Happy Easter! For us who love Jesus, this is the best holiday (holy day) of them all: this marks Jesus’ change from mortal life to eternal life. And his resurrection life opens the possibility of fresh and eternal life for you and me.
In our Bibles we have more than six descriptions of what happened when Jesus moved on from fleshly, perishable life into life everlasting. These include the four gospels, plus the preaching of the Apostles in the Book of Acts, plus the stories related in the Epistles— especially 1 Corinthians 15. With such a wealth of material, we will have an easy time finding worthwhile things to say about the risen Jesus Christ.
This week’s gospel lesson focuses on what happened among Jesus’ surviving disciples on the day of resurrection, according to John. This story is not told in any of the other Bible books: how Jesus came into their locked hideout and breathed the Holy Spirit onto them. (John 20:19-23)
Typical Americans have a strong sense of “personal space” about them— how close can you tolerate somebody being “in your face,” other than when being erotically intimate with your special someone? When we get to know people from certain other cultures, it can be disturbing, how they have no qualms about getting right up “in your face”— not to confront you or make love to you, but just to hold a conversation. On the flip side, people from these other cultures experience a feeling of coldness and unwelcome when they have to be told, “Hey! Please back off! I’m not used to somebody being so ‘in my face!’”
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a bishop of Assemblies of God who was visiting from Cuba, where he oversees about twenty-five house churches. Because their government does not allow any new church buildings to be built, they meet in people’s houses. This bishop told me that it is not uncommon to have two hundred or more people meet in an ordinary, ranch-style house. This is a very “intimate” experience, because everyone is packed in tight under one roof. Think about how that must feel.
Maybe, at some stage of your life, you and your buddies thought it was fun to pack a bunch of people into a ‘phone booth (anybody remember ‘phone booths ?) or into a VW beetle or other modest-size car. If you really like your gang, or you’re just feeling wild and crazy, you might agree to pack in there together.
At Bethel, we have more than enough space for a hundred and fifty people to sit down together— and we even have air conditioning and several bathrooms to add comfort.
Keep in mind that Jesus’ disciples on the day of resurrection were hiding in their room out of fear for their lives— that they could be arrested as Jesus was, and could end up getting executed as Jesus was.
Maybe this conjures up in your mind images of schools or workplaces under “lockdown,” terrified of an “active shooter” on the premises.
Or maybe, imagining those disciples all huddled together in a little room, it makes you think of a conspiracy.
Jesus came and stood among them.... Jesus said to them again, “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....” (John 20:19, 21-22)
Notice that Jesus breathed on his disciples.
Years ago, I heard an interview with the famous teacher, Ivan Illich. He was explaining his theory about what Christians have been missing since the earliest times of the church. I’m afraid that this is too little space to do justice to his theory, but... here goes! Illich argued that Jesus’ first followers received the Holy Spirit in that little, locked room where they were packed in together. They were literally breathing each other’s breath. And when the risen Christ came to them and breathed the Holy Spirit on them, their breathing together became the sharing of God’s Holy Spirit. So the early church was inspired, they respired, and every time they got together in their little rooms as the Body of Christ, they conspired— with God’s Holy Spirit.
[to hear more from Ivan Illich:
Maybe the Holy Spirit wants us to be close.
I know— I know! You’re thinking, “I can barely tolerate being in the nice, wide-open Sanctuary or Social Hall with those people, and now I’m supposed to jam into a little closed room with them in order to have God’s Holy Spirit ?!? I think I’ll pass.”
No need to expire !
“Peace be with you.”