Jesus died on the cross, and the disciples locked themselves in a house. The Gospel says that they did it “for the fear of the Jews.” I have no idea whose house it was or where the house was. But for sure, they gathered together in that house, shut the door tightly, and perhaps sealed the window too, so that they couldn’t be noticed by anyone around. And they stayed like that for three days. As I read today’s Gospel reading last week, I just couldn’t help imagining what they would have done and how they would have felt in the house for those three days.
I imagine that the house was filled with heavy air and deadly silence. There, the disciples had to talk to one another with muffled voices and sometimes held their breath when someone knocked on the door. They were totally locked in the house with their seriously wounded hearts. Yes, they were the ones who betrayed Jesus, their friend and the Lord. They helplessly left him alone and couldn’t do anything for him. Even though they heard what Mary Magdalene testified, “I have seen the Lord,” they couldn’t believe it and there was nothing they could do but remaining in the house (John 20:18). The light of Easter hasn’t crossed the threshold of the house.
The disciples try to deny and forget the suffocating tragedy to pull themselves together and mend their broken hearts. However, in the house, they can’t even breathe freely. They are in short of breath whenever they remind themselves of the miserable fact that as the disciples of Jesus the crucified, they are also suspected of the possible rebels and criminals now. They can’t even breathe freely. Their chest feel tight whenever they feel so worried and confused as they agonize over how to live on without Jesus, their breath of life. And in the house, their wounds can’t be healed. Rather, they get hurt more and more whenever they think about what happened to Jesus on Friday and the way of his horrible death. Their wounds can’t be healed. Their hearts are weighed down with the intense emotions of remorse and sadness. And they know they will never be free from these heavy feelings haunting them.
In the house, the disciples lock themselves in—not just their bodies but also their souls. But into this very house, the shadowy place of heavy breath and painful wounds, Jesus enters. He comes in through the locked door. He comes and says, “Peace be with you.” (20:19) As if nothing serious has happened, he greets them, “shalom.” But, the disciples cannot immediately recognize him. The Gospel tells us that only after Jesus showed them his wounds, “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (20:20) And here what Jesus does to his disciples is very significant. Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (20:22). Jesus breathed on them. His breath of life, the breath of the Holy Spirit, liberates them, and lets them breathe freely, lets them truly breathe in the love of Jesus Christ again and breathe out his peace and joy. Jesus breathes the Spirit into their heavy hearts. And their hearts are instantly unlocked and the wave of Easter joy finally comes into them.
Into the house, Jesus comes not only once. But he comes again for Thomas who was not there when Jesus first visited the disciples. The Gospel writes that even after hearing the witness of Mary Magdalene and the testimonies of other disciples, Thomas says, “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” (20:25). A week after, when the disciples including Thomas gather again in the house, Jesus visits them again. And at the very moment of this encounter, Jesus shows Thomas his wounds and asks him to put his finger and hand in them. Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God” (20:27). By touching the wounds of Jesus, the mark of everlasting love, the unhealed wounds of Thomas are healed. When Jesus’ wounds meet the disciples’ wounds, when his traces of self-sacrificing love meet the disciples’ broken hearts, there is healing. Through this healing, the disciples become made whole one more time.
In today’s Gospel story, we see the unfathomable love of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who finds the disciples first after his resurrection. And Jesus personally comes to them again when they need him most. The breath of the Holy Spirit Jesus breathes and the wounds of self-giving love he carries on his resurrected body, indeed, liberate the disciples from the house, from the place of heavy breath and painful wounds and mend their hearts. Even after his resurrection, Jesus continues his ministry and once again, he saves their souls with his love and encourages them to rise up with a new assurance of faith and fresh vision.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, as we live our lives, there may be days of despair and sorrow, the days when we lose our faith, the days when we are deeply wounded and can’t breathe. In those days, like the disciples, we may think that Jesus is not here with us anymore, and we may lock ourselves in our own places of silence and darkness. But I truly believe that in those days and into those places, Jesus will come. He will surely come, no matter how tightly we locked the door of our hearts, no matter how firmly we close our spiritual window. The resurrected Jesus will come with the light of Easter. The doors and windows are not a problem, he will pass through them to come into our hearts. And he will breathe into us the Spirit of life, the Spirit of the living God, and revive our hearts. He will show us his sacred wounds and reconnect us to his everlasting love that conquers even the fearful power of death. Whenever his breath meets our breath, whenever his wounds meet our wounds, the true healing, the true revival, the true resurrection of our souls will always happen within our lives. Can you believe it?
So Easter people, raise your voices and tell others that Jesus will come and visit all who believe in his love. And he will liberate us from the shadows, restore our brokenness to breathe freely, and heal our wounds with his self-giving love. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim