Meditation on John 20:19–31
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
April 19, 2020
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.
I am grateful for the technology that allows us to continue to worship together on the first day of every week. The first day is the day of the discovery of the empty tomb—and the miracle of the resurrection, when those who loved Jesus and had closely followed him rejoiced that they were able to see and hear him, touch and worship him.
I have talked to many of our members by phone over these past few weeks, and I agree. Virtual worship isn’t the same as when we are together in our sanctuary, seeing and smiling at one another, shaking hands or giving hugs, singing and praying together and talking, face to face. But it still feels good to worship with you now and reveal our faith in the God who is always with us. As Psalm 46:1 assures us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
We will get through this together, as we have always gotten through difficult times as a church of more than 200 years. This will someday be a story we will tell, as our grandchildren or great grandchildren listen with great interest or boredom, perhaps, when they have heard the stories over and over. “Do you remember the days of COVID-19?” we will ask friends and family, “when we had to shelter in our homes, practice social distancing and wear a mask and gloves to the grocery store? And we couldn’t go to school or gather for worship or any other gathering, for fear that the virus would spread?” We will ask, “Who were you with those weeks? Did you work from home? Did you have to go to work? What did you do while you were waiting for the world to go back to normal again? What memories did you make together?”
This is one of those good memories we will have—that on the first day of every week, we continued to gather around our computers or smartphones to sing, pray, and hear a Word from our Lord, when we couldn’t all gather physically in one place.
This is one thing that will never change by God’s grace—our faith and worship of our unchanging Lord.
And I feel so blessed to be your pastor!
The Jewish disciples, the first followers of Jesus, have lived through an unbelievable trauma, seeing the one they love suffer and die on a cross. The loss is almost too much to bear, too painful to talk about. They fear for their lives, so, on the evening of the day of the discovery of the empty tomb, they are hiding behind locked doors for “fear of the Jews,” meaning those of their own faith community who reject Jesus as the Messiah and condemn him to death.
Having revealed himself to Mary in the garden in John’s gospel, this is the Risen Savior’s second appearance when he comes to the disciples that night. Unlike Matthew’s gospel, Mary bears no message to the disciples to meet the Risen Savior in Galilee, as we read last Sunday. Mary’s message is, “I have seen the Lord! He is ascending to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God.”
Now the Risen One enters through locked doors, surprises the unsuspecting disciples like an apparition, and, standing among them, says, “Peace be with you.” Of course, they are terrified! Jesus doesn’t want them to mistake him for a ghost, so he shows them the scars on his body—his hands and his side! This revelation is important, for here our Risen and glorified Lord still carries the marks from his crucifixion. This leads to the question, “Why wasn’t he healed of these scars when he was raised from the dead?” The answer is because the scars serve God’s purposes. They prove Christ’s identity! He is the One who conquered death, the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom we have life in His name.
Jesus is known, then, by his scars! The disciples, in their own wounded and broken state, rejoice when they see the scars, for they are marks of healing and new life. Christ has been made whole. Afterward, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that will bring them healing and wholeness, too, and empower them to minister in His name. What shape will their ministry take? We have a hint of it here, when Christ says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is a ministry that the apostle Paul describes as a “ministry of reconciliation.”
In 2 Cor. 5:14-20, Paul says, “ For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
Friends, do you have days when sadness just washes over you? You aren’t alone, if you do. I do, too. I know that I am grieving the scattering of our families and faith community and the loss of our identities, which are formed and lived out in community. As one friend put it so well, “I miss the person I used to be.”
When this is over, we will heal and live a more ordinary life, once again. We will!But we will have scars—not physical ones, like Jesus revealed to his disciples—but emotional ones that we will carry for a while. We will remember the isolation, the fear of our loved ones catching the virus, our concern for the large numbers of people suddenly unemployed for an undefined period of time, and our grief for friends and family separated from loved ones who are hospitalized or in longterm care centers. We will remember postponed weddings and not because no able to be together for birthdays, anniversaries, even funerals. We will mourn the loss of tens of thousands of Americans and more than one hundred sixty thousand people worldwide, so far, who have lost their lives to the virus. We will mourn.
This experience will change and form and possibly reform us. I hope so! I hope this trial will lead us to slow down, be more grateful for and demonstrative to the ones we love. I hope we will be less ambitious and materialistic as a society and learn to live more simply. As a people of grace. As a people of hope. This experience won’t destroy or define us or hold us back from becoming the people God has ordained for us to be. The scars will make us stronger, persevere in the faith, and give us more compassion to join Christ in his ministry of reconciliation.
Thomas, somehow, ends up with an unfair nickname in Church history because of John’s gospel. Doubting Thomas! He had the unfortunate experience of not being there when the Risen Christ made his first appearance to the disciples. That wasn’t his fault!
Thomas, to me, represents all of us who came after the first disciples who saw the Risen Christ. When we first believed, we came to Jesus with our doubts and questions. Did we not? And some of those doubts didn’t go away for good, just as Christ’s original disciples continued to wrestle with doubt, in spite of the resurrection appearances. Have you ever wondered how anyone could love this world—everyone in this world—so much that he would lay down his very life? That’s doubt. Have you ever had trouble forgiving someone as our Heavenly Father has forgives us? That’s doubt. Have you ever wondered how God could love you so much that He gave His only Son so you would live eternally with him? That’s doubt. God does love you that much!
What should we do with our doubts? Should we try to hide them or pretend we don’t have them? Or should we be like Thomas, who boldly declares them? “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,” he says, “and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hands in his side, I will not believe.”
The Risen Christ graciously answers Thomas’ request. A week later, he visits the disciples again and this time, Thomas is there. Jesus calls him by name and invites him personally, to see and touch. This is a God who never forces his will upon us. “Do not doubt,” he says, and it’s an invitation, “but believe.” Thomas responds in faith, saying, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus is talking about you and me and the generations of Christ’s followers who have been given the gift of the Spirit to hear God’s Word, but have not seen the Lord—and yet we still believe. We who have suffered trials and still believe in the One who is known by his scars, the Wounded Healer. Only He can make us whole! He is the One who conquered death, the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom we have life in His name.
With the Spirit’s help, we will not let hardship, disappointment, or grief destroy or define us or hold us back from becoming the people God can use and will use for His glory.
This is one thing that will never change by God’s grace—our faith and worship of our unchanging God! We are the ones whom Jesus says are BLESSED!
Let us pray.
Blessed is Your Holy Name, O Lord! You are the Most High God, who sent your Only Son, the Anointed One to be our Messiah. Help us, Lord, to respond faithfully to the call of being sent out, to experience new life in your name and continue in your ministry of compassion and reconciliation, forgiving others as you have so graciously forgiven us. Heal our wounded hearts, Lord. Bring us your peace during these frightening times. Give us freedom from worry or want. Make us strong and brave, yet gentle and kind. Watch over and guide us. Keep us in your tender care. Amen.