Peter was not too proud to race to Jesus’ feet, Peter longed for communion and companionship and forgiveness and redemption, and in his longing, on the other side of the grave and death, God in Jesus Christ gave him exactly the thing for which he so longed, the thing that Peter must have been asking for in his heart every moment since his great betrayal, had been seeking in his every thought and action in the days following the trial and crucifixion, had been knocking at the door of God’s heart to receive redemption. And so as disciples ourselves, we are promised in the actions of Jesus written here, that we, too, will receive whatever restoration for which we long, that we will gain whatever forgiveness for which we strain, that we will enjoy whatever redemption it is that we seek, whether this side of heaven or the other.
In this morning’s Gospel passage, Jesus breathes on his disciples. It’s the way that the writer John expresses Jesus gifting the Holy Spirit to his followers. While we’ll celebrate Pentecost in June as the feast of the Holy Spirit with tongues of fire and all… I want to sit this morning with the analogy of the Holy Spirit as breath. The words that Jesus uses around this strange action he takes give us clues to what’s happening here, and how we might understand Scripture and its underlying truth to continue to shape and determine our lives.
When Jesus appears to his disciples in the passage this morning, he says first, “Peace be with you.” When we take deep breaths, we slow our heart rates, we force our bodies to calm down, to enter a state of deeper peace, just like Jesus tells us.
What you and I celebrate here today certainly isn’t that we who walk the way of the cross are better than anyone else. We looked down and saw that the hammer and nails were in our hands, and the jeers of scorn and violence were on our lips. We have no righteousness of our own to commend. What we celebrate today is the final acceptance of defeat—the defeat of man, the defeat of God—and the final victory that was won in defeat and death’s darkest hour.
Have you ever wondered that his post-resurrection body still had nail marks in his hands and feet? That there was still a spear wound in his side? Why didn’t God, when he was drawing the breath of life back into Jesus human flesh, just wave his fingers and erase those scars, “good as new”? Wouldn’t it be better, less upsetting, more hopeful, to just ignore the recent unpleasantness and move on to the Easter brunches and egg hunts and chocolate overdoses without the bloody scabs of torture staring us in the face?
Throughout Lent we are called to examine, to look honestly at our lives and habits, to offer to God’s judgement our ways of relationship and our rhythms of life. This week it all comes to a head, and rather than sit at home in our little prayer closets, we’re called this week to join as a community in our examination, in our looking honestly together at ourselves and our lives.
The parade of Holy Week, beginning out in the courtyard as we did this morning, continues on Thursday as we imagine that we are invited into the upper room where Jesus feasts with his disciples and then to the garden where he brings his closest companions to pray. On Friday we journey with Jesus to the cross and to the site of his death, to face what our sins do to those whom we love, to those who are innocent of evil, to those who do not deserve suffering and death at our hands. On Saturday night, we join Jesus’s path out of death, we gather again in the courtyard, in a garden, to sing and pray around the new fire that God gives in the resurrection of his Son. We will read of God’s path, walking with His people, throughout the Old Testament, we will baptize a child into the new life of Jesus Christ, and we will celebrate the first feast, the first Eucharist of Easter and of the resurrection.
Whatever has brought you to this wilderness, whatever brokenness and anger and guilt and shame and messiness have traced your steps here, “do not” “consider the things of old.” God is not about rubbing our noses in our mistakes or berating us over our foolishness. Whenever you realize and recognize that you are in the wilderness, surely that is enough suffering -- to know that you are parched, to feel, finally, that you are clumsy and tired, without strength and without a way out for yourself. And into that realization, into that opening of the eyes of your heart, God comes.
The apostle Paul is trying to tell us something, show us something, that by definition is impossible for us to see with our own eyes. He’s not just telling us to see something in a different light; from a different point of view; to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. That’s hard enough but with effort it can be done. No: Paul is telling us that we are to regard “no one from a human point of view.” Let alone trying to see things from the perspective of another person—he’s saying, the problem is the human point of view! The perspective of human beings living in the world—that’s what’s all wrong, he says. You see, there is now a new creation—everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
What would happen if there was someone who knew and understood me so well that nothing he said about me was unfair or untrue? What if there was someone who understood me better than I understand myself?
What if there was someone who confronted me in my sin not to tear me down, but to show me that what I’m doing will wind up destroying everything that really matters in my life?