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April 19, 2020
Second Sunday of Easter
Being that today is the second Sunday of Easter, we get to hear about Thomas. Outside of the church, the world has moved on. But in here, it’s still Easter. We’re still hearing the stories about Jesus’ resurrection appearances, and we will for several weeks yet.
On the first Easter night, when our gospel reading begins, Peter and most of the other disciples had locked themselves inside a house. Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene early that same morning. But instead of rejoicing and going out to share the news, Peter and the others locked themselves in – and locked the world out.
We know they were scared and likely still trying to make sense of what the women had told them about what they’d witnessed, and probably trying to figure out what to do next – where to go, whom to trust. And then everything got weird.
Because all of the sudden, inside that locked house, Jesus appeared. Breathing peace into their fear. The only one who wasn’t there to see the risen Christ was Thomas.
We know that this story is often called “Doubting Thomas” but that isn’t right. The dictionary defines “doubt” as “uncertainty” or “suspension of judgment.” But there isn’t any doubt in what Thomas says. And he also doesn’t need proof of the resurrection.
Thomas is speaking from that place we’ve all been when what we consider to be “normal” comes to a screeching halt and everything we hoped for comes crashing down. He was there with Jesus throughout his ministry. He hoped that Jesus was who he said he was. Thomas knew what he expected of the Messiah, and it meant a lot to him.
But Thomas was also there on Good Friday, and he saw that Jesus was dead when he was taken down from the cross. So if he really had been resurrected, Thomas wanted to see him alive again, too. He wanted the same encounter with the risen Christ that everyone else had. He needed it.
Thomas needed to be able to say, “I have seen the Lord!” for himself, and not just vicariously experience the resurrection through the others. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve all needed our own resurrection experience at some point.
And the gospel writer knew that; he had us in mind when he wrote all of this. Jesus’ words for Thomas are also meant for us. Because the risen Christ appears to us, too. We’re among many who haven’t seen the risen Christ in the same way that Mary and Thomas and the rest of the disciples did, and yet we have still come to believe in him.
It helps that we know how the story ends. But that doesn’t mean we don’t ever have questions or fears about it. It doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes find ourselves locked in a room because our questions and fears get the better of us and we don’t know what to do with them.
But when we find ourselves in that situation, it doesn’t matter how many locks we have on the doors, Jesus appears to us and breathes peace into our fears.
Like a lot of familiar things lately, this story takes on new meaning for us in this time. In a manner of speaking, most of us are locked in in order to keep the rest of the world out. And for good reason. We know that COVID-19 isn’t just different from the regular flu, it’s more dangerous.
Without question, we’re right to be afraid of spreading or contracting the virus. But fear is tricky. It can distort our perspective and understanding, and sometimes it can even paralyze us. Especially in a time of physical distancing. And while it won’t keep us from seeing the risen Christ, fear can keep us from being like Jesus in the world around us.
Because it’s easy to be like Jesus when you’re safe at home. But out there it’s risky because the world pushes back against the love and the life that that involves.
But locked doors won’t keep the risen Christ out. They won’t prevent the Spirit from stirring things up. They won’t keep people from needing to see the risen Christ for themselves – from needing to experience the love and the difference that the resurrection makes in the world. Locked doors won’t prevent Jesus from breathing peace into our fears.
Towards the end of February, when the gravity of COVID-19 was becoming apparent, a friend of mine stopped by the grocery store on her way home from work. She was using one of those mini shopping carts because she only needed a few things.
She’d picked up a couple of bags of dried beans, canned tuna, some condiments, that kind of stuff. Nothing really significant – no toilet paper or Clorox wipes or anything like that. And while she was looking at something else on a shelf, someone stole her cart. She’d looked away for a few seconds, something we’ve all done, and while her attention was turned, someone stole her cart.
Understandably, she was angry and upset. But even though she didn’t see who actually did it, she saw through the action and recognized the fear that had led to it. And the fact that fear had taken over for someone is what upset her more than anything.
So she didn’t throw a fit in the store. She walked out instead.
When Jesus breathes peace into our fears, it doesn’t mean the threat of danger disappears. But it helps keep things like fear and anger from taking over. And it makes it easier to be like Jesus when we’re safe at home and also when the world pushes back against the love and life he calls us to live.
When Jesus breathes peace into our fears, it gives us hope and courage – and it helps us remember that not even being in a locked home during a pandemic can keep Jesus out. Ever.
We know how the story ends. But like Thomas, we still need to see the risen Christ for ourselves, and experience the love and the difference that the resurrection makes in the world.
It’s because of Christ’s resurrection that we’re able to name the truth about the chaos, fear, anger and hatred that seem to take center stage especially now. And that we’re able to embody Christ’s love for people in the midst of the things that push back against it. It’s because of Christ’s resurrection that we’re able to step out in faith from our locked room and proclaim life to a broken world.
And it’s because of Christ’s resurrection that, during the times in our lives when we’re unable to step out of a locked room – or home, we’re able to remember that that won’t keep Jesus out. He will always come in to breathe peace into our fears, giving us faith and courage for the road ahead. Thanks be to God! Amen.