Easter 2 Year C 2022
I would guess that most of you have played the game known as Chinese Whispers, a game in which a message is passed on in whispers and gets seriously distorted by the time it reaches the last person in the line. The whole enjoyment comes from the comical distortions that result. There’s a famous example, which will only make complete sense to those of you who remember pre-decimal currency, in which the original message was “Send reinforcements, I’m going to advance” and the final version was “Send three and fourpence, I’m going to a dance.”
Today’s Gospel tells of what is almost certainly the first example of the Chinese Whispers effect in the history of the Christian Church – the failure of the other disciples to convey to Thomas, who was absent on that first Easter Sunday evening, the full nature and meaning of their encounter with the Risen Christ.
To understand what got lost in transmission to Thomas, we need to look closely at what the other disciples experienced when Jesus mysteriously appeared in a locked room on the evening of the first Easter Day and spoke words of peace. St John adds something that you won’t find in the other three Gospels. It comes in verse 22:
“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
He breathed on them – it’s the only place in the whole New Testament where you will find that Greek verb. Jesus breathing on his disciples is a clear echo of a very important verse in Chapter 2 of Genesis:
“then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
The encounter that the disciples, other than Thomas, had with the Risen Jesus that evening was, for them, a renewal of creation, a life-changing encounter. At its very heart was the experience of being forgiven and loved. Jesus did not reproach them for letting him down, running away or denying him. He greeted them with the words: “Peace be with you” and he commissioned them to exercise a ministry of forgiveness.
“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.”
The essence of the good news of Easter seems to have got lost in the very first telling. Thomas was not present that evening, and when you look at what the other disciples said to him about their encounter with the Risen Jesus, you find no mention of peace, forgiveness or a ministry of forgiveness. They simply said: “We have seen the Lord”. And Thomas understandably refused to believe them. They made a simple assertion of fact, and he responded in the way that we all respond when someone asserts as a fact something that contradicts all our knowledge and experience. Over two thousand years many others have responded to the idea of the Resurrection of Jesus in exactly that way.
Perhaps Thomas would have reacted in a different way if he had been told by his friends “We have seen the Lord, and he spoke words of peace and forgiveness, and empowered us to preach peace and forgiveness.” We cannot know, but we do know that he had his own personal encounter with the Risen Jesus a week later, and that he then heard and experienced the message of peace and forgiveness. Jesus invited him to touch his wounds, but the Gospel does not say that Thomas did so. He had no more need of proof; he understood that he was encountering the love and forgiveness of God and that he was called to spread the good news of that love and forgiveness.
The certainty that you are loved and forgiven by God, that you are within God’s peace, is not a certainty towards which you can reason your way. It has to be encountered, experienced, lived and shared. The encountering, the experiencing, the living and the sharing require that we look beyond ourselves and our limited resources, that we receive the Grace of God, that new life is breathed into us and that we are created anew.