Christ's Peace for Our Doubts

John 20:19-31
2nd Sunday of Easter
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Christ, be our peace, that we might see you, hear you, touch you, and know you as we hear your Word and as we live accordingly. Amen.

Every year on the second Sunday of Easter, we get to step back from our Easter exuberance “Alleluia! He’s risen!”, and hear the concerns of Doubting Thomas and be reassured again that Christ is indeed alive and breathing peace on us, no matter what we see or don’t see in the world around us. Christ is always bringing peace into the dark of our doubt to drive it away.

The crowds should come on the second Sunday of Easter. Especially at Peace we should love this resurrection story. Peace, Joy, Peace Doubt, Peace, Faith. Peace is everywhere. We love exchanging the peace of Christ and really meaning it, not just being friendly, but hoping with our words and our attitudes of forgiveness to change lives. So we say with all depth, “Peace be with you.” We mean it. We don’t exchange pleasantries in that moment. We share peace. Our recyclable grocery bags say it and our business cards say it. “Peace to you.” If I tried to distill the one message I have for the world into one word, it would be “peace.” If I wanted to communicate one thing Christ was bringing to all people, it would be in the Hebrew sense of the word, shalom, wholeness – Peace. If there one thing I hope my life will embody in the world – in the way I live with others – it is summarized in peace. What a great name for a church – Peace!

I invite you now on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the end of a week full of the worst string of tornadoes in US history, in a year of total upheaval in the Middle East and natural disaster horrors in Japan, to hear again Christ coming in the door to offer peace.

John 20:19-31 (NRSV)

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told 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 in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.

Let’s talk about Jesus’ first visit with the disciples:

They were afraid. The doors were locked. Jesus came in and said, “Shalom.” This shalom is for them, to calm them, to reassure them. Then he showed them the evidence of his wounds. They rejoice in seeing him. He gives them peace again, and with it a charge. The second “shalom” is the one they and we must bear to the world. Jesus was the one sent. Now he is sending them, but first he breathes on them, the wind-breath-spirit (pneuma) is given them. We take his peace into our souls and by his Spirit we bear peace to the world. But that’s not all. Jesus then gives the power of forgiveness – a huge gift and burden. Do you know the power of forgiveness? Do you know the release you can give yourself and others by offering forgiveness, especially to those who do not deserve it. That’s what Christ offers us – that is the essence of his peace – and he says, as the Father sent me, so I send you. Give people the peace of your forgiveness.

Know Christ’s peace in the depths of your soul, so you can dig deep into that peace, when you’ve been hurt, and offer forgiveness to others. There is great peace in laying our bitterness aside. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. To love and forgive others is possible only to the degree we have received Christ’s peace. To fully embrace Christ’s peace is a process of trusting his love to be the One thing that completes us, that fills us, that heals us. Sometimes we want to hold back parts of ourselves, not believing that God is what we most need in that deep needy part. Sometimes the deep needy part of us wants the quick feel-good. Sometimes we want to reserve a little spot for our justified anger or blame toward others. We want to reserve that spot as point of pride, thinking too highly of ourselves. We’re like a kid with a dirty scrape, not wanting it to be cleaned. What we need is for Christ’s breath to enter that spot and heal it. Then we will have more peace for others, more forgiveness.

But we like to cling to our doubts about Christ’s peace. We like to think there are some wounds he cannot heal, so we hold them back. We like to cling to our doubt because doubt or skepticism is the intellectual way these days, and we educated people value our minds. Smart people question things like Thomas did. Smart people need hard evidence. Science. Fact. Evidence. Unless I see the evidence of his wounds and touch them, I will NOT believe. Thomas is not just saying to his friends, “I wish I had seen Jesus with you. I’m having a hard time believing.” No, he was exercising his will in doubt. I will not believe. Like Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie, Bucket List when the two guys talk of faith and Jack says with a smirk, “Oh, I admire you people with faith. I just can’t get my head around it. And Morgan Freeman wryly responds, “Well, maybe your head’s in the way.”

Here are some Doubting Thomas declarations for us this week: I will not believe there is a loving God when tornadoes rip through neighborhoods killing people so randomly. I will not believe there is a loving God when tsunamis flood well-prepared cities in Japan, and leave people dangerously exposed to nuclear radiation. I will not believe there is a loving God when fourteen month old Adrian Littlejohn is dying of cancer.

But you can still believe, even when these tradegies rip your heart out. But did you see in the East County Observer Adrians daddy said? Coach Littlejohn of Lakewood Ranch said, “If the good Lord wants to take my son, He will, and if He doesn’t, then He won’t.” Reminds me of Job. Job’s final answer was beautifully sung by Peggy Losee last week “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand on the last day.”

Of course, the best thing about this story of Doubting Thomas is that he does not continue to doubt. Jesus comes back again to the disciples, seemingly just to bring more peace – peace enough for Thomas to believe. Was it peace or evidence that made him believe? Peace be with you, Thomas. Peace to all the doubters of the world. Here – you said you need to touch and see. Okay. Do it. Don’t doubt, though, believe!

And Thomas’ stubborn agnosticism falls away. The peace of Christ overwhelms him and heals him, and he utters a most profound statement of faith: My Lord and My God.

But was it the evidence or the peace that changed him, I ask you? And just when all the doubters are saying, “Well, Thomas got the evidence, so of course, he began to believe,” Jesus challenges us by saying that believing without seeing is the better place to be. Blind faith? Is this a call to blind faith? Is there more peace in a faith that trusts enough, even in the dark of not knowing.

What evidence do we have that someone who dies is not gone forever? What evidence do we have that we will be reunited one day? No hard and fast evidence – the kind the world likes. But we are blessed, ever more blessed to believe in the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting with no evidence but the witness of scripture, the church through the generations, and our faith.

Jesus is understanding of Thomas, but not willing to leave Thomas where he is. He charges him to believe. I think believing is an act of our will, more than an ascent of the heart or mind. I think believing often comes in response to an experience of the peace Christ is constantly offering.

I think that every time you walk into this worship service, Christ is here too, pouring out peace in your soul, and hoping you will take notice and exercise your will in believing. Sometimes the doors are locked to your heart, but he comes in anyway.

Sometimes you are not present with your fellow followers of Christ and we have a profound experience of peace which you miss, but he will come again. Indeed he is with you always. And his message always is “Peace be with you. Do not doubt but believe.” And once you are rejoicing in faith, his message is “Peace. Receive the Holy Spirit. As my Father sent me, so I send you.” So let us be at peace, forgive, believe, and share the peace we have been so graciously given.

Our Lord and our God, we thank you for this peace which now floods our souls. We believe your love is healing every doubting dark corner of our hearts. Renew us in your love, that we might forgive, believe, and share your peace with this hurting world.