Today our Gospel lesson picks up the story from last week. The Gospel accounts inform us that the women were the first to realize that Jesus had risen, and when they shared the news with the other disciples, they either didn’t know what to make of it... or they considered the news an “idle tale” - wishful thinking, or deranged nonsense. We’re even told in John’s Gospel that Peter and “the disciple Jesus loved” (John) ran to the tomb, and confirmed... not that Jesus was alive... but that his body was gone, presumably stolen.
I don’t think the disciples’ initial lack of belief was because they didn’t want to believe... but because seeing, and witnessing everything they’d been through with Jesus just three days earlier... from his arrest, to his trial, and punishment... to the mocking... and the sound of the nails... they knew Jesus was gone. It’s hard to overcome empirical evidence. John Adams, the second President of the USA famously said, “Facts are stubborn things.” And the facts... the evidence pointed... to death. To darkness...
So the disciples did what most anyone would do. They turned inward. They were hurt, they were grieving... they were confused. And misery loves company... so they retreated to their cocoon... in the safety of one-another’s shared experience. They locked the doors, shuttered the windows, and prayed that one day life would get back to normal. And, that what had happened to Jesus wouldn’t happen to them, too.
So imagine, if you can, the disciples... hiding in the fear and confusion... when suddenly they realize they’re not alone. Jesus appeared - right there! In the flesh, before the disciples. They were obviously frightened or shocked to the point that Jesus offered them HIS peace, twice!
Jesus showed the disciples his hands, and side. The wounds still visible... not scars... but wounds. This was no ghost... no apparition... no hallucination... Jesus was alive, in the flesh, wounds and all! As inexplicable as it was... and with as much as they had trusted their eyes before, when they watched Jesus die... they trusted their eyes even more... now that Jesus was alive!
Of course, then Jesus did something strange: he blessed the disciples by breathing on them: the Greek is pneuma, the Hebrew, ruach. The wind, the life, the Spirit of God, himself... empowering the disciple to know this was indeed the Messiah, resurrected! For just as God had breathed life into Adam, who was formed from the dust of the earth; Jesus breathed life into his disciples, whose reality had been forged in the darkness of grief. It was a moment of re-creation! A new birth! A new beginning... as a new covenant was unfolding...
Then Jesus told them to go out into the world. Just as the Father had sent him, so he was sending them.
The whole scene was basically recreated a week later, because Thomas wasn’t with the others for Jesus first appearance. So, naturally, he refused to believe until he could see for himself. Jesus appears again, with Thomas present... Jesus, offers his Peace, a third time... shows Thomas his wounds, saying, “reach out your hand and touch... stop doubting, and believe.”
And that same calling... that same directive from Jesus, is for you and me, even today. “Stop doubting, and believe.”
Truth is: things have not changed that much since then. In some places in the world Jesus’ disciples still hide from those who’d cause harm, especially in places like China, and large parts of Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Middle East. Most of us can gather freely without fear of being killed. But we still live in a hostile world. A world that ridicules our values. A world that attacks us for our belief in the Truth of God’s Word. A world that degrades us because we try to help those whom it says are not worth helping. A world that would crucify us because we hold to the biblical teaching that the way of the world leads to death... and that in Christ alone can there be light and life.
So many times we Christians cower in our churches and refuse to go out “there” - into the hostile world - for fear that someone will recognize us, and ridicule us, for what we are. We might die if we go out there!
Like Jesus’ disciples, we close the doors and shutters tight so that no one will discover us. Of course, Jesus knows our fear just as he knew the disciples' fear. And so, just as he appeared to them in that upper room, he is with us here. He’s still saying, “Peace be with you. Do not fear, for I am with you.”
But that is not all, we are strengthened by Christ's presence, his Spirit, that’s empowers us to be the people God has called us to be. When we’re worn, and tired, and think we’ve given our all... and we couldn’t possible give anything else, Christ’s Spirit fills us with new joy, new hope, new purpose! When we become tired, weary and burdened... it’s because we’re relying on our own strength, our own efforts, our own will. Only when we set aside self, and open ourselves to the Resurrection power of Christ, can we ever hope to walk in the fullness of his power! Only then can we declare with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus is with us. We will always live in a hostile world. The people outside the church may want to crucify us just like they did our Lord. But we are not alone. Jesus is present with all who worship in his name. And he is giving all of us new life.
One more thing: Jesus said to Thomas, and the others, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
God calls us to be a people who walk by faith, not by sight. The blessing of Christ is found in believing; in trusting; in faithfully following the One who loved us enough to die for us. In believing and trusting that Jesus loved us enough to defeat the grave for us. The blessing of Christ is found in knowing that Christ loves us enough to be with us, now...
Stop doubting, and believe!