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. (NRSV).
Our reading constitutes two appearances of the resurrected Jesus over the course of a week.
On the first occasion ten of the remaining eleven disciples are hiding. Those behind the crucifixion of Jesus have successfully filled his followers with anxiety. They are acting out of fear.
So there is good reason for Jesus’ opening words. He greets them with a needed invitation: ‘Peace be with you.’
This message is so important that it is repeated. Even after the disciple’s mood has momentarily turned to rejoicing Jesus says it again: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
Perhaps as they look at the holes in his hands and side this is not so encouraging. Who would want to follow in these footsteps?
The wounds inflicted by the nails and spear feature prominently. Three times they are referred to in full. Firstly, when Jesus shows his wounds to his disciples; second, as a marker of the evidence Thomas requires, and; finally, in Jesus’ invitation to Thomas to touch and believe.
This is the same Jesus who was nailed to the cross. The crucified and resurrected one.
It must have been both wonderful and terrifying for the disciples to receive such a call. A mix of joy and fear once again.
And so the need for Jesus to breathe the Holy Spirit over them. His action echoes the wind or breath of God hovering over an unformed earth. This too is a creative act. The very Spirit of God will accompany them – guiding them through the call to live forgiven and forgiving lives in an unforgiving world.
Between the appearances Thomas insists that he will not believe without a similar experience to his companions. In fact, seeing will not be enough. He insists on touching the inside of the wounds.
And then a familiar voice speaks the now familiar words: ‘Peace be with you’. This simple sermon is taking its time to sink in. The disciples have seen the crucified and resurrected Jesus, heard his call, received his Spirit. Even so, they remain scared.
In the end Thomas sees no need to touch and examine the hands and side of Jesus. He is immediately convinced that this is the one he has come to know and love. The invitation to put aside doubt and believe is embraced in all its fullness: ‘My Lord and my God!’.
It functions as a summary statement of what belief really looks like. To believe is to worship.
To us Thomas’ new-found faith may seem is so firmly grounded in what he – and indeed all the disciples – saw. They were eyewitnesses.
But what of the rest of us? after all, this is not the experience for most, if not all, of John’s readers.
And so our author addresses this final barrier. Jesus’ here blesses the faith of those who ‘have not seen’ while John asks us to consider the wider testimony of his gospel. There he has pointed to some of the ‘signs’ of Jesus. They will point us in the same direction as the crucified and resurrected Jesus pointed the disciples. They direct us to faith in Jesus.
Indeed, John wrote for this very reason: ‘…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.’