20:19 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.”
20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
20:25 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.”
20:26 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.”
20:27 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.”
20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
20:29 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.”
20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
20:31 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.
In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Unsurprisingly the message we hear from John’s gospel today is entirely consistent with that we have been hearing over these past weeks. And I am certain that I am not alone in noticing, nor the first one to observe, the relevance that the Risen Lord comes to meet his disciples behind closed doors has for us, in our locked down, locked in, “stay home – stay safe – save lives” world.
The issues which John addresses are ours. Isolation; “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked” 20:19 & “the doors were shut” 20:26. Fear; “the doors of the house were locked for fear” 20:19. The impending threat of DEATH; although not named explicitly, Death is certainly implied as it is the reason the disciples are locked away, hiding, because they reasonably fear what has just happened to their Lord might also, next happen to them! Matthew 16:21-26 & 26:31, 69-75. Blaming; “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews,” 20:19. And separation; “But Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.” 20:24.
It is as though these words were written with us in mind. It is as though these words were written for our situation. It is as though these words were written for us now! “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. 20:30-31
And the promise, “Peace be with you.” 20:19,21 & 26 (three times no less, so typically characteristic of our gracious, unstinting, extravagant God !!!) & invitation of today’s reading is likewise ours. “Peace be with you!” announces the Risen Lord in the midst of our current anxiety. He appears to breathe his peace into our deepest fears. Inhale. “Do not doubt but believe.” 20:27, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 20:29, and “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,” 20:30-31.
And its noteworthy that the Church has embraced this Easter proclamation & firmly embedded it in her liturgy, at each Eucharist we also repeat “Peace be with you.” And it is not some shallow peace, not just any peace. It is not (just) the 1960’s two fingers raised, peace sign, peace. “Peace I leave with you; 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.” (14:27). “It is (the) Peace (of the (Risen) Lord -who identifies himself by the wounds of his Passion) be with you.” It is a peace earned by his Passion, Death & Resurrection! It is a peace only made possible by his suffering & the Paschal mystery. And Holy Mother Church, in the Spirited power of the Resurrection, does something extraordinary with that. It is not shelved & boxed away. We disperse it, share it around with each other. We greet each other with it. We even dare to touch each other with & because of it! It, is sign of our reconciliation & communion. “The peace of the Lord be with you!”
As I so frequently strive to draw our attention, it is all about the small, seemingly unimportant, details in the text. “The doors of the house where the disciples had met were shuttered” reports the first verse of today’s reading (20:19). In our haste to carry on with the rest of this beloved magnificent story we might well overlook this. But it is all about location, location, location, realtors (like our Patricia) would remind us. Tradition has named this place “the Cenacle”. The place where the disciples retreat to after Jesus’ death is that last place he left them! (14:31 & 18:1). The Risen One having burst forth from the box in which they had lain him, the tomb, comes to find his friends in the box to which they had resorted in their fear & grief. And he is not finished bursting confining boxes! “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And “when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is the Johannine version of Pentecost (on Easter Eve). When the confined disciples are Spirit-impelled, propelled, spilled out onto the streets in witness to the transformative power of forgiveness, the explosive message of forgiving love! The Resurrection is an explosion! And it does not end until its box-exploding waves of ramification have reached the very ends of creation! (Acts 1:8 & 13:47).
The disciples have retreated to the Cenacle, that last place Jesus left them. The place where He had washed their feet & celebrated the Eucharist with them. The place where he had given them an example (13:15) & a new commandment to love as he loved/loves (13:34). As if these were not radically mindblowing enough he comes to fetch them & commission them to carry this gospel forth; Easter is about bursting the confining boxes that have bound us.
And the Risen One is here to burst Thomas out of the box that confines him too!
