Holy Halitosis

A sermon on the 2nd Sunday of Easter

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 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. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” –John 20:19-31

Children’s Time: Would you like a breath mint? How’s your breath today? Do you have bad breath? My grandpa used to eat onions on his hamburger and I could tell because of his breath! What about dog breath? Whew, watch out for that! What do you call it when you wake up in the morning and your breath stinks? Yep, ‘dragon breath,’ ew! Well, Jesus had good breath. It says so in our lesson today. He breathed on the disciples and they received God’s spirit. The ability to forgive sins. In the church, the dragon is often associated with what is evil. So, we for sure don’t want that – to be bitter and hateful or resentful! Let’s pray that when people meet us they find kindness and forgiveness – the fresh, minty clean breath of Easter!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

You know what I like about this lesson for today – is that Jesus shows himself. The burden of proof in this story rests on Jesus (the one who rose from the dead). If it’s really true, then he needs to show himself, which he does here – wounds and all – and on several other occasions. Jesus appears to them in the upper room, showing them his hands and side. He makes breakfast for them on the beach when they have decided to go back to fishing. Jesus even appears to 500 people, according to Paul in 1Cor. 15!

Funny, no one ever pays much attention to Mark’s gospel on Easter. If you read it in its original form, there’s 2 huge problems: 1) Jesus never appears, and 2) the women don’t tell anyone because they’re too afraid. THE END.

Oh, there are later additions to Mark, written by scribes who thought the ending should be more like the other gospels – so they changed it. But most scholars agree that Mark, chapter 16, ends with verse 8: “8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Fear is where the story ends. 1. No Jesus at the empty tomb; and 2. Their ministry is a failure, because they’re too afraid to tell anybody. Notice how different the other gospel accounts are! It’s almost like the police arriving on the scene of a car accident, getting 4 different versions of what happened. As David Lose (from Luther Seminary) put it: If you read Mark, “there’s only one person left at the end of this story who can tell others what happened – YOU, the reader.”

You, the believer, are blessed for having NOT SEEN! Jesus says it plainly to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (v. 29)

It reminds me of all the stir that’s been created over the President’s Birth Certificate. When we are afraid of something (our life’s situation, the economy, jobs, or the price at the pump) it’s natural to gravitate toward certainty. “Show us the proof,” we say, in our culture of skepticism. Even at the expense of someone’s reputation – we can be duped by lies and racism. Fear has a way of creating hurt and disbelief, and it can lead us down a path of mistrust and hatred.

So what does Jesus do? He shows them his scars – he touches their hearts. More than proving to them it’s really him – he shows what he has DONE for them. “Put your hand here, Thomas.” Oh, that we could all finger those wounds and meditate on their meaning!

And then he simply breathes on them (or into them, as the Greek may also be translated). Receive the Holy Spirit – the words in their original tongue meant just that: ‘holy breath.’ When we’re afraid, we don’t think to take a deep breath. We grow tense and nervous. Not a nerve in our bodies are relaxed and assured.

Do you think the fear went away after Jesus left them? I doubt it. But peace was now on their breath. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” And fear is now cast out, as we hear from Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” Interestingly enough, this is the only place in all of scripture where someone calls Jesus “God.”

Wow, in all this fear of the Jews and wondering if they were next in line for the cross of Golgotha, there’s talk of forgiveness! Of letting go and breathing new life. Of claiming him as Lord and God.

So, how’s breath today? Is it dragon breath, full of fear and resentment? When I was little, I remember going up for communion with my parents. Not being of age, I didn’t yet take communion; but I could smell it on my dad’s breath when we sat down in the pew. When you come for communion today, drink deeply of this gift of his body and blood – and let the fragrance of forgiveness be on your breath.

My prayer is that we may all experience the breath of God this day – Jesus’ mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Don’t settle for stinky dragon breath – breathe deeply of this Easter promise so the whole world will be hungry for the same sweet smell of salvation!

Allelulia and amen!

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