Easter is many things. Enriching, captivating, solemn, joyous, troublesome, a relief, a challenge. Easter is toil and contemplation and awakening. For church staff and congregants alike it’s the longest week in the Christian calendar, rapid-fire emotional, spiritual and intellectual experiences squeezed into a single week, usually with multiple services throughout. So while Easter is a blessing, it is also utterly exhausting.
Then comes Easter 2A, with Doubting Thomas’ question forming the core of this rapid-fire reading: peace, the Holy Spirit, witness, Messiah. For overwrought Easter nerves, it might feel a bit like an onslaught. Perhaps this is something we share with Jesus’ original disciples: like we want to lock ourselves in a room just to get a moment to absorb it all, to talk it over, to share quietly. Maybe, like Thomas, we want to go missing in action, to try to find a way to come to grips with the events of the past few days: Jesus’ trial, death, and then his apparent resurrection.
It is at this moment that Jesus steps in, steps into our rooms and says, “Peace be with you” before breathing the peace and power of the Holy Spirit onto us.
In the Bible, breath is often associated with God (as Bruce Epperly writes). God breathed the universe into existence. He breathed humanity into life. He breathed life into dry bones. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, and as Jesus breathes her over the disciples, she breathes life back into them. A week before it had been Jesus’ turn; now it was his disciples’ turn!
If you read the text you’ll notice that Thomas apparently misses out on the deliverance of the Holy Spirit – he isn’t in the room when Jesus breathes her out on the others. But then Jesus does something extraordinary: he allows Thomas to physically touch the wounds in his hand and side. This would have put him within breathing distance. So perhaps when Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” it’s not so much the physical evidence that he finds compelling as the life-giving faith of indwelling by the Holy Spirit.
On Easter we get to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death; on the second Sunday, we get to preach on our own resurrection and continual life through the Holy Spirit. The excitement (trepidation, frustration) of Easter inevitably gives way to this: a peace that transcends all understanding.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
Child, who are you looking for
on the Stone Pavement, Gabbatha?
The promised one?
I tell you, I am he.
Child, who are you looking for
on the road to the cross, the way of blood?
The king of kings?
I tell you, I am he.
Child, who are you looking for
on the Hill of the Skull, Golgotha?
The saviour of the world?
I tell you, I am he.
Child, who are you looking for
in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea?
The risen Son of God?
I tell you, I am he.
Readings: John 13:1-17, 31b-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
The water pours like the blood.
It cleanses. It cleans.
It washes away the death-stains of sin.
It restores. It redeems.
The towel comes away white as snow.
We are remembered, but our sins are forgotten.
8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
Lord, far too often it is we who cry “Hosanna in the highest!”
before demanding the release of Barabbas.
Far too often do we spread fronds over your path,
only to leave you naked on the cross.
Far too often we crown you king
with a crown made of thorns.
We are so fallen, Lord.
We started this Lenten season in ashes,
mindful of those things we value above you
and your service,
mindful of our weaknesses
made perfect in your strength,
mindful of the sinful world
and the light of your kingdom in it.
This week we end Lent in blood:
in your sacrifice given and found perfect,
in your victory over the power of sin and death,
in your restoration and our redemption
(undeserved, often unwanted, but freely given.)
You have risen, Lord.
As we walk this week between the “Hosanna!”
and the “Crucify him!”,
help us to remember all that we’ve forgotten about grace.
Help us to remember the service of your life,
the sacrifice of your death,
the glory of your resurrection,
the power of your ascension,
and the promise of your Kingdom.
As you died, may we die to ourselves;
as you rose, may we rise to life in you.
We are lifted up, Lord.
I’ll be posting more devotions on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
Irony is a bitch. Just ask the Pharisees in Lent 4A’s reading.
Similar to Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well, John tells one story while the subtext tells another. On a textual level, John relates the healing a man born blind received. This healing “happened” to take place on a Sabbath and the religious leaders took issue with that, using it as an opportunity to investigate Jesus and those interested in following him.
But on the subtextual level John tells a deeply ironic story about sin and deservingness.
It begins with the disciples’ assumption that the blind man’s condition was a result of sin – either his or his parents’. This was a common enough belief at the time. Righteousness was deeply steeped in law-keeping, which in turn was steeped in the religious life of Jerusalem. In other words, righteousness as people like the Pharisees understood it was largely the purview of the upper classes (who only made up about 10% of the total population at the time) because, through their own machinations, only they could afford to keep the letter of the law.
Being the 10% on top of a very oppressed and at time volatile 90% is a tenuous situation at best. Combine that with the fact that the Jerusalem elite were invariably in cahoots with Palestine’s Roman oppressors and we begin to understand why the religious leaders would go to furious lengths to keep the scales balanced in their favour.
Scales that Jesus were proving to be fraudulent.
The primary way the religious leaders kept things working to their benefit was by using religion, and holiness and cleanliness, to control and oppress the 90% mostly peasant population. So many laws had been added to “the law” that no one outside certain economic classes would have the means or opportunity to be “truly holy”. They were defiled and unclean and needed the religious leaders to make them presentable to God.
Enter a man blind from birth who had been reduced to begging on the streets. He was exactly the kind of person the religious leaders would say had sinned in some way to deserve his blindness, and deserved continued judgment for it – he was still blind, after all.
Enter Jesus and his healing.
The Pharisees’ anger was never about the Sabbath (though the fact that this healing took place on the Sabbath wasn’t coincidental). They were angry that their propaganda about sin and deservingness was being challenged, and by a Galilean peasant at that! Jesus showed anyone who cared to see that the religious leaders’ claims about their own deservingness and the deservingness of others were faulty; that their rendition of God was warped.
In healing a man born blind – in using spit and dirt to do it – Jesus turned the whole corrupt socio-economic and religious system on its head.
The man born blind knew it too. When the very people who, through their self-serving actions and beliefs had rendered his life worthless, interrogated him, he used their own prejudice against them. “You’re always saying God doesn’t listen to sinners,” he told them, “so by your own logic, Jesus can’t be a sinner – he has to be from God!”
Little wonder they threw him out!
The question to ask this week may well be: What? Are we blind too?
Certainly, the modern church generally has more in common with the outraged Pharisees than the blind man who received his sight. We can be relentless about the deservingness of those we assume to be “in sin”, adding all sorts of terms and conditions to salvation that don’t exist outside our own “addendums”.
We pretend these addendums are about the other person: a way to “love the sinner but hate the sin”. Ironically the religious leaders of Jesus’ day probably thought that of their own actions too.
But invariably our behaviour is about us and our privilege. We feel threatened when people whose “sins” we don’t personally approve of try to enter our sanctuaries and claim the same love, grace and mercy that we receive because it inevitably reminds us that we too are sinners, that nothing separates our sin from other sins and that we don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to sin.
So perhaps this is a good week to be reminded that we were once blind, but saw; and though we’ve become blind again, we will be healed again too.