Second Sunday of Easter, Year B
11 April 2021
1 John 1:1-2:2
The disciples are behind locked doors. They are afraid the authorities will come for them, too. It is a small miracle that they are no longer scattered but are together again. It would be easier to blend into the crowd if you were by yourself. But I think that even though they had not yet understood the resurrection, they knew that their life with Jesus had changed them and that they all shared the same grief. Who would understand their grief, except those who had also known and loved Jesus. And so here they are, taking precautions, gathering somewhere while trying not to raise suspicions and keeping the door locked for safety.
When Jesus comes among them, the One who is the door (John 10) transcending the locked door and bringing his peace, I wonder if they understood. People don’t rise from the dead every day and while they had seen it before (when Jesus raised Lazarus, and when he had raised the daughter of Jairus), they can be forgiven for not understanding.
Now, I know they receive him and that he shows them his wounds, establishing beyond a doubt that he is neither ghost nor someone else, but I wonder how they could possibly have processed all that. One moment in shock, the next moment rejoicing.
I mean, anyone who has ever grieved knows that the reality of their grief does not leave you, only your focus changes and more and more you can give thanks for the one you love. But that takes a while and does not happen quickly, unless someone was ill for a long time and you started grieving long before they died.
And so it does not surprise me that Thomas would say, “no way.” You can’t switch that quickly from grief to joy, you just can’t. Besides, Thomas was fully aware of the fate that awaited Jesus in Jerusalem, and when Jesus finally decides to go to see his friend Lazarus whose sisters had pleaded that he come while Lazarus was ill, Thomas says to his brothers, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas has no illusions.
And so I think that Thomas is not so unlike his siblings who keep the doors locked. Because you would only keep the doors locked if you believed there was some kind of risk, or threat, or danger.
Whether Jesus had risen from the dead or not, he was still an enemy of church and state, and so were his friends. They were all preoccupied with their fear, while coming to terms with their grief and rejoicing and with the roller coaster of emotions.
And what did it mean that Jesus was first crucified and then raised? He had not defeated the Romans, nor the clerics, nor had he responded with violence to violence. Of course, that is what he had preached, but it was quite something different to see this unfold.
And so I wonder if the question Thomas is asking is not just whether his friends may have him on, but what if Jesus really rose from the dead, what did this mean, and if it was a victory, what kind of victory was it?
When Jesus appears to his disciples the first time, he greets them with his peace, “Peace be with you.” When he returns, this time Thomas his present, he again says, “Peace be with you.”
We who are used to sharing the peace as part of our liturgy and who are used to speaking of the peace of God and largely associate this peace of God with a spiritual disposition miss the fact that the one who comes bearing peace is the one just murdered by the empire and he bears peace to those who had abandoned him and who will also be persecuted.
To bring peace, at least the peace of Christ is about the most counter-intuitive thing Jesus could do, especially in an empire that prided itself of having pacified the world for its own purposes.
And perhaps when Thomas heard these words, he remembered what Jesus had said to them earlier, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (14:7)
And as Thomas remembers these words, he comes a little closer to understanding the victory that Jesus has won. This victory is not spiritual alone in the sense that it takes room only in our inner life as if the things that are inside us didn’t have bearing on the way we live in the world.
There is a change, however. Jesus has conquered the world (John 16:33) and this conquest means that the violent peace of the empires of this world no longer rules the life of the people of God and that the curse of Cain has been lifted. (1 John 3:12)
The Lutheran Book of Worship contains a hymnic version of a poem by William Alexander Percy (1924) that I always found beautiful yet difficult to sing and the difficulty had nothing to do with the music. Perhaps that is why our new hymnal omitted it.
It goes like this:
They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown
Such happy simple fisherfolk
Before the Lord came down
Contented peaceful fishermen
Before they ever knew
The peace of God That fill’d their hearts
Brimful and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod,
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing–
The marvellous peace of God.
And I wonder if Thomas remembers that when Jesus was to go to the house of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, he had said to his brothers, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
And I wonder if he is slowly understanding that the peace of God is the peace which we carry and live, even at the expense of suffering.
And so his confession acknowledges the peace of God that Percy wrote about, and it says ‘yes’ to God’s peace, and in calling Jesus his Lord and God he denounces all empires.
May we have the chutzpah of Thomas to protest answers that are too easy and simple, so that we may be led into deeper understanding and into living the peace of God in our lives. The peace of the Lord be with you.