Text: John 20:19-31 (RSV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
Nobody likes feeling stupid. Nobody likes it when others have fun at their expense – at least, not if it happens constantly.
So I feel for Thomas. For whatever reason, he was out when Jesus appears to the other disciples – maybe it was his turn to go do the shopping, so he was out getting supplies they needed. Sounds like an everyday thing – until you recall that there was a price on his head, as there was on the heads of all of them; had he been caught, it would have meant certain death – probably the same death Jesus had suffered. And then, when he finally gets home, nerves shot after dodging Roman patrols, and expecting that any second somebody would point to him and shout, “You! Aren’t you one of the followers of that Nazarene rabbi Jesus? Don’t move! I’m calling the cops!” – after all that, he walks through the door (after giving the password, no doubt) and what happens? His friends gang up on him and try to make him believe that they’ve seen Jesus – right there in that very room!
Thomas is in no mood for such nonsense. His reply to the other disciples is basically, “Knock it off. I don’t buy it. I’ll believe it when I see it with my own eyes.”
But, really, who can blame him? How might we react if, say, a family member comes up to us and says, “Hey, Uncle Charlie, your favorite uncle, was just in town and wanted to see you, but couldn’t stay”? Wouldn’t you feel just a bit put out? I know I would!
And – to add insult to injury – suppose Uncle Charlie also gave everyone there a gold coin, or some other memento, but you weren’t there, so you’re out of luck.
This might approximate to some degree how Thomas might have felt that day.
We call him “Doubting Thomas.” I think he gets a bad rap, because, after all, Thomas was not the only one of the disciples who was having a hard time. Thomas wasn’t the only doubter in that little band of disciples – all of them are terrified, not just Thomas, that they might soon hear the sound of marching feet tramping closer and closer, followed by loud, insistent pounding on their door and the order to “Open up in the name of Caesar!”
John is at pains to tell us that the disciples spend the evening of the very first Easter Day behind locked doors. Despite the fact that Peter and the Beloved Disciple have seen the empty tomb, and despite the fact that Mary Magdalene has even spoken with the risen Christ, and has told the disciples about it, they still huddle there in the dark. You’d think they would be off celebrating! You’d think that they’d have scattered all over town, shouting and singing and announcing to anyone who would listen that Jesus is alive again: THE LORD IS RISEN!
Instead, they hide, hoping that they can wait it out until the coast is clear.
Given what they know about the Romans and the way the Romans deal with people who get in their way, protecting themselves makes perfect sense. And so they wait behind those locked doors, as quiet as they can be. And a number of the disciples will die, sooner or later, for their connection with Jesus. In this stuffy upper room are assembled several of the first Christian martyrs.
Their fear dominates them.
A week later, it’s the same story: They are in the same place. It is the same house, the same walls, the same closed doors, the same locks. Nothing much has changed, even though Jesus has visited them.
But this passage isn’t really about doubt at all. Doubt is a symptom, a by-product, of something else. That something else is a lack of trust which itself is born of fear.
For the disciples, and for us, too, it boils down to the question: Can we trust God?
The evidence is overwhelming – Jesus’ tomb is open. Everything has happened exactly as Jesus said it would – the arrest, the trial, the execution, and now the resurrection. That tomb is empty, but still the disciples’ house is closed and the doors locked tight. Now, remember that these are men who literally dropped everything just three short years before to follow this man Jesus. These are men who saw and heard it all – the healings, the teachings, the very voice of God on that mountaintop; they were there! And yet, when it mattered most, their trust was shattered and doubt and fear took over.
The house has become their tomb, but it’s a tomb they chose for themselves. Jesus is on the loose and the disciples are bound in fear. The disciples have cut themselves off from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Their doors of faith have been closed. They have shut their eyes to the reality that life is now different. They have locked out Mary Magdalene’s words of faith, hope, and love. They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and blindness. The locked doors have become the great stone sealing their tomb. They have locked themselves in. All this, and it has been only three days!
When push came to shove, their trust in God was like tissue paper torn to shreds by even the slightest breeze.
So: Easter 2018 is exactly one week past. But have we been able to hang on to the feeling of Easter’s joy and gladness in our hearts? Where are we living, right now? Are we living in the freedom and joy of resurrection? Or are we living behind locked doors? Are our lives different after Easter? And if they are not, what are the locked doors of our lives, our hearts, our minds? Those dominated by fear include many of the people we see around us every day – and maybe even some of us here this morning. The disciples have plenty of company. Sometimes we’re locked in an upper room of fear even if we’re outside or in a crowd of people – at the store, walking or driving down the street, even in church.
Can we trust God?
When it comes to trusting God, trusting that what God says is true and trusting that what God says he will do he will do – well, there we sometimes stumble, just like the disciples did.
Yet, that empty tomb is proof that trust in God is never misplaced. Jesus has been resurrected, and he calls us to also live the Resurrection. And no, that isn’t always easy. There are days when we just don’t want to – or can’t – deal with the world. But every time we shut the doors of our lives, our minds, or our hearts, we put ourselves in a more secure prison than any penitentiary in the world. For every person, event, or idea we lock out, regardless of the reason, we lock ourselves in. Because, you see, the doors of our tombs are always locked from the inside.
The locked places of our lives always have more to do with what is going on inside of us than around us. When our namesake St. John describes the house, the doors, and the locks he is speaking about more than a physical house with walls, doors on hinges, shuttered windows, and deadbolts. He is describing the interior condition of the disciples. He is talking about the human condition.
He is, of course, talking about us.
What are the closed places of your life? What keeps you in the tomb? Think about it for a moment. Could it be fear, like what paralyzed the disciples? Could it be questions? Could it be a creeping sense of disbelief? Could it be the conditions we place on our faith? Kind of a bargaining with God – “I will believe, if…”? Perhaps it is a sorrow, a loss that we just can’t seem to get over. Maybe our wounds are so deep it doesn’t seem worth the risk to step outside. For others it may be anger or resentment. Some people seem unable, or at least unwilling, to open themselves up to new ideas, possibilities, and change.
But Jesus is always entering the locked places of our lives. Unexpected, uninvited, and sometimes even unwanted, he steps into our closed lives, closed hearts, closed minds. Standing among us he offers peace and breathes new life into us. He gives us all we need to open our doors to that new life, that new creation, that new way of being. This is happening all the time.
When John talks about seeing, he’s not talking about what we see with our eyeballs. He wants us to SEE with our inner eye who Jesus really is. That is why he has written these signs for us. That in SEEing, we might believe; and in believing, we might have the life that is in Jesus.
When John uses the word translated into English as “believe,” it is NOT what we think of when we use the word “believe.” We think of “believe” in the sense of holding an opinion about something. In the Gospels, and especially in John’s Gospel, it’s meant more in the sense of “believe into,” or “trust,” “be loyal to,” “bond with” – “I am the vine; you are the branches.” That’s how integrated with Jesus he wants us to be.
Note also that belief is not an end result – it’s a state of being. The really crucial thing, though, is that, through believing, we have life in his name – the life that is in him – the Life of the Resurrection.
Jesus wants us – each of us, you and me, all of us – to live the Resurrection. To live in joy. And hope. And peace. Without fear.
That is the life he holds out for us right now. That is the life we have right now. That is the life he invites us to embrace right now.
You – yes, you – have that life that is in Jesus. Can you see it? Can you feel it? Can you glimpse it? Can you sense it? Can you walk in it?
We have been blessed with that life! Let us bring that blessing to the world that is seen only with eyeballs, and elevate those eyeballs heavenward!
Can we trust God? YES! ABSOLUTELY!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. AMEN.