It is evening.
It is the first day of the week.
The doors are shut.
And they are locked.
Fear grips the disciples.
They are paralyzed with fear.
Their Lord, their teacher, their dearest friend is dead.
It is in this place of deepest despair where the risen Jesus meets the disciples.
It is at this place of paralyzing fear and terror where the disciples encounter the risen Lord.
Jesus comes to them.
Jesus gives them his peace.
Jesus shows them his hands and his side.
Jesus calls them to forgive one another.
And then Jesus does something else here that has always fascinated me.
Jesus breathes on them.
Think for a moment about what that means.
Verse twenty-two here is rich with meaning.
In the Bible breathe is connected with life.
In Genesis chapter two verse seven God breathes into the man and the man becomes alive.
Here Jesus breathes on them and he says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
It is the Spirit which will empower this scared, fearful group of disciples to become bold and courageous evangelists of the Gospel.
They will give witness to the presence and power of God in the world.
They will give witness to the risen Christ.
They will give witness to the peace of God which transcends all understanding.
This is a peace that the world cannot give to us.
You cannot buy this peace.
You cannot earn this peace with good deeds.
You certainly cannot make or create this peace on your own.
This is a peace that comes only from God and it comes to us as pure gift.
The disciples receive this peace.
But one disciple is missing.
Thomas is absent.
He is not with the other disciples.
He is not connected with the others.
And because he is not there, he misses this miraculous encounter with Jesus.
When he comes back the disciples try to tell him that they have seen Jesus.
But his response to the disciples’ testimony is one of unbelief.
I have often wondered… where was Thomas when Jesus appeared?
Was he off hiding somewhere?
Was he too frightened to be with the other disciples?
Was he distracted by his own cares and so he was off doing something else while the other disciples continued meeting together?
We do not know.
But I think there is a lesson here for us.
Whenever we fail to meet with other believers again and again and again, we find ourselves missing encounters with Jesus.
Jesus comes to us in the quiet moments and in the quiet times of solitude.
Yes, this is certainly true.
But I have found that in my life it is during those times when I am with other believers where my faith is most strengthened.
To follow Jesus is to be connected with others.
To be connected with other believers is what it means to follow Jesus.
For the first followers of Jesus to be a Jesus follower meant that you meet with other disciples and apostles.
To be a Jesus follower meant that you gathered together with other Christians.
Even today as humble as the church can seem to those looking at us from the outside the church is still one of the most stable and firm places within local communities for the spread of the Gospel and for the spread of God’s grace and peace.
It is in the church where people gather together on the first day of the week to encounter the risen Lord.
In life sometimes we need to go back to the beginning and then to remember.
In the beginning when the risen Christ first appeared to his followers, he showed them these very things that today we must remember.
First, we are to remember that his peace is always upon us.
Secondly, we are to remember that we have been given the authority to forgive sins.
Thirdly, we are to remember that we will receive the Holy Spirit, God will breathe on us and we will be empowered to do God’s will.
And lastly, we are to remember that we are to continue meeting together in order to see again and again the risen Christ among us even now.
If we are absent, like Thomas was, we may miss sings of the risen Jesus among us.
It was only when Thomas had come back to be with the other disciples that Jesus appeared to him.
When Thomas returned and was with the other disciples, connected once again with his beloved faith family just one week later which would be the first day of the week, then and only then did Jesus appear before Thomas.
When Jesus appeared, Thomas believed and his faith was strengthened.
From this Scripture reading from the Gospel of John there is much to take away today.
Continue showing up – continue tuning in to our worship services over Webex.
It matters that we stay connected.
Together we remain a blessing to each other.
Our shared presence here gives witness to the risen Christ among us.
I cannot see you but I believe that you are there and that you are taking in the Gospel message of the risen Christ.
I can feel your presence with me and your presence strengthens my faith.
Today take heart for Jesus breathes on us the gift of life.
I would like to leave you with a simple practice that you can do this coming week in order to remember how even today Jesus breathes on us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I would like to teach you now a simple breathing practice which I feel might be very helpful during these fearful days.
This simple practice can open yourself up more fully to the peace of God.
This simple breathing technique is called box breathing or four-square breathing.
It is very simple.
You just breathe in for a count of four then hold your breath for a count of four then exhale for a count of four and lastly hold for a count of four.
Image a box here.
OK, now you know how to do box breathing.
This is a great practice to do to feel more refreshed and calmer.
Now that you got that down add this prayer to your breathing, “Risen Christ, breathe on me the Holy Spirit.”
This is something that you can easily do throughout your week to help you to feel more grounded in your faith.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus is talking about us here.
We have not seen the risen Lord in the flesh and yet we have still come to believe.
Connected together as God’s people.
Believing in the peace of God.
Staying connected even at a time like this.
Breathing in the very presence of the Holy Spirit.
We have faith that God is with us connecting us together.
In believing we have true life in his name.