John 20:19-31, Acts 4:32-35
It’s been one week since Easter, one week since the chaos and excitement, one week since the empty tomb, one week since our first “Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed!” It’s one week after the resurrection and the disciples are in the same place they were Easter night. They are in the same room behind the same locked doors. (John 20:19-31)
So, if the resurrection is such a big deal, such a life changing event, why are they still stuck in the same place? What difference has the empty tomb made? How has it changed them? Has it let them see themselves and their world differently? I wonder, one week after Easter, what has Christ’s resurrection done for us? Is our life different? Do we see and engage the world in new ways? Today’s readings call us to reflect on what a difference Jesus makes in our lives. John declares, “these things are written so you may come to believe that Jesus is the messiah, the son of God and through believing you may have life in his name.” What does life in his name look like?
According to John the disciples were gifted with new life as they Jesus appears, greeting them with “Peace be with you.” Jesus then breathes on them, giving them holy spirit. It reminds us of the second chapter of Genesis when God breathed into Adam the breath of life.
The kind of life God breathed into Adam as recorded in Genesis is life known as bios in Greek. The English word biology is derived from this root. It refers to the duration of life — one’s life span, the time between one’s birth date and one’s death date; or it refers to the necessities of life — one’s food, shelter, and clothing. Another important Greek word for life is zoe, in which the English words zoo and zoology are derived. It refers to life as God has it. The life that belongs to God that becomes ours when we receive Jesus as messiah, God’s son, and enter a relationship with God. This zoe life, life of the spirit, is not limited by time, nor hindered by death. This is the life Jesus breathed into his disciples when he declared, “receive the Holy Spirit.”
When we were born, we were given bios life, when we are born again we are given zoe life. Until enter into a relationship with God through Jesus we may be physically alive but spiritually we are dead. Remember Jesus assures Nicodemus that we must be born again, born from above. What is born of the flesh is flesh, what is born of the spirit is spirit Jesus reminds us. To be a follower of Jesus, to know who he is and what he means brings usa new vitality, a new meaning, a new energy, a new purpose, a new significance, a new outlook, a new hope, a new joy, a new life.
Our lessons from John 20 and Acts 4 today give us several insights into the kind of spiritual life, zoe-life, that Jesus brings us.
In our lesson from John, Jesus speaks to the disciples three times in the upper room giving them assurance. “Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (vv. 19, 21). The spiritual life Jesus gives us gifts us with purpose. We are sent forth into the world to make a difference. We are called not just to exist but to contribute to the healing of the world. That’s what zoe life does. So what are your gifts of service? Are you called to cheer people up? Do you have resources you can share with the needy? Do you use your time to visit or contact those who are sick, in prison, or shut in? What is that special thing God has placed in your life to share with others, to bring life, in his name? There is no better time than the Easter season to discover Jesus’ calling on our lives.
In the passage from John, after Jesus commissions his disciples, after he sends us forth, he then breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive anyone’s sins, they have been forgiven them. If you retain anyone’s sins, they have been retained” (vv. 22-23). Out of all the characteristics of this new life we are called to, forgiveness and mercy is at the cornerstone of our life. Not wealth, not wisdom, not fame, not glory, but forgiveness. We are called in our new life in Christ, to exhibit and bring forgiveness, healing, reconciliation.
Jesus preached a crucial message about forgiving one another, as God forgave us. We stand in grace, and He expects us to keep our hearts pure toward others, not holding grudges or harboring a spirit of unforgiveness. Jesus said those who have been forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:47). He expects us to forgive others 70 times 7 times (Matt. 18:22). We are also told that if we are praying but hold something against anyone, we are to forgive that person so our relationship with God is right and righteous! Col. 3:13 says, “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” God has determined that forgiveness is a key to showing we indeed have eternal life, zoe life. Whom do we need to forgive this day? Whom do we need to ask forgiveness from? Forgiveness is often a process, but it is a process at the root of zoe life.
After this, Jesus also brings new life by freely sharing his wounds with Thomas. “Reach here your finger and see my hands. Reach here your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving but believing” (v. 27). To which Thomas replies, “My Lord and My God!” Sharing our wounds whatever they may be with others is another characteristic of the zoe life, spiritual life, Jesus brings us. God works through our broken places to reach others. In Jesus’ resurrected body, his scars remain visible. Just so our weaknesses become a source a strength, a place that God uses, so that God’s power shine bright. The Lord said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9 ). We are often ashamed of where we are weak. The times we failed, or sinned. The illnesses we endured, the problems we have carried. The trials we’ve suffered. The truth is this: people will more readily connect with us in our humility and brokenness. We need to risk sharing our most broken parts with each other, sharing how God has seen us through our pain and suffering. The Good news shines more brilliantly through the cracks in our lives than our triumphs. So, treasure your scars and wounds. Share them. Let God speak through them so others can draw close to you and can also feel God’s love touching their wounds as well, and they too can receive life in the name of Jesus.
What is the result of a spiritual life, a zoe life, of purpose, rooted in forgiveness, and sharing our wounds? Our story from Acts gives us a snapshot of the radical love expressed in the early Christian community. “They were of one heart and soul.” They shared their possessions in common. They had great power to share their testimony and there was great grace upon them all. As a result, there was not a needy person among them, for what they had was distributed to all to had need. That is what God calls us to: spiritual life meets the needs of the community.
What an image of zoe life, spiritual life present in life on earth. This is a powerful example of what we could achieve if we, as the body of Christ, believe, and have this life, zoe life, coursing through our veins, in his name. To be of one heart and soul? Unified. Connected. What would it be like to hold all things in common? To eliminate need because we are completely committed to one another. What a testimony of zoe life, spiritual life, we can be in our community if we set our vision to the image of the early Christian community. Easter calls us to seek Acts 4 as our goal, the full manifestation of life, zoe life, life in his name on earth. To pattern our lives on the life of that early church, through embracing our calling, to practicing forgiveness, to sharing our weaknesses, so we achieve this life, this zoe life. This is how we grow our church. This is how we be church, in all its vitality and wholeness.
This is the gift of Eastertide. It calls us to seek his life, to celebrate our callings, to practice forgiveness and reconciliation, to share from our weakness and our wounds, let us be of one heart and mind, mighty in grace bringing the good news of Jesus Christ, so that all might believe in his name, and find life through him. Amen.