The traditional image that portrays today’s event is called “the incredulity of St. Thomas”. Embedded in that word incredulity is the Latin word “credo”, sharing the same root source. It is the same word with which we begin the creed, “Credo unum deum…” “We believe…” Now I have heard many complaints about the modern difficulties of believing in many things in the Creed, like the Trinity, a historical Jesus, the virgin birth, & even the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 12-20). Interestingly the economic word “credit” springs from the same root too! And just what is credit? But to give an economic advance in good faith that sometime in the future that credit will be made good. “Credit is a contractual agreement in which a borrower receives something of value now and agrees to repay the lender at some date in the future, (generally with interest).” To entrust. To intrust. To trust in. (Banking institutions brazenly dare identify themselves as “Trust companies” & their products as “trusts”)! (Matthew 6:19-20). Difficult tenets of the Creed aside for the moment, (to be revisited later), what the Creed(s) invite(s) us to is not so much credence in theological dogmas, as trust in. When we confess “We believe…” what we are principally saying is that “we trust in…”. Belief is always belief in, trust in something, or better Someone (John 11:25). Recite the creed inserting “trust in” instead of the word “believe”. Take this moment to do so. “I trust in One God…”, “I trust in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten, the Son of God (“my Lord & my God!” 20:28)”, “I trust in the Holy (Breath)Spirit, the Lord & Giver of Life”, “I trust in One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Church”, “I trust in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (mine)”, “I trust in the Holy Communion”, “I trust in the forgiveness of (my) sins”, “I trust in the Resurrection & Life”. Read today’s gospel again (aloud) inserting “trust in” instead of the word “believe”. Trust is the opposite of fear. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult” (Psalm 46:1-3). Trust is hoping, hanging ones heart upon, investing ones confidence in, trusting in the promise of God’s reliable faithfulness. The Resurrection is God’s vindication of his suffering servant; God’s vindication of the trust Jesus invested in him despite the horrors of his betrayal, passion & death.
The Risen One does not wait for us to be perfect, to have our act together, the Risen One comes to find us where we are at, in the imperfection of our incredulous faith(lessness), even locked away, even in the grasp of fear. The Risen One is recognized by his hands and his side 20:20,25,27. (Cf. Revelation 5:12) He has not evaded suffering. He is identifiable by his wounds. This scarred Jesus is our grounding touchstone.
The Risen Lord comes to find Thomas in his separated incredulity. “But Thomas, 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.” 20:24,25. The Risen Lord comes to find Thomas in his self imposed isolation. The Risen One seeks Thomas out in his lonely alienation. Just for Thomas. Just for this one lost sheep. (Luke 15:3-4…). And the Risen One comes just for such as you. And amidst loneliness and isolation invites the contact we need, invites each of us to touch & trust. And it Jesus’ very wounds that are the convincing proof that inspire faith. Jesus does not evade suffering & death. The Risen One is explicitly such because he has embraced such.
The Risen One does not leave us there alone behind closed doors but comes explicitly to find each of us in our peculiar particularity and commissions such as us to share in his new life and to change our world; “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 20:21. And the Risen One infuses them/us with his new resurrection life breathe, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” 20:22. Commissioning us to transform our world with the power of forgiving love. 20:23. To carry forward the revolutionary transforming power of the Resurrection. We are called by the Risen Lord as witnesses of love and compassion, of service, of freedom and liberation in God’s name. Our caskets are burst open. We cannot go back to the same old death dealing world, that is exposed & over. We have encountered Life (John 11:25).
“…now, all of us collectively, at the same time, have been forced into a global sabbatical, all around the world, which is an extraordinarily rare event in history, we are at one of the only moments that will be in our life times where the system is so stressed & so overextended & the leadership so clearly out of its league, that we have the ability to make not reformative changes but revolutionary changes, that we can actually change the functioning of society, we can actually change the structure of the system that controls & influences our lives… because these systems if we do not change them… will make decisions for us on an automated basis… who gets… & who does not & we today are being asked in a moment of extraordinary fear what do & we want these systems to look like & if we don’t make that decision ourselves it will be made for us” -Edward Snowden 13 April 2020
In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Reverend Brian Heinrich