Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
With that great exclamation we begin each Eucharist throughout the entire season of Eastertide, which in the Anglican Communion (and in other churches as well) begins on Easter Sunday and lasts until the Sunday of Pentecost. That's a whole fifty days we get to celebrate Easter! I've always loved that Eastertide was longer than Lent. It just seemed right. So, to all of you I wish a very blessed Eastertide.
The post-Resurrection stories in the four Gospels have always held a special place in my heart. They are filled with so much wisdom and love that after all these years of reading them, I still find so much in them to reflect upon, pray with, and, hopefully, base my life on.
One such story is that found in the Gospel of St. John. It is the evening of the first day of the week, the day we have come to call the first Easter, and the disciples are gathered together hiding in fear for their lives. Back on Thursday night and Friday morning all but one had abandoned Jesus as he was arrested, tried before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, tortured, humiliated, made to bear his own instrument of death, crucified, and finally died. It is now Sunday night, their leader is gone, their own reputation destroyed, and each one of them must have been wondering, "Are they coming for me next?"
I have often wondered what it would have been like to be hiding in that room with all of that running through my mind. The Apostles were so weak, so human--just like me. That's why I have always related to them. Each of them had committed themselves to following Jesus, and at the first sign of trouble, they fled from him. That, it seems to me, is a basic definition of sin: Not trusting in God when things get difficult. And so, it seems totally appropriate to me that upon first entering through the locked door into that hiding place, the Resurrected Jesus would address his disciples with a greeting of peace. With that simple "peace be with you" Jesus did so much for those very ordinary men: he forgave them. And in forgiving them he empowered them to be sent out to proclaim the Good News to all the world, just as the Father had sent Jesus to do the same. He empowered them to be workers for peace.
Then, Jesus "breathes on them" and with this very intimate act, something he has done in other places when raising the dead or healing the sick, he communicates a kind of unity with all humanity. He tells his disciples that they are to "receive the Holy Spirit" by his breath. You see, we are united in the breath that is the Holy Spirit. This was more obvious to those who could read John's Gospel in the original Greek, for breath and spirit are the same word in that language. That breath is shared with all humanity.
Finally he instructs them that "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." In some circles within Christianity, that passage has been interpreted as one only applicable to those who are ordained. I have never read it that way. When I read this passage, I hear Jesus telling us one more time that we are united with one another, and with him, in such a way so that if we act to free our sisters and brothers from whatever it is that binds them to the sin and death and hell that they have brought upon themselves and others, then we are all free. If we insist on keeping our sisters and brothers chained to that same sin and death and hell, then they are chained, but so are we. If one is choking for lack of breath, we all suffocate.
So, whether we are forgiving those who have harmed us, threatened us, or wished evil upon us; or, if we are seeking forgiveness from those whom we have harmed, threatened, or wished evil upon, we are engaging in the creation of peace. We have the tools for peace within our reach. Jesus taught that to us in so many different ways, the most basic tool being forgiveness. Whether we need to grant forgiveness or seek forgiveness from the neighbor who lives in our own home, down the street, or in a country around the world, we have been given all we need to eventually live in a peaceful way. If we are to achieve peace before the sun goes down, we must first begin with forgiveness. This Eastertide, I invite you to allow Jesus to breathe on you and receive his greeting of peace. Then, spread that breath around.
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!