Back from the Grave

A retelling of John 20:19-22

Fear laced very look, every smell, every startle in that room. Fear had burrowed so deeply into every person’s heart and mind that every other emotion just numbed out, which meant they simply existed from one hour to the next huddled together in a bolted room, not even wondering what would happen next. To think about the next thing would be to admit that something that was somehow worse than this paralyzed quiet could happen.

A few of them allowed the events from the past four days to replay in their minds. They relived the nightmare of watching their hero die, then bumbling through some thrown-together burial procedures. They remembered another quiet day in this room, a lot like today but without the soul-crushing fear of being caught and punished for something they didn’t do. They remembered waking just enough on that third day to see the women slipping past the door, on their way to care for the body. Little had they known, that was their last experience of some level of certainty, the final moment of having any idea what was going on.

The women had come flying back, unidentifiable expressions on their faces, breathing out wild claims of an empty tomb and an angelic message and fainted Roman guards. Mary Magdalene had gone so far as to say she had talked with Jesus—or a just a cryptic gardener—and that he had told her not to touch him yet but to go tell the disciples she had seen him. A couple of them allowed themselves to hope and ran out to see for themselves; most sidestepped hope, however, and landed in the full-on despair of the most sensible explanation: that someone had committed foul play, and they were the likeliest suspects.

They were in trouble. Security forces could already be on the way to arrest them.

Thus, the locked door.


In half a moment, the room sensed a change. Heads that had been downcast jerked upward, drawn to a figure in the middle of the room. How did—who was—but no no no—yes? There was no way this could be Jesus, but he was. He must have seen the looks of utter terror on their faces, sensed the fight or flight instincts warring in their hearts, because his first word to them was, “Peace.” Just like when he spoke peace into the being of wind and waves during a storm, he spoke “Peace” and peace happened. He said the words, “Peace be with you,” and for the first time in four days their bodies and spirits felt peace.

Once we were stilled, he modeled his hands, both clearly displaying the piercing from his execution. He parted his robe to reveal his side, where a spear had punctured his body. These wounds could not be replicated by anyone else. No imposter could have accomplished this. Somehow, this Jesus was the same one who had been alive, and then dead, and was now alive again. The thoughts in their brains raced through mazes of questions and belief. Jesus simply smiled.

Perhaps sensing their escalating confusion, he repeated, “Peace be with you.” Then he spoke again, and his words seemed to emblazon themselves on their hearts: “The Father sent me to you, and I’m now sending you to others.” He opened his mouth again, but instead of releasing words, he released his own breath. The divine cloud traveled to each person, landing on them, somehow filling them. His next words were full of power: “Receive the Holy Spirit. You can now forgive sins—anyone you forgive will be truly forgiven, and anyone you do not forgive will not receive forgiveness.”

And that was it. No sooner had they internalized this message, than he was gone. Without Jesus as the focal point, the friends in the room locked eyes with each other for the first time. Some broke into smiles, others shook their heads. Someone verbalized everyone’s inner question, “What just happened? Did you all see what I saw?” The trappings of fear and dread that had pervaded the room an hour later no longer held sway. They were still there, but no longer dominant and overpowering. Jesus spoke peace to them, and peace had taken hold like a surprise gift. The Holy Spirit had infiltrated their souls, and where the Spirit lives despair cannot win.

Jesus was alive, and Jesus had come back to them.  

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