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Upcoming Events
APR

27

SUN
Sunday Eucharist
10:00 AM to 11:00 AM
10:00 to 10:45, refreshments following in Carey Hall
MAY

04

SUN
Sunday Eucharist
10:00 AM to 11:00 AM
10:00 to 10:45, refreshments following in Carey Hall
MAY

05

MON
Prayer Shawl Ministry
10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
From Fr. Leo’s sermon on the Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31)

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them...”

This Gospel reading that we heard this morning begins on Easter Sunday evening and concludes a week later. It runs the gambit from fear to peace, from failure to reconciliation, and from doubt to faith. In a very real way it is our story! We all struggle with the same range of emotions at some point in our spiritual lives.

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”  This Gospel story is more than a resurrection account. It is also the story of ten frightened men locked away in an upstairs room in Jerusalem. Even after the disciples saw the empty tomb and heard the reports of Jesus' appearance to the women, they were still weak in faith and fearful of being arrested by the Romans or by the Jewish authorities. They had been so confident, but in the end they deserted Jesus and his mission. Peter even denied knowing him.

Maybe there was more than fear that the disciples were experiencing. They were struggling not only with fear, but with anxiety, a sense of failure, and worst of all, shame. What the disciples were doing was not so much hiding out, but locking themselves in. Isn’t that the what we do at times with our hearts when we experience unsettling and disturbing events in our lives?

I think we can see in this story a metaphor for our lives as Christians today and the fears we face. It is possible that St. John meant it as both history and metaphor when he wrote this Gospel for a young, struggling, and persecuted church. We face fears, anxieties, uncertainties, and even shame in our lives every day. Even in the church we wrestle with anxiety, disappointment, and betrayal. 

Just look at what The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are going through this past decade. Not to mention what our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church are dealing with at the moment. It almost feels like Jesus is not present with us anymore. Or because of our own doubts and failures we can not feel His presence. Sometimes we tend to bolt the locks on our hearts, and by shutting the world out, we are really locking ourselves in. We become a prisoner of our own sins, shame, and self-perceptions. Like the disciples, we try to hide from our shame and our disappointment in ourselves by locking the doors to our hearts and not letting anyone in..

But in spite of the barred doors of our hearts, Jesus stands in our midst and says: “Shalom” - “Peace be with you,”  “Shalom” is is not just a polite greeting, but a statement  that “all is well”. 
When Jesus appeared to His disciples He offered proof of his resurrection by showing them the wounds of his passion- his pierced hands and side. He calmed their fears and brought them peace, the peace which reconciles sinners and makes one a friend of God. Jesus did something which only love and trust and can do. Jesus pronounces a declaration of absolution to his shame filled friends. It is an assurance of forgiveness. “To forgive,” in the Greek of the New Testament, also means “to set free.” It means to release from bondage and captivity. When Jesus stands among the disciples in a room with a locked door and announces, “Peace be with you,” He is saying not only are “You are forgiven,” but also “You are free.” Free from the past with all its failures and disappointments.

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

The disciples now become “apostles”. which means “one sent”. He commissioned his weak and timid apostles to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. He calls us to do the same. Just as He gave His first disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, so in our Baptism, He breathes on us the same Holy Spirit to equip us with power, grace, and strength.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them...”

We read in the very beginning of Holy Scripture, in the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,... a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”The King James translation reads: “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The word “wind” can also be translated as “breath” or “spirit”. God breathed on the chaos and breathed the creation into existence. Now Jesus breathes on the chaos of the apostles, and brought into existence  a new creation- the church!

Jesus said to His apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them...”

At our baptism we receive the same commission that was given to the apostles. We are to be ministers of reconciliation. We are to undertake the ministry of unlocking the doors to people’s hearts so that they too can experience the freedom and healing  of God’s love in Christ. We are called to set people free by pouring out on them the same forgiveness we have received. We are to be Christ’s apostles in the world; forgiven, restored, reconciled, and freed from fear and death.

But one of the twelve, Thomas, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord."  But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." The apostle Thomas was a natural skeptic. Even though Thomas deeply loved our Lord, after Jesus' death, Thomas made the mistake of withdrawing from the other disciples. He sought isolation rather than fellowship in this time of adversity. He doubted the women who saw the resurrected Jesus and he doubted his own fellow apostles. A week later the disciples were again in the upper room, and Thomas was with them. When Thomas finally had the courage to rejoin the other apostles, Jesus made his presence known to him and reassured him in a tangible way that He had indeed overcome death and was risen again. When Thomas recognized his Master, he believed and exclaimed that Jesus was truly Lord and truly God! From his place of doubt he came to make the most profound act of faith recorded in the Gospels!

We too struggle with doubt and disbelief at times in our lives. It is nothing to be ashamed of. The danger for us is the same as it was for Thomas. We are tempted to wrestle with it in isolation. When we can bring ourselves to confront our fears and doubts in the community of faith we experience an unexpected spiritual growth. And then in a deeper way we encounter the presence of the Risen Christ. Through the gift of faith we too, proclaim that Jesus is our Lord and our God!

He died and rose that we, too, might have new life in Him. Again this morning, as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we accept the Risen Christ into our hearts once more. And in doing so, we realize that fear is changed to faith, anxiety to peace, shame to restoration, and the locks on our hearts have all been removed and we are free.

"Lord Jesus Christ, through Your victory over fear and death You have overcome all the powers of darkness. Help us to draw near to You and to trust in Your life-giving word.  Fill us with Your Holy Spirit and strengthen our faith in Your forgiveness and our hope in the power of Your resurrection. Amen."

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