When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, 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, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20
In the late 2000s, it was still illegal in Denver to run a needle exchange for IV drug users.
One of my favorite moments during Holy Week at House for All Sinners and Saints in those days was when on Maundy Thursday we would sing a song that repeated these lines “Take O take me as I am, summon out what I should be. Set your seal upon my heart and live in me”. We sang this beautiful chant over and over. But what made it so powerful was that we sang this while assembling bleach kits for the underground needle exchange. We sang take o take me as I am while putting cookers and condoms and bleach in sterile kits for outreach workers to give to IV drug users on the Denver streets. Take O take me as I am indeed. We took this action which says to active drug addicts “you are loved – as who you are right now” while we ourselves asked God to take us as WE are. But God indeed takes us as we are with or with our asking – we just ask in that song that we may believe it to be true.
I mention this because there are two things that stand out for me about our gospel text for today - the post-resurrection visit that Jesus makes to his disciples.
#1 - God taking us as we are.
See, I suspect that the disciples, having denied, betrayed, and abandoned Jesus - were really wallowing in their shortcomings that evening of the resurrection. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think they were perhaps passing around blame and justifications for the death of Jesus – I can almost hear their conversation – one of them saying “clearly was all the fault of the Priests who condemned Jesus, what could we do?” and another saying and “maybe if Judas hadn’t sold him out this wouldn’t have happened” someone else saying , “look, there just wasn’t enough room for us at the foot of the cross with all those women there”… on and on. It’s kind of what we do when we know we’ve really blown it; we either tend to make our failures about someone else or we try to make everything about our failures – both of which are just different forms of narcissism.
The doors were locked that Easter night for fear of what might get in, but the biggest danger came from inside the room, not out. They locked themselves in with all their blame and despair and shame. And Jesus will have none of that. I mean, the guy came to proclaim release to the captives and freedom to the oppressed. So it is here, sitting amidst fear and locked doors, amidst blame and justifications that the disciples encounter the risen Christ, he crashes their pity party and messes everything up in a way that only an incarnated crucified and resurrected God can.
Notice that the text doesn’t say “and when they had repented of what complete asses they had been; and when they had perfected their faith and the purity of their doctrine; and when they had finally became good people, THEN they were worthy of being visited by Jesus.”
No. He took them as they were. Full of fear and I suspect more than a little shame. Because it takes more than locked doors and low self-esteem to keep Jesus out. In fact, when we are at the point in life when our failings and shortcomings are so unfiltered…when we are at the point in life when we have blown it completely, when we are so undeniably aware our need for God’s grace – THAT is when Jesus comes to us and says “My Child, don’t be afraid of what I have already defeated.” Because in the most uneven exchange in history Christ takes all our failings and exchanges them for his own blessedness. He says, “You are mine now. And so it all that busted down junk in your life.”
He said to them: Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit and proclaim the forgiveness of sins. Tell the story. Tell the story.
I mentioned there were two things that stood out for me – so – here it is
#2: Isn’t it just like Jesus to go to some pretty heroic lengths just to remind us we are forgiven?
I love that he isn’t about to go through trials, beatings, crucifixion , descending to the dead and then rising again without making sure we get that this whole thing has always been about forgiveness.
So Jesus barges into the fear and locked doors of our fragile humanity and shows us the very wounds of God. Wounds that bear witness to the crazy beautiful love of God for us - the Christ deniers.
And not a glorified squeaky clean shiny resurrected Jesus. I mean, don't believe the paintings. Nowhere in these texts does it say that after the resurrection Jesus finally looked like a proper God – you know cleaned up and respectable. Nope. Here is a God with holes in his hands and a wound in his side, as if to say, take, o take me as I am.
But he doesn't stop there. He makes sure we remind each other of these same magical things. Your sins are forgiven.
My favorite absolution which is spoken after the confession in the liturgy goes like this:
God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love - loves you as you are. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by his authority I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the father, and the son and the holy spirit.
God takes you as you are.
In the midst of your fears.
In whatever room you or someone else has locked you inside.
In whatever ways you have betrayed yourself or others or God.
You as you are and not some fictional made up future version of yourself who has managed to finally be a better person.
You as you are.
Peace be with you – as you are, in this very moment - maybe you are right now the v try best version of you, maybe the very worst - but no matter
Because forgiveness is already yours, you – as you are.
The breath of God’s spirit can comforting you – as you are.
Life is too long to spend even one more minute locked inside rooms of fear and blame and shame. Not when forgiveness is real and Jesus is breathing peace on us and saying be free, it is finished.
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This song made me tear up.
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