spirit. If you forgive the sins of others, they’re forgiven. If you retain those sins, they’re retained.”
Jesus wants us to go out there and start forgiving! Forgive people who need forgiveness. Forgive people who don’t know they need forgiveness. Forgive people that just need to hear a word of kindness from you. Forgive people, and don’t make a big show of it. Don’t call them and say, “I forgive you,” because they’ll hang up on you. But they won’t hang up on you if you say, “It’s been a long time since we got together. How about lunch?” Or maybe just send a note that says, “Thinking about you. How are you doing? Love you.” That says, “I forgive you,” without saying “I forgive you” which is probably the only way we can graciously forgive people.
If you fail to forgive, Jesus warns, “The failure of forgiveness will mean that the sin remains and plagues us.” Our problem as a Christian people is we don’t forgive enough. We hold onto old grudges, especially if we’re Irish. You know what they call Irish Alzheimer’s, don’t you? Irish Alzheimer’s is a condition where you forget everything but the grudges.
We hold onto stuff when we should let go. We stay angry, and the anger consumes us. Just let go and don’t give that grudge another thought. Think of all that you need forgiveness for yourself! Forgive the way you’d like to others, and God, to forgive you. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Make those more than words repeated by rote. It is part of the Lord’s prayer for us.
Our mission as disciples is to be sin forgivers. There’s a lot of people out there who need a lot of forgiveness, so there’s a lot of work to do.
“Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them.”
Thomas wasn’t with the others when the Lord appeared to them on the evening of the first day of the week. Thomas is a practical man. He comes back, hears his friends saying the same thing Mary said to the rest of them earlier in the day and reacts to them the same way they earlier responded to Mary: “You guys are nuts. What have you been smoking while I’ve been at the store? I will not believe what you’re telling me unless I see him with my own eyes, touch him with my own hands, and feel his wounds. But none of that’s going to happen because dead men stay dead; always have, always will.”
A week later Jesus again, through the walls through the closed doors, stands there and says, “Peace. Peace. Thomas, you missed the message. Let me give it to you again, peace. I want you to have wholeness. I want you to have a joy that the world can’t give you.” He said, “If you need to touch me, touch.”
Jesus doesn’t scold him, doesn’t browbeat him, doesn’t shame him. Jesus comes to him right where he is and addresses his needs just the way Thomas has spoken them. “If you need to touch me, Thomas, touch me. But don’t persist in your unbelief. Believe.”
In John’s Gospel, belief is not the assent of the mind to stuff; it is the knowledge born of a living, vibrant relationship with Jesus. It is being Jesus’ friend, living with him and letting him be a part of our lives. Jesus is saying: “Thomas, don’t persist in being apart from me. Be one with me. Be in a relationship with me. Abide with me.”
“Doubting” Thomas then makes what is perhaps the most sweeping profession of faith in the fourth Gospel. He says: “My Lord and my God.”
All rests on the foundation of our relationship with Jesus and, through him, our relationship with the Father.
“Thomas, you believed because you’ve seen how blessed and happy are those who have not seen and yet, believe. ” How blessed are we, who have never seen the Lord physically, but still have a relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit.
The challenge of this Gospel two-fold.
First, we must recognize that all of us, from time to time, get locked in a dark place where we feel desperately alone and helpless; sad and perhaps guilt-ridden. The good news of this Gospel is we may think that our lock is pretty darn good and that our walls are impenetrable. But I guarantee you that every time we are in a place like that the Lord has already appeared in it and is speaking to us if we just listen to him.
He’s saying “Peace be with you. Peace be with you.”
We are never alone in our suffering, in our fear, in our grief, or in our shame or any other prison we construct for ourselves. We are always keeping company with the one who says “Peace be with you.”
And then, he tells us, “Believe in me. I want to be in a relationship with you. I want to love you like I love Peter and Andrew and James and John and Philip and Bartholomew and that doubting Thomas. I love them all, and I love you too. So have peace, and know that as the Father has sent me, so I send you. Get out there and go to work; forgive sins, receive the Holy Spirit, and know that in doing all of that you are doing the work of the one who has been sent and the one who sends.”
Back to my friend closed in the office and locked in his spirit.
Sitting there and I said to him, “Could you tell me something about your mom. Could you let me know who she was?” He said, “She was always kind and loving; she played the piano at church and was always looking for ways to help people.”
As he spoke, he begins to come out of his prison a little bit. We started talking about how much his mom loved him and how proud she must have been that he was doing so well in his recovery from addiction. He realized that he was her legacy because she had given him to the world. A light went on. He understood that his greatest gift to his mother might be to return to her faith and live in it and try to make a difference the same way she had tried to make a difference in others’ lives.
He started sitting up. When he left the office, he was alive again. It was nothing I did because I’m not that smart. It was something that God did because two of his beloved children were present to each other in a moment of grace.
That’s the type of miracle that occurs every day. That’ the work of his kingdom; the work all of us are sent to do. And so as the Father has sent Jesus, so he sends us.
Get to work.