"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came, stood among them, and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’"
(John 20:19-20; 22)
By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
A long, bloody week had ended. The crucifixion of two thieves and a so-called prophet was a fading memory. Life was returning to normal. The restrictions of Sabbath, which governed even how far a person could walk, were lifted. Most people likely went outside, where lilies were abloom and fresh air was free for all to enjoy.
But one group of people stayed indoors, shutters drawn, hidden from the parade of gossipers still talking about the events of the previous Friday.
On such a night, what would cause 10 men—several of them fishermen who loved the out-of-doors—to bar themselves inside a room? You might think they simply were planning their fishing the following morning.
A closer look reveals they were afraid.
Fear gripped their lives, for they knew their actions of cowardice three days earlier had made them targets for the Romans, the religious leaders, and maybe even Jesus—whom, if they were to believe the women, had risen from the grave! When we disappoint those who love us most, the greatest pain often comes from within us.
Jesus was alive! What would he say to them when he encountered them? How would he vent his anger at them for running out on him when he most needed them? The betrayal, the denial, the crucifixion, the resurrection—he had predicted all of it.
Behind closed doors, they waited in stark fear.
Suddenly, Jesus was in the room with them! The mysterious presence of Christ penetrated even locked doors! Yet with his first words, "Peace be with you," he shattered their fears. And Jesus showed them the wounds in his hands and his side.
Then he "breathed on them." What was that all about?
It wasn’t an act of bestowing peace, for Jesus greeted the men with those words. It wasn’t an act of power, because Jesus knew the supreme power would come some 50 days later.
An older version of the New Testament may carry us nearer to the original meaning than most modern-day translations. A translation from the Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke, gives us this reading: "And when he had said these things, he gave them courage."
He breathed on them and gave them courage!
If you name all the ways and times courage is needed in life, you will agree that courage is almost life itself. Courage is needed to hold fast to our heritage of good. When religion is treated with indifference and disrespect, it requires courage to be true to the deep instincts of the soul. When everyone else is conforming, it takes courage to aspire.
It was courage that sent our Lord to Jerusalem and enabled him to keep silent when accused, that made his suffering vicarious, and that transformed the instruments of hatred into implements of love, using an old rugged cross—the emblem of torment and shame—to save the world.
It was courage that sent a young David to meet Goliath and that kept Daniel’s window open toward Jerusalem.
Courage is the essence of our faith that keeps us going forward, not seeing what lies ahead, but knowing we will encounter God and God will make a way for us.
The courage Jesus gave to those disciples quivering in that room is the same courage he gives us today to meet our own crises.
He gives us courage to meet life head-on, without fear and doubt. When we encounter our own dark Fridays, we know Resurrection Sunday is coming! We take on courage, believing Christ will find us behind our locked doors of failure, hopelessness, sin, and shortcomings.
One of the most beautiful insects is the dragonfly. With its iridescent wings and graceful flight, it captivates and charms on a summer’s day. Yet once it was a grub, lying in a pond. Change came, and the dragonfly emerged from its early form of life. It found itself endowed with powers and beauty entirely new.
So it is with those born anew through the power of the Resurrection. We rise from being frightened and discouraged followers to being courageous, Spirit-filled people of hope who now know even death cannot defeat us!
In John Masefield’s play "The Trial of Jesus," Pilate’s wife asks the Roman centurion, "Do you think He (Jesus) is dead?"
The centurion replies, "No, lady, I don’t."
"Then where is he?" she persists.
The centurion answers, "Let loose in the world, lady, where neither Roman nor Jew can stop His truth."
I wonder how many of you this hour are in your inner rooms, unsure the Lord is truly alive. You’ve heard others talk about seeing him, being with him, and being transformed by his presence. Can all of it really be true?
Yes, it is true. However, you will not believe it until you encounter him for yourself!