On Tuesday night, May 7, our sisters and brothers at American Lutheran Church in
Burbank will host Commemoration of the Holocaust, A Story of Perseverance.
Holocaust survivor Joseph Alexander will speak about his experiences in twelve Nazi
This will be one of many commemorations on and around Yom Hashoah, which begins
this Wednesday at sundown.
It is especially important for us as Christians to remember this atrocious history and to
remain mindful of the deeply regrettable role our tradition has played in it.
(As if this wasn't true enough when I wrote it earlier this week, yesterday's shooting in
Poway is a haunting reminder that hatred and violence against Jews isn't just some
sad relic of the past.)
Yes, there are stories of Christians being Christlike, saving lives, protecting the innocent,
defying the Third Reich, defending synagogues, behaving like Jesus.
But there is also a large, long, dark shadow side of Christian anti-Semitism, including
writings of Martin Luther our church has since condemned, and its roots reach back all the way into the New Testament.
So I cringe evert time I read the line in this morning's gospel that the doors of the house
where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.
Why does John, almost certainly Jewish himself, write that?
This and other details from his gospel have led scholars to believe that John's community
had an ongoing conflict with a nearby synagogue.
Belief in Jesus became a fault line that separated families and friendships.
People were forced to choose between faith and family, then disowned for their
The synagogue rejected Jesus believers, while John and his community no doubt irritated
the situation with unwanted evangelism and petty trolling, because human nature
hasn't really changed much in thousands of years; we've just gotten new toys.
In the heat of this nasty local spat, John refers to his neighbors as "the Jews" and
associates them with the conservative religious leaders who had an influential
hand in Jesus' arrest and crucifixion.
Fast forward hundreds of years.
John's words become Scripture and the specifics get forgotten.
The church labels Jews "Christ-killers" and worse, and the church's enormous influence
on European culture over the centuries contributes signficantly to the conditions
that make the unthinkable happen.
Historically, it could be convincingly argued that the church had a bigger hand in the
Holocaust of millions than the Jews had in the crucifixion of one man.
There is certainly now more reason for Jews to lock their doors for fear of the Christians.
So why do we read this locked door gospel as Easter good news?
Because there is a break-in.
Jesus gets past the security system.
The risen Christ, who is a Jew, appears behind the locked doors.
The burglar, an escaped criminal, shoots nobody and steals nothing; he is there to give,
not to take.
Jesus stands in the circle of fear and says, Peace be with you.
One of those men had just denied him, and only one of them stood by him at the cross.
He had plenty of reason and power and opportunity to exact revenge, to demand
accountability, to do unto them as they did unto him, to give them what they deserve.
Instead, he stands on the other side of violence and fear declaring peace, and in a
He breathes on them.
He gives them his holy spirit, his personality, his power, his essence, because whatever it is that makes you who you are, the ancients believed it was located in your breath.
But stop and remember: this man was dead.
The corpse breathes on them.
This is a completely new reality.
God has entirely let go of the past; the word for this surprise is forgiveness.
Now dead, locked out, Jewish Jesus stands in the circle of cowards who will eventually
be known as church and repeats himself.
Peace be with you.
Then he breathes his new life on them and tells them to pass it forward.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.
If you screw this up, those sins remain.
Their first test was Thomas, maybe the only person ever to miss Easter Sunday and then
show up the following week.
Will they forgive his absence and his suspicion?
This is important, because bigger questions loom.
Will they forgive and love the Jews they fear?
Will the church forgive and love the people who trouble her?
Will we forgive those who reject Jesus, who threaten our community, who challenge our
faith, who lead our family members to different values and conclusions?
Will we forgive those closest to ourselves who hurt us and scare us and let us down?
Will we forgive people who aren't like us and people who are too much like us;
will we forgive ourselves?
We will fight for what we believe is right, like we expect God to do, or will we dare to follow God's breathtaking, breath-giving lead and say Peace be with you?
As the Father sent me, so I send you.
The Holy breath, the risen life, the Easter power of Jesus has been given to us so
that we can extend his mission:
to infiltrate this world with a different story and a fresh start,
to break in to fortified lives and hearts with new possibility and hope,
to break the cycles of this get-what-you-deserve world with wild grace,
to push past fears, our own and those of others, and insist on peace,
to spread forgiveness like wildfire that both offends and cleanses,
to let go of sin in all its forms and hold onto people, like Thomas, and our Jewish
neighbors, and all those who are not with us, until we are with them.
Peace be with them, peace be with you, peace