John 20: 19-31
Last week we heard the resurrection account from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the oldest of the Gospels as well as the least descriptive in that there are no embellishments. Mark ends shortly after we hear about Jesus’ victory over the tomb without much fanfare. In the words of Dragnet’s Joe Friday Mark it’s ‘just the facts ma’m, just the facts.’
Outside of next week when we will hear the word proclaimed from Luke, the next six Sundays we will be focused on the Gospel of John, which is clearly the most theologically imbued Gospel. It contains a high “Christology” meaning that Jesus is already portrayed throughout the Gospel as the risen Son of God. I know, Christology, right? It’s a seminary SAT word, that’s used by seminary professors and their students who want to do well in their classes. But that’s what makes John such an endearing Gospel to read. Jesus say’s I am the vine and you are the branches, I am the resurrection and the life, and I am the good shepherd. After reading the Gospel of John there is no doubt that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
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.
It’s too bad that Thomas didn’t have this Gospel in his back pocket to pull out and read when he doubted that Jesus was really, none other than his Jesus, now risen. Throughout time a lot has been written about this doubting Thomas, who is somewhat an arrogant disciple. Many menacing sermons have been written about this Thomas who had a few qualms about who Jesus really was. Was this man who claims to be Jesus for real? So he had a few doubts. Your doubts, my doubts, Thomas’ doubts, ok...most of us have doubts at some time or another.
There is so much more that is happening in this passage that begs our close reflection however. It still had not been twenty four hours since Mary Magdalene stood weeping at the empty tomb and Jesus, disguised as the gardener, appears to her. She does as he requests and tells the disciples that she has seen her Lord. They didn’t know what to do and they needed some time to process what had just happened over this particular Passover.
A joyful procession, anxiety in Jerusalem, an intimate meal, betrayal, denial, whipping and weeping, death and then this resurrection. That was their week. It is no wonder that they are hole up in a house with the doors locked because of their disbelief at everything that happened and their fears of a few religious leaders.
It’s through these locked up, shut up tight, barred doors that Jesus appears the second time after his resurrection. Seems to me this would instill even more fear. They thought they were secure behind closed doors but somehow they just weren’t able to keep Jesus out. “Peace” he says, “Peace be with you”.
That familiar, strong and calming voice. Perhaps it sounded like a mother’s lullaby, or a favorite hymn from your childhood, or like a much loved story told to you over and over even though you know the end, or even a voice calling for the sea to stop raging. It was calm. In those four words, ‘Peace be with you’, Jesus is really saying, be still, be calm, relax, let your fear and doubts melt away, let the wholeness of my love reside in your heart. He is saying I am with you. I will not fail you. Trust in me. I will walk next to you wherever you want and need to go. I’ll be by your side even on those roads that you really shouldn’t be going down. I’ll manage to get in when the doors have been closed.
Jesus shows them his wounds and again says, “Peace be with you. God has sent me, so now I’m sending you.” He breathes on them and at once they are filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives them his peace, he commissions them for greater work and he empowers them to go out and do this work.
But alas, Thomas wasn’t there and we know that second hand stories, particularly miraculous events kind of stories never quite pull the same punch. A week later when they all were gathered in that house again with the door shut, at an opportune moment, Jesus comes to them. Thomas was with them this time with all of his doubts. Once more he says, “Peace be with you.” He didn’t tell Thomas off, or give him a good talking to, no reprimands, chastisements, or sarcasm. Simply he says, “Peace” like he did the first time he came to the others and allows Thomas all the time and evidence that he needs to come around and believe
As I understand this passage this morning, this passage is not so much about Thomas. He’s human just like us. It’s really about Jesus. It’s about his tenacity to find us in our deepest, most locked away places. Those places where we shut him out rather than let him in. It is about his persistent love and his ability to be incredibly patient with our human foibles, our less than desirable habits, or our want or need to keep him at arms length. It is about Jesus loving us with grace through our doubts. That’s the kind of Jesus I want.
Just when the disciples didn’t know what to do next after Jesus resurrection, they decide to stay behind a locked door. Why take a chance on the unknown? It’s Jesus who comes to them. It’s Jesus who shows them what to do next. It’s Jesus who lifts them up and instills the spirit within them. It’s Jesus who moves them from inaction to action; he dissipates their inertia and readies them for service. I guess you never really know what goes on behind closed doors.
Behind closed doors is a phrase that gets kicked around a lot but I think we know them all too well. They are those closed doors that we stand behind trembling with fear, hiding like an animal from its predators.
We’ve all sat behind doors that have shut out the world to our inner workings, the messy and fearful closets of our souls. While it may seem ok at first, the door gets locked and then dead bolted and then even we ourselves can’t get out. It’s not a healthy or good place to be. Thank goodness God doesn’t let us alone but persistently and consistently figures out how to enter in and grants us that peace which passes all of our human intelligence and understanding. That’s the kind of God I want.
Once God gets in we are never left in the same place. We are changed as Anne Lamott reminds us in her book “Travelling Mercies”, “I do not understand the mystery of grace, only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us”.
God moves us. God readies us and equips us with the Holy Spirit to worship, to live our lives faithfully, to witness love eternal and to serve others and work towards justice and peace. True discipleship is risky business yet we must live our faith courageously. May the doors to this sanctuary, this sacred place swing wide open so that you can embrace this broken world. If you need ideas on what to embrace, I’ve got plenty.
May that same Spirit who was breathed on the disciples behind their closed door light upon us to comfort and energize us for whatever the future holds for we are an Easter people.