Acts 2.14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.3-9; John 20.19-31
We also sometimes step away because we need to rest. Although the text specifically says the disciples were locked away because of their fear, I would imagine they were also exhausted after everything that had happened. We find ourselves, at times, needing to step away, close a door, take a beat, lie fallow so that we may return refreshed and renewed.
And through those closed and locked doors, into the very midst of our fears, anxieties and exhaustion, Jesus appears offering peace. Just as he appeared through a locked door and stood in the very midst of those fearful disciples, Jesus will always find a way to us, to bring us peace.
When we think of peace, we may think first of personal inner tranquility, a sense of calm that we feel within ourselves in the midst of the storms of life. While our faith and relationship with God certainly can bring this to us, the peace being talked about here is perhaps different. This verb in greek, always refers to relationships between people. That, combined with the Gospel of John’s emphasis on the disciples’ love for one another, guides us to think about this ‘peace’ in a communal way. The peace Jesus brings is about a type of relationship between people, it describes the way all creation and God will relate to each other - in harmony and peace.
This is the peace we pass each week when we shake hands with and hug one another. While we certainly hope that the people we greet have within them a sense of peace, what we are sharing with our friends is the peace that comes from forgiveness, from the repairing and strengthening of relationships. There are no perfect relationships that exist among us or in the world. Working through inevitable disagreements is a key part of building quality relationships that really mean something. They become deeper and more meaningful as we practice that peace that Jesus models for us, that Jesus brings into our midst.
But Thomas had missed all of this, and perhaps even the disciples missed the point, because a week later, they were still in the house, doors shut. When he first came to them, Jesus used the words “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”, yet the disciples have gone nowhere, and seemingly done nothing! Although they did proclaim to Thomas - Thomas who had serious questions when they told him the story of Jesus’ presence among them.
Now, Jesus comes to them again, behind the closed doors to once again bring the gift of peace. He also speaks to Thomas and says “Do not doubt but believe.” We have heard this translation many times, and Thomas has become known as “Doubting Thomas.” However, there are better translations, and none of them use the word “doubt.” What Jesus says to Thomas could be better translated as “do not become unbelieving, but believing…do not become unfaithful, but faithful…do not become uncertain, but certain…do not become distrusting, but trusting.” Thomas responds to Jesus with the confession, “my lord and my God.” Thomas asked questions, but also confessed his belief. Questioning and exploring is a sign of living and growing faith - we hear of it in the Biblical witness and we experience it in our lives. This story about Thomas is more about what he is becoming than where he has been. Paul Tillich writes that “The old faith must die, eaten away by doubts, but only so that a new and deeper faith may be born.” Thomas’ questions lead to a profound encounter with Jesus, an enthusiastic confession, and greater faith. Our questions, too, can lead us to profound encounters with Christ, with the Word, with Christian community that can result in enthusiastic confession and greater faith.
Thomas has gotten a pretty bad rap over the years, but in reality he is a testament to becoming faithful and believing and trusting. He is a testament to the journey of authentic faith. Through Jesus’ gift of peace to that first group of disciples, Thomas’ questions did not tear them apart and they were transformed from frightened disciples into missionary apostles. In the end, Jesus’ appearance was not primarily to prove his resurrection to Thomas, it was about bringing them peace and the Holy Spirit, and to send them out.
As wonderful as Easter is, as great the celebration is, as much as we may love the loud Easter of Alleluias and trumpets, there are many different ways to experience Easter. Sometimes Easter happens to us more like it did to those first disciples. And instead of a big, loud, public Easter resurrection celebration, we experience Easter when Jesus mysteriously enters the room we have locked ourselves away in because of fear or pain or a myriad of other reasons. The gospel, the Good News, is contained in the grand-ness of an Easter service as well as the quiet presence of Our Lord, Our God in the darkest corners – come to remind us that God’s peace is ours, that we have received the holy spirit, that we get to live as Easter people.
Living as Easter people in fact has very little to do with us. It is not something we can do of our own will. Living as Easter people means that Christ is Risen when we are alone, hiding and afraid, just as much as Christ is Risen when we are together, exuberantly serving God’s world. Living as Easter people means that God always knows right where to find us, and exactly what we need.