“He’s Back” – Nathan Hosler
Acts 2:14a, 22-32, John 20:19-31, 1 Peter 1:3-9
The year was 2002. Just 24 months into the new millennium and there I was—sent but sitting in the dark. I was in Weierhof, a small German village of about 900 people an hour southwest of Frankfurt.
Was with Eastern Mennonite Mission—a somewhat charismatic (at least while I was there) mission agency. Being somewhat charismatic and being a mission agency meant that there was a lot of room for the Spirit and a strong emphasis on going—being sent into the world.
So, I was sent but sitting in the dark. Not literal dark—though the extended darkness of winter probably didn’t help—but a spiritual and emotional dark. It is typical, when living internationally to experience and significant low point a few months in. Looking back from the end James, my group leader, noted that we didn’t have much to say about the time between 1 and 2 months into our work. Doubting one’s call
The disciples no doubt are doubting their call–wondering whether they just wasted the past three years of their lives—if all their wandering the country side and leaving their lives behind was for naught. We have the advantage of that even before Good Friday, when Jesus is killed, comes around we know that Easter is just around the corner. Today for us is a week after Easter. For us Jesus is long risen. The passage that we read, however, has the disciples still waiting and wondering in fear. Whereas we know the ending, the disciples are still muddling through. A few have claimed to see Jesus but then again that is not the most believable tale.
Disciples and then still Thomas doubt
The women who went to the tomb were the first to witness the risen Christ. They told the rest of the disciples but they were likely still doubting. It doesn’t say precisely that they were doubting but it doesn’t say they believed. Given this, probably a strained hope is the best we can expect. Not only was their doubt about this tale but most likely there was doubt about their calling—how could it be otherwise? The one they followed was killed. The movement for the restoration of Israel vanquished on that not-so-good Friday.
Hiding for fear
While my claim that they were doubting may be somewhat speculative they were hiding in fear. This is what we read anyways. John doesn’t say that they were being pursued but that they were hiding. This would seem to be a reasonable reaction. The one who they followed, who led, who was going to be a saving messiah was hunted and killed—why wouldn’t they be next?
Into this fear and even the locked room Jesus comes. Jesus comes and dislodges them from their hideout. —I grew up on a plot of forested land which was adjacent to more forests and fields. Moreover my dad was a carpenter so there was scrap wood and tools galore—so I know about hideouts… One particularly good hideout was subterranean. I dug a hole maybe 3-4 ft wide and around 6 ft long. It was roughly 4 feet deep and I covered it with branches–first larger and then smaller.
In center of this rather authentic looking brush pile was a hole through which one—a relatively small one—could wiggle down in. It was roomy enough for two to sit cross-legged facing one another. No-one not even Jesus could sneak up on me—well, not even Jesus unless he pulled one of these stunts. In the end it wasn’t Jesus that dislodged me from my hideout but smoke. Smoke and maybe boredom. It turns out that building a campfire in a hole that you are sitting in is not particularly pleasant and that building such a lair is more interesting than sitting in it.
So the disciples are hiding out in a locked room and Jesus enters—and dislodges them—not with smoke but with a renewing of their call. Jesus rightly intuits that this entering despite-a-locked-door-after-one-has-died might be alarming and greets them with “peace.” “Peace be with you.”
Into their locked room of despair Jesus reaffirms call. He reconstitutes the almost disbanded Jesus movement. He does this in three ways. Sending. Breathing (the Spirit). Empowering to forgive.
Jesus begins reaffirming their call by sending. He says “I am sending you as I was sent.” In the beginning of the book of John is where we find the somewhat abstract depiction of Jesus coming.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth. 15
Though the disciples now see Jesus they don’t know that this is temporary. There are likely sighs of relief—well now we can just get back to the good of ol’ days of interesting teaching and the occasional miracle to liven up the show. Jesus is not, however, around to stay but passing through to send out the disciples into the world. The end goal for us is not to show up on Sunday morning to be filled, entertained, or even encouraged. While these are fine and even necessary we don’t show up to bask in the glow of God’s presence but to get on out and minister to the world. Jesus comes one last time to send his disciples out. This going out in the Spirit to continue what Jesus started is the essence of the Church.
