This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy's and St. Mark's. The text is John 20:19-31.
Have you ever been afraid? I mean have you ever really been afraid? I’m talking about quaking in your boots, perspiration dripping down your forehead, shortness of breath, hair standing up on the back of your neck, fear. The kind of fear you experience in a nightmare, where you are being chased by a tarantasaurus rex.
Fear is powerful. It affects us emotionally and physically. Fear can immobilize us, preventing us from living the abundant life God has in mind for us.
During holy week, Jesus’ disciples had experienced an emotionally draining week. Their master had been killed. He was buried in a tomb and now three days later, they heard from some women that he was alive. They had no proof of it for themselves, however.
The disciples were terrified and with good reason. Jesus was put into a tomb, but now his body was missing. The authorities were circulating rumors that his followers had taken the body out of the tomb and moved it somewhere else, to make it look like he was raised from the dead. Jesus’ disciples knew what happened to John the Baptist. They saw what happened to Jesus. They could be next.
So, what do people do when they’re afraid? They hide, just like the disciples did. In addition to hiding, they locked the doors behind them so they’d be safe. Jesus’ disciples were too scared to go anywhere. They would just lay low behind locked doors until everything settled down.
Fear was the driving force that kept the disciples locked in that house. As much as locks kept others out, fear kept them in the house. Locked doors were a sign of their locked hearts, paralyzed by fear.
In today’s gospel, we have two accounts of Jesus’ appearing to his disciples, the first without Thomas and the second with him. Jesus has a habit of showing up in the least expected places.
Those doors were locked good and tight, but here he is. We don’t know if Jesus’ resurrected body allowed him to walk through the doors or if he just suddenly appeared or if the doors opened up for him, but there he was. And he was not a ghost. Jesus had not been resuscitated either. He had been completely dead and was raised. The bottom line is that the locked doors were no obstacle at all to the resurrected Jesus.
The disciples see Jesus, but do not respond…not until they saw his scars on his hands and side. Then they knew it was Jesus, so they rejoiced. The risen Jesus is the continuing presence of the Crucified One. The exalted Christ does not put the nail prints behind him, but reigns as the Crucified Christ.
There have been various responses to the risen Lord in this chapter of John. A Beloved disciple sees the empty tomb and discarded grave clothes and believes Mary's witness. Peter views same evidence, but is still skeptical. Mary Magdalene sees the stone rolled away, but continues to grieve--until Jesus calls her name and she sees him.
Thomas no different than any of these folks. Once he sees, he believes (vv. 25, 27-28).Thomas has been given a bad name because he didn’t believe without seeing Jesus. He has been called “doubting Thomas.” However, he wanted the same opportunity to see Jesus in person, to be really sure it was him and not a ghost or figment of the other disciples’ imaginations. Can’t you identify with Thomas? Don’t you feel deep down that the other disciples really felt the same way Thomas did, but either never spoke it or the gospel accounts don’t include it.
There is a lot of irony and finger pointing in the way people responded about being told of the resurrection. The disciples chided Thomas for his disbelief when they told him, “We have seen the Lord” (v. 25). Yet, the disciples did not believe Mary when she told them that she had seen the Lord (v. 18). Because of fear, the disciples were still behind locked doors. This shows us that if they had believed the reports, it didn’t make any difference in their lives.
Jesus appears to his disciples bearing three gifts. The first is peace. Three times in our gospel reading, Jesus uses the greeting, “Peace be with you” (vv. 19, 21, 26). The greeting of “peace” is one that has been used among the Hebrew people from antiquity and is still used today. We know it as shalom. This address should have gotten the disciples’ attention. Earlier in John’s gospel (14:27), Jesus gave them his peace and told them to not let their hearts be afraid. The Greek could be translated, “Peace is with you or is yours.” In this exchange between Jesus and his disciples, the promised peace given earlier in the gospel is conferred upon them at this time.
What is meant by peace in scripture? It is far more than a feeling of calmness. It describes a relationship between people rather than personal inner tranquility. The peace of God’s kingdom is primarily the way people and all creation and God will relate to each other in a harmonious existence.
The second gift is purpose. Jesus has a job for his disciples.
The disciples are empowered to forgive. Jesus deputizes his disciples to be agents who are engaged in the same declaration of peace as their Lord. The forgiveness of sins must be understood as the Spirit-empowered mission of the church today in the world.
The third gift Jesus gives his disciples is power. Then he breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. The disciples have been given peace and empowerment. They are empowered for a purpose, to declare the reign of God. Our sending today is an extension of God’s own sending. The disciples are incorporated into Jesus’ mission. When Jesus entrusts his disciples with a mission, that mission comes with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for power to do what God has called them to do In today’s world.
When does Jesus come with this peace, purpose and power? When people are locked in grief—like Mary; locked in fear—like the disciples; and locked in darkness—like the world.
What are our locked doors? What shuts our hearts and locks them down? We too may be dealing with fear—fear of what the future will bring: will we have our health? Will we have enough money to retire or will we have to continue working two or three jobs simply to survive?
Perhaps we are angry with God because he hasn’t answered prayer in the way we hoped or he has taken a loved one from us. Being Christians does not make us immune to the difficult things, the sad things, the awful things life sometimes throws our way. We need to allow God to give us his peace and to trust we have been given the Holy Spirit with the power to do what God has called us to do. The church receives the promised Paraclete who brings both an agenda and a promise.
God desires abundant life for his people, which is only obtainable through relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That is why John wrote his gospel, for those who were a couple generations away from Jesus’ time on earth and for us who are even farther removed. John wrote, “ 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” (vv. 30, 31).
Thomas responded with a confession of faith, unlike the other disciples. What will our response be? Will we step boldly into the world and proclaim that Christ is risen or will we hide sheepishly behind locked doors?
This week, I have a mission for you. Pay special attention and look for God in the places you would least expect him. Don’t be surprised, He’ll be with you wherever you go. God has entrusted us with the mission of sharing the good news of our God sightings with the world. Don’t keep this news to yourself.
Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Locked-In-Locked-Out-04-02-2013.html
Brian Stoffregen, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x19e2.htm