It is evening.
It is the first day of the week.
The doors are shut. And the doors are locked.
Fear grips the disciples.
They are paralyzed with fear. Their Lord, their Savior is dead.
Remarkably, it is here… in this deep place of fear where the risen Jesus meets the disciples.
It is at this place of fear and even 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. As he breathes on them he says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
It is the Spirit which will empower this scared, small group of disciples to be bold and courageous evangelists.
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 create this peace on your own.
This is a peace that comes only from God and it comes to us as gift.
Now what happens in this Bible reading?
A disciple is absent.
Thomas was not with the other disciples. And because he was not there he misses this encounter with the risen Lord.
When he is 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 other things 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.
I will say this. For this Thomas whenever I fail to meet with other believers again and again and again I find myself missing encounters with Jesus.
Jesus comes to us in quiet moments and in quiet times of solitude. Yes, this is certainly true.
But in my life it is during those times when I am with other believers where my faith is most strengthened.
This past week I had the opportunity to visit my seminary for three days. When I go back to my seminary and I spend time in worship, prayer, and fellowship with other believers it is an enormous boost to my faith.
At one point in worship while we were all gathered together in the seminary chapel we were singing this absolutely beautiful liturgy that was composed by a dear friend of mine and as we were singing the liturgy I had this moment where I began to feel overwhelmed with joy and in that moment I felt connected to the whole communion of saints both those living now and those who have gone ahead of me.
It was a moment that I would have missed if I was somewhere else. If I was absent I would have missed that spiritual encounter with God.
More and more I am beginning to see that to follow Jesus is all about showing up. And then when we show up we trust by faith that Jesus will meet us at that place.
To show up 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 in 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 which will empower us 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, we may miss 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, 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.
From this Scripture reading from the Gospel of John there is much to take away.
Continue showing up. Your presence here matters. Your presence here is a blessing. Your presence here gives witness to the risen Christ among us.
Take heart for Jesus breathes on us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In conclusion, 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. 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.
This 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 refreshed and calm.
Now before practicing this breathing technique. Pray this prayer, “Risen Christ, breathe on me the Holy Spirit.”
Then do the breathing.
This is something that you can do throughout your week to help you to feel 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.
Gathered together as a church.
Believing in the peace of God.
Breathing in the very presence of the Holy Spirit we have faith that God is with us.
In believing we have life through his name. Amen.