“The doors were locked for fear.” John says specifically it was “fear of the Jews.” As I mentioned on Good Friday, when John uses the phrase “the Jews,” he refers to the authorities who were hostile to Jesus. Otherwise, a text like today’s makes no sense: The disciples are Jews. They locked themselves in a room because they were afraid of themselves? No. They fear the chief priests and elders, the same power structure that lynched Jesus and got the Romans to legitimate that lynching by crucifying him. The trauma of the last few days is fresh. This scene is set on Sunday evening, Easter Day. Jesus just got killed. The disciples are still shaking after their escape. The outside world is something the disciples do not want to face just now.
That’s a feeling with which I think we can identify. I got through Holy Week okay, and was ready for a rest on Monday, but I had to be in the office Tuesday. On Tuesday I had all my usual Monday administrative stuff to catch up on and all my usual Tuesday stuff. I had the inaugural meetings of two teams back-to-back that evening. Everything that was going on in the congregation before Holy Week was still going on, only I had put it off for a week. The day’s news was terrible: protection for children of immigrants got scrapped, the stock market was all over the place, a trade war seemed to be looming, and the military was going to be deployed to the border with Mexico. And apparently I have this family that lives in my house? We had health issues, school work, child care coordinating. The world is something I don’t want to face just now. Finding a place no one knows about and locking the doors sounds like a good idea.
What does God have to say about it? Well, with the disciples, Jesus pops into their hideout. So much for locked doors. He says, “Remember how I always talked about my Father sending me? I’m sending you, now.” Then he breathes on them like he’s the Big Bad Wolf and he can huff and puff and blow the disciples out the door. Okay, maybe not precisely, but he tells them this is the Holy Spirit, and we know from earlier in John that the Holy Spirit is her own person. She goes where she wants to go and does what she wants to do. The disciples will not control her.
She’s been unfettered since Good Friday. If you think back to the Passion According to John, Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” “Gave up his spirit” is not some archaic polite roundabout way of saying he died. He died; don’t get me wrong. In that world, one’s spirit—or one’s “breath”—was one’s life—that mysterious coming and going of air by which one lived. The chief priests and elders got the Romans to murder Jesus. The problem was Jesus’ life—Jesus’ spirit or breath—was God’s life, God’s breath: God the Holy Spirit. When Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit, he turned the Holy Spirit loose in the world. The chief priests, elders, and Romans stopped Jesus but turned his Spirit loose. (The Spirit is a lot harder to track than Jesus.) In Mark you get this immediate effect as the Spirit gets into the centurion at the foot of the cross, causing him to believe Jesus was God’s son. John wants to make sure we cannot miss the Spirit, so he tells us that on Easter the risen Jesus breathes the Spirit into the disciples.
The disciples—who just wanted not to face the world—now carry the life of Jesus in them. That the Spirit leaves Jesus only after he is crucified reveals something crucial to the Spirit’s identity. She is Jesus’ life in its entirety. That means the cross is part of her. The cross is part of God. God is forever crucified. The risen Christ is permanently marked. He invites Thomas to put his fingers through the nail holes and throw his hand into his side to feel the bruised organs. Jesus is risen from the dead and will never die again and the wounds are not going away. Jesus is, while risen, permanently crucified. He carries inscribed on his body that time the world he created turned on him, lynched him, and got the authorities to legitimate it.
Why does it matter that it is the crucified Christ who comes to disciples hiding from the world? It matters because Jesus forgives! The lynching is not forgotten; it is forgiven. The state-sanctioned murder is not ignored; it is forgiven. God does not forget. God does not pretend that nothing happened. The cross is forever part of God. And God forgives. The Greek word Jesus uses and that we translate “forgive” means to let go, dismiss, send away. In Jesus, God is forever dismissing from our presence the sin that otherwise stands between God and us. There is no avoiding the reality of Jesus’ body. God doesn’t conceal it or paper it over. We participate in a world that crucifies. The one who was faithful and just was destroyed for it and his body is maimed accordingly. And this is the one who rises from the dead. God does not hold it against us. Christ comes to us risen from the dead, reigning from the cross with his wounds and nonetheless forgiving the cosmos.
The Holy Spirit now lives and breathes in the Church, where Christ put her in today’s gospel reading. She lives and breathes the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, so that in the Church Christ reigns from the cross with his wounds, forgiving each of us here. Forgiveness lies at the heart of our community. Jesus gives each of us the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the crucified and risen one, the life of the one rejected and murdered who forgives the world. And he instructs us in how to handle this: “If you forgive sins, they’re forgiven; if you retain sins, they’re retained.” The Holy Spirit provides the capacity to forgive. She preaches to us that Christ forgives us—as individuals and as a group—and that Christ sends us to do likewise. When the disciples were behind locked doors unable to face the world, Jesus came to them wounds and all, gave them his wounded and resurrected life, and told them to go out forgiving as he had forgiven them.
Today, as I consider my options for hiding from reality, the Holy Spirit preaches the same Christ reigning from the cross with his wounds, forgiving the world, and sending us to do likewise. The forgiveness and sending is for the Church. Christ’s cruciform reign of forgiveness models for us how to live as a community; we in turn pray that the Holy Spirit guide us to live in cruciform forgiveness as a model for the world. Yes, the world is overwhelming and locked doors sound appealing, but I’m not alone. We are going to do this together with Christ.
The crucified forgiver models our life for us. Christ’s wounds never heal; they just can’t stop him from forgiving us. So, too, we acknowledge the wounds. Like, when there has been a divorce: we don’t pretend there hasn’t. We used to; it was considered shameful. Why on earth pretend it hasn’t happened? It’s not like it needs to be the topic of every conversation, but we gain nothing by pretending that the causes weren’t real and the hurts don’t exist. Acknowledging the wounds allows forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean saying, “Those things that destroyed us were no big deal.” They were a huge deal. Forgiveness means that the permanently wounded can say to each other that those wounds will not control their lives.
In the same manner, we live together forgiving, for our sake and for the sake of the world. If we’re serious about Jesus we want to see things happen the way he calls for them. That won’t happen automatically. We need a community to do it. Community doesn’t exist without that mechanism for forgiveness. The world will tell us “there is not enough.” It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about; there’s never enough of it. We say “God provides”; the world may listen when the Church is a community that lives as though God provides. That community is strong insofar as it allows the crucified, risen, and forgiving Christ to be strong. (If we can’t forgive each other there’s no community for God to be generous to.) The world will tell us to seek revenge. We say, “reconcile.” The world may listen to us if we live as a community that reconciles, confesses its corporate shortcomings, and consists of members who are open about their failures. In other words, a community that takes seriously the crucified and risen Christ. The world will tell us to ignore the problems, because they are too big. We say, “We’re not going to ignore them; we’re going to forgive them. We’re going to name them, and name what causes them, and we’re not going to let those causes stand between us as we work for a solution.” And the world may listen to us if we are a strong community of faith that confesses and forgives within its self.
So, I think I’ll unlock the door. (It doesn’t seem to keep Jesus out, anyway.) And as much as I fear the world I will face it with my brothers and sisters, and especially with my big brother, whose wounds never heal yet never stop him from forgiving.