Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020 | Sonja Gerstenberger
Passage: John 20:19-31
The disciples were locked away in a room. They were afraid. They probably feared going out. They probably feared who might try to come in. Perhaps they wondered, “They’ve taken Jesus, will they come for us next?” They would have needed to have thought about who will go out and get food? Who will bring supplies? Maybe they even had a designated shopper.
And early that morning, Mary had left. Perhaps she just didn’t see the need to stay hidden away. She had left; she had gone to the tomb, she had seen it empty, and she had come back saying, “I have seen the Lord!” And yet, perhaps, it seemed like a fantastical story. Perhaps it seemed like, maybe, she was just engaging in some wishful thinking or delusional from all they had experienced in the last three days.
There they were, locked away in fear, and into that space, Jesus enters. He just appears and says, “peace be with you.” I can imagine what that might have felt like, to be in that state of fear and anxiety and wondering and waiting and hoping, but also trying not to hope too much about what would come next. And then having Jesus appear, and hearing words that sound a lot like the last time they saw Him. The last time they were together, and He was teaching. When He talked about, “My peace I leave you. My peace I give you, not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.” The remembrance of that moment of being with Christ, I can imagine, would wash back over them. And the peace they must have felt, seeing their Lord, their savior Jesus with them.
But Thomas missed it. We don’t know why. Perhaps he was the bold one who was just out and about doing his thing, regardless of the fact that it was maybe a little dangerous. Perhaps he was the designated shopper, getting supplies that they needed. Perhaps he was just running late. But he wasn’t there. He missed that moment; he missed hearing Jesus, seeing Jesus. And despite the fact that all of these witnesses said, “we’ve seen the Lord! He was here!” Thomas said, “No, I need to see that with my own eyes.”
Thomas demanded to see Jesus; not just to see Jesus as Mary had and the disciples had, but to touch Him, to have that physical recognition of that person that he had come to know. Thomas’ demand to see the Lord reminds me of Jacob, wrestling with the angel: throughout the night, Jacob wrestled, demanding to be blessed. It also reminds me of the Psalmists: in times of fear and in times of trial, who cry out to the Lord, “How long, Lord? Answer me!” Thomas wasn’t going to be satisfied with a third-person account of Jesus’ return; Thomas wanted that experience for himself.
And in response to Thomas’ demand, Jesus didn’t say, “Tough luck.” Jesus didn’t say, “Shoulda been here.” Jesus showed up. Jesus came back into the presence of the disciples just a week later, stood before Thomas and said, “Peace be with you.” Thomas got the chance to experience that same sense of peace that the rest of the disciples had experienced. Thomas that on the way to Bethany had said, “Jesus is going to go to Bethany? Let us go with Him that we might die with Him.” And that during the farewell, said to Jesus, “How will we know the way?” Thomas was continually following Jesus, demanding to be in the presence of Jesus, expecting to be in the presence of Jesus.
Beloved children of God, we too can expect to be in the presence of Jesus. It is a faithful response in a time of fear and anxiety, in a time when we don’t know what to expect in the world around us. To expect to be in the presence of Jesus, to expect Jesus to show up in our hardest moments, because that is exactly where God has promised and continued to be with God’s people throughout the ages. It is a subversive act to cry “Christ is risen!” in the midst of these times. It’s not just some sort of way of trying to grasp “regular Easter,” it is reminding ourselves: Christ is risen, and it is OK to say it in any way that comes to you. Maybe it’s a plea; maybe it’s a shout for joy; maybe it’s a whisper of remembrance ever hour, every day.
Jesus showed up on the cross, and Jesus continues to show up in the places of suffering in our world. Christ enters into our lonely, grieving, hurting, isolated world and says, “I am with you. I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” May we respond, “my Lord and my God!”