(for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 12, 2015)
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. (John 20:19-31, NRSV).
The disciples don’t seem to know what to do with Mary Magdalene’s mind-blowing testimony: ‘I have seen the Lord’. They spent the rest of that first Easter Sunday locked away ‘for fear of the Jews’.
With his body apparently stolen there is good reason to think that the instigators of Jesus’ brutal execution are still not satisfied. Perhaps they intend further revenge. Does the empty tomb point to further trouble?
Of course, these locked doors and hiding hearts also keep the disciples from the risen Christ. While they continue to cower they can’t possibly investigate Mary’s claim. They hide from a perceived persecution and miss out on very event that initiates God’s coming kingdom.
Fear has a lot to answer for.
These locks and bars, however, are not nearly enough to keep the resurrected Jesus out. His message: ‘Peace be with you’ – the polar opposite to fear!
Broken hands and side initiate this ‘peace’ and the disciples ‘rejoice’ as Jesus breathes out the Holy Spirit. It is a commissioning of this fragile community. They will grow as they learn to forgive and retain in this resurrection Spirit.
Thomas is missing, however. His response to the disciple’s same claim earlier made by Mary is as closed as the doors behind which the others hid: ‘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.’ Evidence. Give me evidence!
But they can’t put their friend’s hand in Jesus’ side.
Instead they tell their story – perhaps over and over. I wonder if it was a frustrating week? In this close band ten believe. One does not.
Yet they are still together when Jesus appears again. His greeting is the same but his offer to touch is a personal response to Thomas’ demand. It goes unaccepted: ‘My Lord and my God’ reveals his new conviction!
Even more blessed, however, are those who be believe without this ‘seeing’. This is the very purpose of John’s writing: to present his testimony, his story. And the prayed for outcome? ‘…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.’
John’s witness is quite a gift to any resurrection inquirer. It points to the one who is truly ‘life’-changing.