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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), 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.”
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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”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.”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.” – John 20:19-31
This morning’s passage in John occurs in the late afternoon – on the same day Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus’s body had been buried, found the tomb empty, and was later visited by the resurrected Jesus. And so our passage this morning begins after Mary shares this great news to the disciples that Jesus is risen and alive.
But instead of rejoicing, the disciples run off to one of their homes, close the doors behind them, and lock them … out of fear.
Out of fear that those who had attempted to silence Jesus by arresting him and putting him to death would now come after them. And especially out of fear of Jesus, himself. Now that he is alive, what would Jesus think of his friend Peter, who denied that he knew Jesus – not just one time, but three times – after Jesus was arrested? And what about the other disciples – Jesus’ closest friends who had been traveling with him for three years? How could they face Jesus after he had cared for and invested in them for so long, and yet the minute he was arrested, they bailed on him: they fled and left him to fend for himself in his most excruciating moments as he was spit on, ridiculed, and beaten, nailed to a cross, and hung from it until he took his final breath? Would Jesus be so infuriated with them that he would give up on them? Would he deny, betray, and even condemn them because they had denied and betrayed him? Would they no longer have a place in the Kingdom of God?
I can often relate to Jesus’ disciples in this passage. There have been many times throughout my life when I have denied and betrayed Jesus, and because of this, I tend to avoid him out of fear of what he might think of me or say to me – were I to actually confront him in those moments. And I wonder if there are others here this morning who can relate to these disciples, as well. I wonder if many of us often choose to run and hide behind closed and locked doors, in attempts to keep Jesus out of our lives, because we fear what he might think and say about our failures, our insecurities, or our actions of denying, avoiding, and betraying him. I wonder if many of us choose to run and hide because we fear that if we actually do unlock the door for Jesus to enter into our lives, he just might not like what he sees.
Yet, in our passage, when the disciples hide behind closed doors – hoping to avoid Jesus and what he might say and do were he to find them – they are unsuccessful. Even behind locked doors, Jesus shows up. And yet, he does not appear to them in the way they had expected and feared. Jesus doesn’t show up angry, bitter, and judgmental. He doesn’t order them to give him answers to why they denied, betrayed, or even hid from him. He doesn’t demand that they ask him for forgiveness. Instead, he just shows up, holds out his wrists so that they can touch the holes where he had been nailed to the cross and points to his side so they can see the gash where he had been stabbed with a spear, and he says: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
You see, instead of coming with vengeance and wrath – as the disciples had feared – Jesus just shows up to them – in the midst of their fears and failures – and immediately and freely offers them the peace, love, and grace of God – before they even have the chance to open their mouths to explain their actions or to ask him for forgiveness. Jesus just shows up to them in that small home where they were hiding from and avoiding him – because Jesus wanted them to know that no matter what, they are claimed as God’s beloved children and are cherished and loved by God unconditionally.
Not all of the disciples were present to witness Jesus as he appears to them. Thomas, the twin, is missing for some reason. It may have been because he was out running errands at the local market or had gone to find out for himself if Jesus was alive. We don’t know. But whatever the reason, Thomas misses out on this incredible event.
And so you can just imagine his surprise when he later comes to the home after Jesus had departed, and is greeted by the other disciples who tell him that they had just seen their friend Jesus. That the one who had been arrested, killed on the cross, and buried in the tomb only a few days before is now alive and is offering them new life, as well.
But Thomas doesn’t believe it.
Now, I have heard this passage from John preached on a lot. And unfortunately, I have heard too many sermons and I’ve read too many commentaries on this text that do it a disservice by emphasizing Thomas’ doubts and his questions and by suggesting that because of these doubts and questions, this “Doubting Thomas” was unfaithful.
I don’t know about you, but if that were me coming back to the rest of the disciples, I’d respond just as Thomas did. I’d think these disciples were crazy. Or at least I’d think they were playing me. And like Thomas, I would hold onto my doubts and questions. I would refuse to believe until Jesus, himself, held out his scarred hands in front of my eyes and allowed me to touch his wounded side.
And, yet, even though Thomas doubted that Jesus had been raised from the dead and had appeared to his friends, and even though he missed out on Jesus the first time Jesus showed himself to the disciples, a week later Jesus comes back to the home and appears to Thomas, as well. Jesus comes back to the home so that Thomas can see, touch, and experience Jesus for himself. And without judgment or condemnation, Jesus asks Thomas to touch his wounded hands and side and he says: “Peace be with you.”
This morning, as we began worship, we offered up thanksgiving for our baptism. And boy, do we have a lot to be thankful for. For, just as Jesus showed up to his disciples in our passage in the Gospel of John, claiming them as his beloved children, Jesus shows up to us in and through our baptism, as well.
You see, our baptism promises that even in our times of fear, doubts, and questioning – and even when we choose to deny, flee, and hide behind closed and locked doors – Jesus has and will show up. And when he does, he claims us as God’s beloved children – no matter our failures or actions against him – and he offers us his peace and grace before we can even ask for forgiveness or even acknowledge our wrongs.
And even if we, like Thomas, miss the first or second or third time Jesus shows up and even if we shut our eyes, turn the other way, or go out the backdoor when he comes to us in order to avoid him, Jesus will keep on lovingly and patiently returning to us over and over and over again until we are ready to open our eyes to see him, reach out our hands to touch him, and accept the peace, forgiveness, and unconditional love he offers us.
In our baptism, we are claimed by our compassionate and merciful God – who loves us in and through all of our failures, our insecurities, our doubts and our questions. In our baptism, we are called and welcomed into this Kingdom of God that is full of grace. We are welcomed into this Kingdom of God that nothing and no one can keep us from. For, as Paul stated in his letter to the Romans: “not even death nor life, not even angels nor demons, not even the present nor the future, nor anything we have done or will do – can separate us from this love of God.”
So as we continue to journey through this Easter season, learning to live as Easter people and proclaiming the good news that Jesus has risen, let us also continue to remember our baptism. Let us remember that each one of us has been welcomed into the Kingdom of God and each one of us is and will always be claimed by God as God’s beloved and cherished child. Because no matter what we do or say or think, in the midst of all of our fears, failures, and doubts, Jesus will keep on showing up to us, offering us God’s peace whenever we are ready to accept it. And no matter how imperfect we may be – just like the earliest disciples, Jesus continues to call out to us in and through our baptism: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
So let us go – as Jesus sends us – out into the world as Easter people, proclaiming this good news that Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!