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The first Sunday night and the week that followed

Thomas and the birth of the church: John 20:19-31


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John 20: 19-31  Jesus alive. And Jesus with his disciples. Creation could breathe again.

This passage bridges a week from the first evening of the good news into the future of the church. It’s a glossed-over, hazy week, like the first week with a newborn. You can imagine the awe and wonder, wondering and fear, perhaps. Joy.

The writer of the Gospel gives us the story of the birth of the church. Often, we read this in Matthew with the Great Commission or in Acts with Pentecost, and this quieter moment on that first Sunday night passes as just one of several resurrection appearances. But in John’s telling, this moment is the moment of birth. When the church becomes embodied.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, his breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Before this moment, the church has just been a crowd around Jesus. Now, it’s charged with its own life. You can hear the gentle echoes of Genesis here, with God forming humanity out of dust and breathing the spirit of life that living might begin.  Jesus breathes on the disciples and gives them his spirit, and the church is born.

But Thomas wasn’t there. He didn’t see this birth, and he didn’t believe.

He heard about the locked room and the appearance. He heard about Jesus’ hands, and he probably saw something in the disciples’ eyes, but he didn’t get it. A bit like the punchline to a slanted joke, maybe you had to be there.  There must have been something awkward there for him – these dear friends who had suddenly lost the plot. It was understandable, of course, after everything that had happened. So he stuck with them, but so sad, wasn’t it?

And the next week, it happened again. The doors were shut, Jesus appeared, and this time, he met Thomas. Just as Thomas needed to be met. Physically.

The Gospel of John is such an embodied Gospel. It’s full of senses. The Word became flesh and fed the people loaves and fish. It’s a gospel of candles in the dark and drawing in the dust, of the stinking realities of death and of tending each other gently. In John, the words of eternal life are words full of human senses.

In church yesterday, Blue watched the elders bring in the elements for Holy Communion. “Look, Mum! It’s the wine and daily bread. I love the daily bread.”

Of course, he does, the physical little monster. Don’t we all? That’s how we are made. Embodied. Hungry. We love the taste of bread. And the feel of others around us. The hand-holding and tickling and scrabbling everywhere of little ones. The gentle comfort of sitting beside a friend. The smell of the Easter flowers. The hymns that ring out so joyfully our hearts beat fasten with the hallelujahs.

That’s the humanity that Jesus met us with throughout his earthly ministry. Dividing food, comforting the sick, travelling together. When the disciples try to tell Thomas that it isn’t over, that Jesus is doing something new, he hears it only as breath. There is nothing tangible. Nothing for him, then.

And then, the Risen Christ, meets him again. Face-to-face, hands outstretched. Present. And Thomas says “My Lord and my God.” The Gospel writer holds a mirror up to the church in this moment. This is what you want, isn’t it? This physical awareness, this embodied connection. Here you are – you are Thomas.

We weren’t there, and we haven’t known the gospel as an embodied reality. But, in Thomas, our hunger is validate and confirmed. The danger for us is to over-spiritualize our faith. To leave out our hunger and our physicality. But the breath of Jesus which sends the church out also calls the church to the table. Take, eat, this is my body. Hold onto the physical blessings of being human. These, too, are the things of God. Blessed are those who have not seen  and yet have come to believe. Blessed are those who find me in strangers and friends, in wine and daily bread.

And Thomas can say “My Lord and my God.” My teacher and my maker.

My all in all, who touches my mind and my soul, who made my form and my heart.

My very breath. The breath of God within me.

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I cannot write of Jesus’ breath and the new life of the resurrection without writing about Hélène Campbell. Many of you will have already heard this good news, but for those of you who haven’t, here you are. Happy Easter!

On Good Friday, Hélène went into surgery for her longed-for double-lung transplant.  She is now recuperating well. You can find her family’s post-surgery statement here. Please remember Hélène and her family with joy, thanksgiving and prayers for growing strength and healing. We also remember the generosity of her donor’s family.


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Katie Munnik posts a new Messy Table every Monday.
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2 Comments

  1. avatar
    Christiana says:

    I love this image of the resurrection of Christ being a new birth. My husband preached yesterday and emphasized that physical moment when Jesus is in the tomb and he opens his eyes…everything changes in that moment…the disciples, the church, the whole world is born into this new life with the opening of his eyes.

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  2. avatar

    Beautiful meditation on the necessity of physical blessings to nurture our spirituality. Thank-you!

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