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.”John 20:19
Go back with me for a moment to that very first Easter, to the time of today’s gospel reading. And think about what it would have been like for those first disciples, gathered together in the upper room, that first Easter evening. Think of what they have witnessed in the last few days, leading up to Easter:
There was that emotional Thursday evening, when Jesus washed their feet, and shared a last supper with them. There was his agony in the garden, when three of those same disciples fell asleep as Jesus prayed. There was the betrayal by one of their own, Judas, and Jesus being arrested. There was the denial by their leader, Peter, and the crowds shouting for Jesus to be crucified. There was his death, and his burial in the tomb. And now, there were the stories they heard that first Easter morning, from the woman who went to visit the tomb. The tomb, they reported, was empty, and Jesus had been raised from the dead. But he had not yet appeared to those disciples.
There was a lot going on that first Easter evening, in other words. And those disciples must have been experiencing a lot of different emotions, when Jesus came and stood among them! They felt joy, of course. But also, perhaps, sadness over what Jesus had been through. And confusion over what his resurrection meant. And even fear, as they saw the risen Jesus for the first time. And, I strongly suspect, they felt guilt, too, over deserting Jesus when he most needed them.
And in response to all of that joy and sadness and confusion and fear and guilt, Jesus simply came and stood among them, and looked at them, and said: Peace be with you.
Peace Be with You
What Jesus did on that first Easter evening, in other words, was to show those frightened disciples the same grace and mercy and forgiveness and love that he had always showed them. He came and offered them his peace. And then, to ease their doubts, he showed them his hands and his side. No wonder those disciples rejoiced to see him! Not only was Jesus alive, and among them; he had also forgiven them for all that they had done – and not done – over these last few days.
We often read today’s Gospel Reading, and focus on Thomas, the doubting disciple who wasn’t there that first Easter evening. And I will get to him shortly. But first, I want to simply remind us that this powerful gospel reading is really about all of those fear-filled disciples, trembling behind that locked door, and wondering what it all meant.
And, because of that, isn’t this story really about each and every one of us? We are all living behind our locked doors right now. We are feeling isolated, and afraid, and frustrated, and impatient, and bored, and on and on. We might not be sick with this coronavirus, but we are all feeling its effects. This unprecedented pandemic is unlike anything that we have ever experienced. And because of all that, I suspect that we can identify with those first disciples, more than perhaps we ever have before.
So, let’s go ahead, and identify with them. And let’s see this story as about us. And let’s trust that our crucified and risen Lord is coming to us right now, wherever we are, no matter what we are feeling,
to offer to each and every one of us that same gift of peace. Wherever you are right now, Jesus wants to simply say to you: Peace be with you. “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus says earlier in John’s gospel, “my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
That is the gift that Jesus offers to those first disciples, and the gift that he offers to each and every one of us today. He comes through our locked doors, and sometimes locked hearts, to offer us a peace like no other.
But now, what about Thomas, and the second half of this gospel reading? Which takes place a week after the first half of this story? The disciples are back in the upper room, or perhaps they have never left. The door is locked again. And Thomas is with them this time. And, again, our resurrected Lord came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” And then, he turned to Thomas. Now, Thomas, as we all know, was not there a week ago, when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples. (We are not sure why he wasn’t there, but I’ve always wondered whether Thomas was the only disciple brave enough to leave the upper room, and get some food for everyone!) But, at any rate, when the others told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas famously said, “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.”
I don’t really blame Thomas. And I can only wonder how long that week of waiting must have been for him. A week of hearing the other disciples talking about what they had seen. A week of wondering whether it was really true. That must have been a very long week!
I was watching a tv show earlier this week, and I thought about this. The show is a singing competition called “The Voice.” And one of the singers on the show sung “Say Something” because he said it reminded him of his faith. I had never thought of the song that way before, but now I suspect that I always will. Let me share some of the lyrics, and imagine them as being a prayer to Jesus from Thomas:
Say something, I'm giving up on you I'll be the one, if you want me to Anywhere, I would've followed you Say something, I'm giving up on you And I am feeling so small It was over my head I know nothing at all And I will stumble and fall I'm still learning to love Just starting to crawl Say something, I'm giving up on you
Can’t you imagine Thomas praying that? And maybe we’ve prayed that, too. Well, that next Sunday, Jesus finally appeared again. And Thomas there this time. So, what does Jesus do when he sees Thomas? He doesn’t fuss at him, or judge him for doubting. Instead, Jesus simply shows Thomas the same forgiveness and mercy that he showed to the other disciples. And that he shows to us. Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your fingers here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
What patience Jesus has – not only with Thomas, but with all the disciples! What patience he has with you and me. Because the truth is that we are all a little like Thomas, aren’t we? We all doubt at times. It is natural to doubt, and it is why Thomas is so important. Because if one of the apostles can doubt, it gives us permission to doubt, too. There is a poem about this, written by someone who was in seminary in Dallas at the time, called simply, “Doubt”:
Let me meet you on the mountain, Lord, Just once. You wouldn’t have to burn a whole bush. Just a few smoking branches And I would surely be …your Moses. Let me meet you on the water, Lord, Just once. It wouldn’t have to be on White Rock Lake. Just on a puddle after the annual Dallas rain And I would surely be…your Peter. Let me meet you on the road, Lord, Just once. You wouldn’t have to blind me on North Central Expressway. Just a few bright lights on the way to chapel And I would surely be…your Paul. Let me meet you, Lord, Just once. Anywhere. Anytime. Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes Must I always be…your Thomas?” - Norman Shirk
This is a poem for all of us, just as Thomas is the apostle for all of us. We all want to meet the Lord, just once. Touch him. See him. Talk to him. We meet him in the Word, as this poem says, but we want more. It is easy to doubt. We all have days when we do. And I know that many of us are harder on ourselves for doubting than we should be. And certainly harder on ourselves than Jesus would be. That is why Thomas is so important. Because we can see how Jesus treated Thomas, when he was struggling with doubt. He treated him with mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness. And that is how Jesus treats us, and that is how he wants us to treat ourselves. With that same mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness.
Again and again, in the midst of our doubts and fears, and in the midst of our sin and failings, our crucified and risen Lord and Savior comes to us and says something. And what he says is: “Peace be with you.” Again and again, Jesus comes to us, and invites us to believe again. Again and again, Jesus comes through our locked doors, and sometimes our locked hearts, to say something: to offer us a word of hope, and to offer us the gift of peace, and to promise us new life.
And all he wants in return is for us to trust him. To trust him. And to follow him. And to serve him. And to love him. Wherever we are, and in whatever way we can. Now and forevermore. Amen