Last week we heard the resurrection account from the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John, 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, is a seminary SAT word, that’s used by seminary professors and their students who want to do well in their classes. And it’s a good one. It’s what makes John such an endearing Gospel to read, remember and quote. 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 for us contemporaries that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. But one disciple, Thomas, had a few doubts, let’s hear now the story from John the 20th chapter….
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. In fact in beginning to study this scripture I went to “Text Week”, a reliable source for commentary. I discovered there were 25 historical commentaries and 135 contemporary commentaries and articles written about Thomas. So I escaped out of the website quickly totally overwhelmed. Let’s just say to begin Thomas 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. Then she understands so 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.
Just when the disciples didn’t know what to do next after Jesus resurrection, they decide to do nothing and to stay behind a locked door. Why take a chance on the unknown? It’s so much easier and safer to stick together as a tight little group. Yet it’s Jesus who comes to them and shows them what to do next. It’s Jesus who lifts them up and instills the spirit within them.
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 and locked up tight.
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 the divine breath of God 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 unfortunately Thomas wasn’t there for this Jesus sighting, he didn’t see the scars that the others saw. Too bad because 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 tight, at an opportune moment, Jesus comes to them. Thomas was with them this time with all of his doubts.
But Jesus 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 like the rest of them.
As I want to reflect on this passage this morning, it’s not so much about Thomas and his doubts and fears. He’s human just like us and we all live with our doubts and fears. 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 and everyone else out rather than let them in. It is about his persistent love and his ability to be incredibly patient with our human quirks, our less than desirable habits, or our want or need to keep him at arms length. It’s about Jesus’ ability to transform the fears of our living, the questions of our faith and his ability to open us to his presence and to help us emerge from those places of doubt. I don’t know about you but that’s the kind of Jesus I want.
Behind closed doors is a phrase that gets kicked around a lot but I think we know those doors all too well. They are those closed doors that we stand behind trembling with fear, hiding like an animal from its predators. And we’ve all been there.
We’ve all sat behind doors that have shut out the world to our inner workings, the messy and fearful closets of our souls. But also the joy of friendship and compassion. We’ve all huddled behind locked doors and have shut out those whom we dislike, or even those whom we love. Why do we do this? What is there to hide? More importantly what is there to fear? Are we afraid that we will be harmed? Are we afraid that we will have to change? You know when we lock ourselves in we are also locking other people out. And that is tragic.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote, “He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear.”[i] Living life means there will surely always be something to fear..the economy, illness, yourself, the other. Or maybe this, if you have never encountered fear then perhaps you have never pushed yourself to the unlimited possibilities of your life.
It was so wonderful last week to have a packed sanctuary. There were old friends and strangers; there were acquaintances and families from afar. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were like that every week? The energy was electrifying and the smiles on people’s faces were bright as the sun. The spirit of God was alive and well at OCC. Thank goodness our doors were open and we were not sitting inside here with the lights off and the doors closed amid fear Thank goodness our hearts were open to accept those who sat in your unofficial but assigned seats!
But what will happen in a few short weeks? Will we go back to the same old ways, the same old fears? Will we settle down again into the same pews, the same rut, the same way of dong things behind the sanctuary doors?
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.
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 and our doubts courageously. May the doors to this sanctuary, this sacred place swing wide open so that you can embrace this broken world and each and every person who enters it.
May that same Spirit who was breathed on the disciples behind their closed door light upon us to comfort and energize us for what the future holds for we are an Easter people.