Reading: John 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. 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.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to 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 into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
How familiar does this scene feel to us right now?! “The doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear…” And then, “…a week later his disciples were again inside…the doors were locked…” I’ve lost track of how many days of sheltering in place we’ve completed now, but it seems like a very long time. I hope that it isn’t just fear that’s keeping us inside as it was for the disciples. I hope that there is also a large portion of love, care and compassion for each other that is holding us within the safety of our homes. We who are healthy (and I pray you all are) are staying home to protect not just ourselves but most especially those who are most vulnerable among us – the elderly, the sick, those whose immune systems are compromised. Our sheltering in place is the most powerful communal act of love that the world has seen, certainly in my lifetime and perhaps in recorded history. And that alone is a Lent and Easter miracle that none of us could ever have imagined or asked for!
For the disciples, Jesus showed up in spite of the lockdown and wished them peace. And breathed the Holy Spirit into them. What a miracle! We hope that if we’d been there, we’d have received that gift with open hearts and much joy. It seems, though, that the disciples didn’t respond that way. After all, a week later they were still frozen in fear behind locked doors! Is it any wonder that Thomas didn’t believe what they said about Jesus’ visit? They were lousy witnesses! It wasn’t Jesus that Thomas didn’t believe in. Thomas doubted those fearful, stuck disciples who didn’t seem the least bit transformed by Jesus’ arrival. And it was only Thomas who responded to Jesus’ second visit with the most powerful and heartfelt profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” Yes, Thomas believed because he had seen, but the other disciples had seen, too, and it wasn’t enough to move them beyond their fear into the work for which Jesus had tried to prepare them for three years. Thomas didn’t just see their beloved rabbi whom they thought dead and now had come to life. He saw the deeper reality of Jesus, the Christ. And spoke it out loud. I’ve long thought that poor Thomas has gotten a bad rap for all these thousands of years being called “Doubting.”
So here we are, in 2020, on lockdown just as were the disciples. Are we able to see through and beyond our fear and impatience to the greater Divine Reality in whose presence we are basking, even now? If we aren’t, how can we open our eyes and our hearts and move from doubt to faith? If we are able, are we allowing ourselves to be transformed by it? Are we credible and persuasive witnesses who can help others to believe even when they aren’t able to see? Can people believe by our lives that they are forgiven, and loved, and filled with God’s Spirit? It might seem a bit challenging to respond to the call to be witnesses when we are quarantined. However, our presence goes well beyond the physical. Think about what you choose to post on Facebook or Instagram; what kind of emails and text messages you send on to others; the content of your conversations in phone or video calls. Consider how you are praying in these times. Each of our actions and attitudes have ripple effects we’ll never know about, but they are part of the legacy we leave in our wake.
This very strange and surreal time that we’re living in feels quite a bit like the world of Jesus’ disciples after his death and resurrection. Let’s learn from Thomas and open our eyes and see and recognize Jesus’ presence with us in the midst of it all. Let’s have the courage to be open to the transformation that is surely being offered and let’s speak it out loud however we can to encourage one another and ourselves as we move through our fears and into a brand new future filled with hope.