So Jesus sends them but that’s not all.
Jesus breathed the Spirit onto them
Literarily and linguistically breath, Spirit, and wind are often related in scripture. In Genesis the Spirit is hovering over the water before Creation. Later in Acts the Spirit comes during Pentecost with the sound of rushing wind. Jesus breathes on his disciples saying “…”
That Jesus does this must have a relatively clear meaning. The text doesn’t define what happens but merely that it happened.
In the Old Testament prophets would on be filled with the Spirit on a sort of short-term basis. They were filled for a particular task. Being Spirit-filled was, for both the prophets and the disciples, an empowering and anointing for the work of God.
Jesus has just sent them to continue his work—it is thoughtful that he would also empower them. This is no empty “go get’em” – I hope it goes well!—Good luck….no, in the same way that Jesus was sent and Spirit filled for the journey so too will the disciples.
Given the ability to forgive or not forgive
In a somewhat surprising twist the Spirit empowered going does not come with a large list of instructions. While certainly Jesus’ years of being with them and teaching them add much content to what they will say and do all he says here is about forgiveness.
Now this notation on forgiveness may be that they—at least at first—will be going to the community which rejected and killed Jesus. Jesus, even while still on the cross, modeled this by asking for the forgiveness of those killing them. So perhaps Jesus is saying something like—“now Pete…remember what I told you…Don’t take your Spirit power out for revenge. No calling down destruction on so and so. “
It may be that Jesus reminds the traumatized friends that retribution and harbored unforgiveness is not their calling.
This singular mention of forgiveness could also be that this pretty much sums of the work of Jesus—the Gospel. Think of 2 Corinthians 5 or Romans 5
17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[d] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God
We are reconciled to God through Jesus and given the job—the vocation of—reconciliation.
With his entirety of ministry, teaching, and indeed the whole of their scriptures—what we call the Old Testament—Jesus sends, empowers through the Spirit, and gives the power of forgiveness. That seems like a doable commissioning. All’s left to do is for them to do it—for us to carry on this Spirit filled going and forgiving—going out and healing the world.
[pause…] yep..that’s all we’ve got to do. So….how do we actually do such a thing?
Barbara Brown Tayler, a writer and professor of spirituality writes about the many types of jobs that she has worked and her path to becoming content and satisfied in this work in her book “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.” After listing the things she has done—such as newspaper reporter and cheese packer—she tells of the things she yet wants to do—jewelry maker, zookeeper, bookstore manager. While in seminary (remember seminary is where people usually go to become pastors) she studied with people who knew exactly why they were there.
She writes, “Upon request most of them could deliver articulate accounts of their calls to ministry…They had long lists of people willing to write recommendations for them when it came time to apply for their first jobs in parish ministry” (Tayler, 108-109). She, however, was not full of such certainty. “What was my designated purpose on this earth?” she would ask (Taylor, 109). After many attempts to pray and find places to pray she found an old fire-escape on the side of an abandoned Victorian mansion next to the divinity school. She began to climb over the ‘Danger: Keep off’ sign and sit and pray. Eventually her prayers became prayers without words. She notes that it was when her prayers “graduated to inchoate sounds” that she heard God answer her question “what should I do?” with “Anything that pleases you.” “Do anything that pleases you,” she heard, “and belong to me.” ____
She goes on to describe vocation. I would name what she calls vocation a calling. A call to join in ministering to others. This call may or may not be what you are paid for. This call may or may not sound religious. This call is what the disciples discover—what they re-discover when Jesus—the risen Christ—busts on into their hideout—dislodges them, smokes them out. Jesus sends them out. Jesus empowers them with the Spirit. Jesus sets them on a mission of forgiving—of healing the world.
Jesus is still doing this—Jesus is sending us.