John 20:19-21; 24-28; April 16, 2023; Second Sunday of Easter
If you were here last week, then you’re in for a treat. And if you weren’t here last week, then you’re also in for a treat. Because today is Easter part B, baby! It’s the Second Sunday of Easter and another day of our 50-days spent in Eastertide where we continuously wear white and celebrate Christ’s resurrection. But don’t worry, I’ve learned my lesson: I won’t be asking for any more “He is Risens” or “Amens” from you all during the sermon. No, no, no…
Last week, our texts primarily dealt with Mary, who stayed and waited on her Lord outside of the tomb. This week, our text examines the men, those disciples who quietly walked home without saying anything to anyone.
Today, we find them again at first spending their time quietly, though this time hiding behind a locked door. And even though they had just heard literally a verse ago from Mary – the last one who saw him die, and the first one who saw him alive – that she “had seen the Lord,” we encounter them huddled together in fear behind a first century deadbolt.
And while it would be easy to pick them apart again for their seeming lack of faith, I think this week we owe them a bit of latitude and grace. After all, thinking about it, they were likely still living in an alarming state of trauma. In a free-fall of emotional whiplash.
I mean, besides seeing him handed over by one of their very own (in Judas), they also saw him sentenced to die, flogged and mocked, and crucified. The very same person who they left their entire lives for was killed and now gone. They had taken their leap of faith already, so to speak, by leaving their careers and their families by following him, and now all they had to show for it was the fear of abandonment and presumably the question if they too were next to die.
Yes, some of them had just witnessed that the stone was rolled away. Yes, two of them saw his linen wrappings left neatly in a pile. But where was he now? Where was his body then? Where was their friend? Yes, Mary gave her account, but was this alone good enough evidence? Would you believe it on just one other person’s testimony?
Maybe then some version of reasonable doubt started to creep into their minds, thinking that maybe someone had indeed robbed the tomb and snatched his body. After all, that was Mary’s first question to the angels – “where have you taken him?” Or maybe, owing it to her grief, they thought Mary was simply confused about what she saw, for after all, didn’t she mistake him for the gardener anyway?
So here in this scene of fear and uncertainty, behind closed doors, we find them. And honestly, I feel for them. Just as I feel for all of us, who are still behind our own doors, locked down and afraid, unsure of what and who to believe.
But then, just as we give that thought too long a moment’s pause, a knock on the door, and in he comes. I imagine their mouths must have opened wide as their spirits were sent into absolute frenzy and disbelief. Could this really be him? Could it really be true?
It’s interesting that he chooses “peace be with you” as his first words to them. Not “hey, yo.” Or, “what’s up?” Or, “Why are you afraid, didn’t you dolts listen to what Mary just told you?” No, none of those… just, “peace be with you.” And twice at that. Peace. And I think he says this because in that moment Jesus is acknowledging all that they, as his friends, had been through. It’s as if he was holding them.
When you find people afraid and grieving in your life, you don’t critique them for their emotions; you don’t startle them with announcements, you don’t offer bland salutations and platitudes. No, ideally, when you find them, you comfort them, and wrap them in as much peace as you can give them. And John is saying exactly this when writing that Jesus says, “Peace be with you, my friends.”
Just the same then, even if we too went home quietly after last week, the good news is he will still find us and greet us with this peace. And even if our souls feel trapped behind locked doors this week, the good news is he will still find us and greet us with his peace. And even if come tomorrow we question it all and begin to wonder and doubt, the good news is he still will find us and say, that’s okay too, peace be with you, for one day soon I will show you.
And that’s the other thing we learn from the text today: that he doesn’t show up all shiny and new, now does he? As others have said before me, resurrection doesn’t mean reversal. Resurrection doesn’t mean forgetting. Resurrection doesn’t negate all that came before. Like us, even those of us who have taken our lumps and have somehow risen above them, he wears his wounds too, even after he rises. For he shows Thomas his open side, and allows him to stick his hand in.
You see, Thomas gets a really bad rep in all this. We call him “doubting Thomas” while seemingly neglecting that the rest of the disciples who doubted and needed to see as well. But unlike them he also took a daring leap forward, for he wasn’t satisfied by seeing. No, he wanted his own humanity to be literally intertwined with His, flesh in flesh, with Christ. I don’t see this then as a matter of doubt, but rather as a confession of faith. A desperate want to find him. To experience him. To touch and affirm that in him God is like us, knowing us, even in our wounds and our scars too.
This is why in my office, the first thing I see when I walk in is Caravaggio’s incredible work (yes, a replica) of Thomas and Jesus, which I saw with my own eyes at the Uffizi while living in Florence (yes, again, I am blessed). And it’s not just because I think that doubts and questions can lead us on an active rather than passive journey of faith (they do), but it’s also because it gives me something that my own faith can touch. A reminder that in Christ, we have solidarity. Flesh in flesh. A friend and a God who gets us. Who understands us. Who sympathizes with us especially in these days of uncertainty, especially when it feels safer just to lock ourselves away.
May then when we go out today, put our hands into the wounds of his, and into this his world and community, and help make do like he did for them, such that all may touch and see the goodness and hope that is in him, our risen Lord and our knowing friend.