“Oxygenation of the Other Kind”

Kurt Jacobson
6 min readApr 7, 2024

April 7, 2024

John 20:19–31

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.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. ***

Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus, is said to have brought Christianity to India in AD 52, where he was killed as a martyr. His relics traveled to many places after his death, until most found their final resting place in the Basilica of San Tommaso in Ortona, Italy. [1]

However, the index fingers of “doubting” Thomas are reported to be in a monastery near Mosul, Iraq, the Basilicas of Santa Croce in Rome and Holy Cross in Rome — which claims to have one of his full index fingers.

The authenticity of the index fingers is of course disputed. Absent Thomas’s DNA, they could never truly be verified. But such is the strangeness of all exercises in proof.

When it comes to religion and matters of faith, proof is an elusive end. Mathematics and logic enjoy dimensions of proof. Science and nature have empirical evidence that can be evaluated. But proof is the wrong word when talking about faith.

In this post-Easter story, Thomas has heard Jesus is alive, his companions have seen him. But Thomas is having nothing of any of this without proof. A week later, Jesus appears again and this time Thomas is present and he wants personal proof of the resurrection — that the Jesus standing in front of him is the same Jesus who was dead as a doornail just days earlier. What he ends up gaining from his encounter with Jesus, however, is not proof but presence. He gets so overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus that

he ends up shelving the idea of poking his finger into Jesus’ flesh.

Thomas teaches us that searching for proof of God’s existence is a fool’s errand, but experiencing God’s presence is precisely what we need. The miracle many people seek is knowing the presence of God in the daily decisions, the words and deeds, and the complexities of life. The miracle we want is the miracle Thomas happens to get. “My Lord and my God!” he exclaims. Perfect presence.

A week earlier, when Thomas was absent, the other disciples were locked in a room. When the resurrected one arrives unsolicited, he does so with what appears to be more gentleness than the disciples anticipated. “Peace be with you,” he says. Not once, but twice, as if to encourage them not to lock him out of their lives, lest they miss something he has that is also something they need. This something turns out to be his breath.

In an easily missed detail, Jesus opens his mouth and lets his disciples have it — the breath of life that has come out of death. It is as if Jesus says to them, with this breath I am going to infuse you with the power and the will to forgive other people, courtesy of the Holy Spirit. But first you must inhale and make my breath a part of your own.

Over the years, I officiated at funerals and stood in front of families in shock, weary from days of more crying than sleep. Dabbing eyes with tissues from the little packets the funeral director left at their seats, these mourners looked like the wind of life had been knocked right out of them.

Their despondent faces ignited in me the oxygen to proclaim the good news about why the church exists. Our aim is to carry people over life’s excruciating thresholds and into a new future. To remind them that everybody needs oxygen to live — one kind of oxygen for breathing and the other kind for hoping. No one oxygenates life with the hoping variety better than Jesus. To inhale his spirit and his way is to reinflate the soul and allow someone to function with hope again.

During the heightening part of Covid in late 2020 here in NW Wisconsin all the hospitals were full. When my mother became extremely sick and tested positive for Covid in the Emergency Department of the hospital just blocks from her home, a nurse called to tell me she wanted to be released to go home. She indicated she was willing to come back the next day to begin treatment. Because my mom’s trademark mental clarity was not diminished in any way, the nurse explained that he would have to abide by her wishes unless I could convince her to stay and receive in-patient care.

A moment later I was speaking to her. Her voice conveyed the weariness of lying for several hours in the ER. Her respiration was labored and the sounds of breath being exhaled from fully compromised lungs included a rhythmic, haunting squeak like the sound of air leaving the bellows of a pipe organ.

With grace and trust, she accepted my words about the importance of remaining for care and shortly thereafter the conversation was passed back to the nurse. After eight days in the hospital without her family, friends or a chaplain at her side at any point, she drew her last breath.

The pandemic became very personal from that day on. The consequences of Covid on the elderly and people with compromised health took on increased significance for me as I live with stage 4 lung cancer. Soon after a friend in the medical profession advised me to purchase a pulse oximeter. This would allow me to measure my blood oxygen level should I contract COVID. A succession of low oxygen readings would be an urgent signal to quickly get to a hospital. The instructions that came with the oximeter said the three most distinguishing features of hypoxemia (oxygen deficiency in the blood) are restlessness, confusion, and shortness of breath.

There is no indication the disciples suffered from shortness of breath on the first Easter evening. But they most certainly were restless and confused. Hypoxemia may not have been their issue. But oxygenation of the second kind is critical: they desperately needed Jesus’ spirit. And notice what happens once they inhale this hoping variety of oxygen. Everything takes off for them as their story goes on. They share their possessions freely. Testimony comes easily; generosity abounds. Great grace is upon them all.

Where in your life and faith are you in need of the hoping variety of oxygen?

[1] The relics of Saint Thomas: relics of relics.es/en/blogs/relics/the-relics-of-saint-thomas#

Prayer of Illumination

Truth-telling, wind-blowing, life-giving Spirit

We present ourselves now

For our instruction and guidance;

Breathe your truth among us,

Breathe your truth of deep Friday loss,

Your truth of awesome Sunday joy.

Breathe your story of death and life

That our story may be submitted to your will for life.

We pray in the name of Jesus risen to new life — and him crucified.

From “Prayers for a Privileged People” by Walter Bruggeman, (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), p. 179


1–2) The relics of Saint Thomas: relics of relics.es/en/blogs/relics/the-relics-of-saint-thomas#

3) https://musingsandwonderment.blog/2023/04/12/still-doubting-some-thoughts-on-doubting-thomas/



Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.