Meditation on John 20:19-31
April 28, 2019
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH
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 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 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 them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, 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 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.”
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.” 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.” 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 have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.
Don’t be alarmed, but there may be a squirrel in the sanctuary. That’s how I was going to start my message last Sunday. On Easter. I didn’t want you to be startled if some furry creature brushed by your feet or, God forbid, leaped from the balcony and landed on your head.
So what’s all this about a squirrel? Oh, it’s just another adventure at The Presbyterian Church.
About an hour before the Maundy Thursday service began in the chapel, I was walking down the hall to the main sanctuary, carrying my basket of candy for the children’s message on Easter. And I saw a dark shadow with a bushy tail and beady little eyes run across the carpet and go in. I hurried downstairs to the parlor kitchen and told the first person I saw. “Donna!” I said. “You’ll never guess! There’s a squirrel in the sanctuary!”
“Oh, no!” she said. “It’ll get into the Easter flowers!”
“Oh, no!” I said. “He’ll eat the candy for the children’s message!”
Donna called John Addy. But John had his doubts.
“In all my years,” he said, walking through the sanctuary with me, looking under the pews, “I’ve never seen a squirrel in the church!”
Then we had to leave for the Maundy Thursday service.
By Saturday, I still hadn’t heard anything about the squirrel, so I stopped at the church to see if there was any evidence of our furry visitor. Our beautiful sanctuary was decorated with live flowers, a feast fit for a squirrel! I asked Alice, who was practicing the organ, about the squirrel. And she didn’t know anything about him.
That’s when the doubts began to creep in. Had I really seen what I thought I saw? Was it just a figment of my imagination?
Then, Easter morning, at the breakfast, John was grinning. He told me that he and John Leppla had gotten my squirrel. They chased him down the hall outside the church office and out the door. Seeing IS believing.
But you know, just like chasing squirrels in a church, much of our faith journey is responding to the unexpected with grace and, whenever possible, humor. We don’t have the privilege of seeing what’s ahead; we can’t control the future. BUT… we have to keep moving our feet. Our walk is powered by hope in the marvelous plans that our loving God has for us, though we never know what they are. Trusting isn’t always easy. It’s something we learn to do, through practice. Remember, courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s taking the step forward, anyway, though we may be terrified that we are about to fall over a cliff.
I have done lots of things that are out of my comfort zone in ministry so far. The Community Choir is one of them! Yesterday, during our long rehearsal for today’s program, “Live Into Hope,” I had the feeling, several times, that I was drawing near to the edge of the cliff. But every time I felt scared, there was someone next to me, guiding and reassuring me. There was laughter. And peace would return.
We say yes to the call of Jesus Christ and the adventures begin.
On the day of the empty tomb, none of the disciples know what is going on. It doesn’t help that they are exhausted by grief and gripped by fear. Mary is the first to see the Risen Christ and she is sent out to witness to the disciples. She tells them, “I have seen the Lord!”
What do they do? They go to the tomb to see for themselves. And they don’t believe that Christ has risen from the dead.
That night, all the disciples, except for Thomas and Judas, are hiding behind locked doors for fear that the enemies of Christ would come for them. Then Jesus makes a dramatic entrance, coming through locked doors as no ordinary human being could, suddenly appearing to comfort, encourage and equip them for ministry.
He comes in the flesh; he’s no ghost. The marks from Christ’s wounds on the cross persuade the disciples that he is the Lord. They rejoice in the Risen Christ! Seeing leads to believing! Sounding very much like Mary, the disciples will tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!”
Jesus says 3 times for emphasis, “Peace be with you,” translated from the Hebrew Shalom. Shalom means more than just peace; it also means harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. It can also mean hello and goodbye. It is the first and last word. Peace, the opposite of the spirit of fear that has gripped them, is the message Christ urges his disciples to share with the violent world that has just crucified him. Jesus tells them to go and offer forgiveness for sins. Forgiveness for sins! How can they do that when they are too afraid to leave their hiding place? How can they forgive those who killed Jesus? How can they offer God’s grace to others who may persecute and condemn them to death?
“As the Father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you.”
His Spirit will provide the power to overcome fear and doubt, just as it does for his followers today. He breathes on them, taking us back to Genesis, when God created human beings in his image—and breathed life into them. This second breath contains the promise of a new, grace-filled life, a second birth; a new creation in Jesus Christ.
As the apostle writes in Ephesians 2:13-15, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and decrees. He did this to create in Himself one new human being out of the two, thus making peace…”
As I study this passage, I find myself wondering why Thomas wasn’t with them in the first place. Then I remember that everyone deals with grief differently. Some need to be with others. Others need time alone. He might have been angry—with himself and with the other disciples. Hadn’t they all let Jesus down? Didn’t they all say they were willing to take up their crosses and follow him? He might have been mad at those who crucified him and at God for allowing Jesus to be killed. And with him, all hope had died.
Thomas, before this, had been faithful to the Lord. In John 11:16, when Lazarus dies and the other disciples don’t want to go back to Judea with Jesus where some Jews have attempted to stone him, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas has courage to speak up when the other disciples are afraid or don’t know what to say. Jesus warns his disciples in John 14 that his hour has come; he will soon go to the Father, but will prepare a place for them and will come again to take them to himself. “And you know the way to the place where I am going,” Jesus says.
Thomas interrupts, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
When the disciple whose name means “twin” says he will believe only if he sees and touches the mark of the nails in his hands, this is the only time nails are mentioned in the gospels. Nails weren’t always used in crucifixion. Thomas provides a vivid detail that would be captured by the imagination of artists, composers, writers and theologians for thousands of years and would become integral to Christ’s story.
But Thomas won’t need to touch the marks from the nails to believe, after all. Christ’s offer of his body, broken and wounded, but now exalted and glorified, is enough. He joyfully proclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas responds faithfully to the call of Christ and is traditionally known as the first to take the gospel to India.
Friends, on this Second Sunday of Easter, we can admit that we sometimes have doubts and fears, just like Thomas and the other disciples. We want to see Jesus, too. When you feel afraid, remember Thomas and how doubts didn’t disqualify him from being Christ’s disciple. The Spirit will keep coming to us in love, just as Christ came to Thomas, urging him to draw nearer and see with eyes of faith. “Do not doubt,” Jesus says, “but believe.”
We are the ones of whom Jesus spoke to Thomas—the ones who are and will be blessed and Spirit-led to do many things for the Lord. We are those who have not seen yet still believe in the Risen One.
In Christ, we are forgiven and freed to live as new, God-breathed creations!
When we trust in the Lord and let go of fear, we have his peace in the midst of the chaos of our world. Sisters and brothers, say yes to the call, once again, and let the adventures begin.
Listen! Can you hear Christ’s voice?
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you!”
Let us pray…
Holy One, we confess that we are not always faithful. Forgive us, Lord. We struggle with fear and are reluctant to step out of our comfort zones, let alone allow you to send us out to deliver your message of peace. Open our eyes so that we may see you more clearly and seek to be more like you. Fill us with your hope and joy. Build up our faith as we work to plant seeds and grow your Kingdom right here in our community. Help us to reveal your love and grace to the world. In Christ we pray. Amen.