John 20:19-31 2nd Sunday of Easter
Elizabeth M. Deibert 12 April 2015
Christ, be our peace, that we might see you, hear you, touch you, and know you as we hear your Word. Amen.
Every year on the second Sunday of Easter, we step back from our Easter exuberance to hear the concerns of Doubting Thomas. This is the Sunday for quiet reassurance that Christ is alive and breathing peace on us, no matter what we see or don’t see in the world around us. Christ is driving the dark of our doubt away, always bringing peace into the locked rooms of our lives where we fear and confusion give way to faith and confirmation.
I was pleased last week with the congregation we had here. Over 90 people in each of our three services – yes, I know some of you were here twice! But I have always thought that the crowds should come back on the second Sunday of Easter. This is the story for us. Yes, especially in this congregation, 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 say it not just with words, but with our support, the kind of wonderful support you provided on Wednesday for the McIlwain family. We mean it with the kind of depth that allows us to say peace to someone like Barbara when we know it is a hard time. I always assume when I see any of you that while you might be smiling and joyful, there is something going on with you, with your family, with your work, that is challenging, if not painful or difficult. So exchanging peace is not about pleasantries. It is about seriously wanting a person to discover in a deeper way the peace that passes all understanding. 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 to imagine a night of great unrest for the disciples. Some women had reported an empty tomb, but there had been no confirmation. What they currently experience is an empty room full of fear. Who might get crucified next? And are these stories about the empty tomb real, can they give their friends who saw and believed the benefit of the doubt?
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.
The doors were locked, but Jesus came in anyway 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.
As those who follow Jesus we are given 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. Give those who have betrayed you or forgotten you 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. 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. What we need is for Christ’s breath to enter that spot and heal it. With Christ’s peace in us, giving us the benefit of the doubt, we can give others the benefit of the doubt.
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. 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.” I love that line. And Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the Genome Project, admits that his intellect was in the way of believing for many years. It was his clinical contact with real human suffering that made him question his agnosticism. And as he read Mere Christianity and began to seriously ponder the Christian faith, he came to a point of believing more than doubting – just like Thomas.
The best thing about this story of Doubting Thomas is that it gives us the benefit of the doubt. The benefit of Thomas’ doubt is that all of us know Jesus embraces us, even when we have our doubts. Jesus comes twice that evening to the disciples, seemingly just to bring more peace – peace enough for Thomas to believe. Was it peace or evidence that made him believe? It was the presence and peace of Christ. Christ offers him a chance to touch, but the story never says he does. He just needed to express his doubts. Peace be with you, Thomas. Peace to all the doubters of the world. Here I am, Christ says. I am here for you. It is okay that you are struggling to believe. By giving Thomas permission to have his doubts, he receives the peace of Christ. The peace of Christ overwhelms him and heals him, and he utters a most profound statement of faith: My Lord and My God.
You might be thinking, “Well, Thomas got the evidence, so of course, he began to believe, but I don’t have Jesus standing in front of me.” But was it the evidence or the peace that changed him, I ask you? For all of us who never had this face-to-face encounter with the Risen Lord, Jesus says we are blessed. Yes. We who are challenged to claim a blind faith are the blessed ones. Is there more peace in a faith that trusts enough, even in the dark of not knowing? Those who get their proofs are believing, but they don’t need as much faith to hang on. But those who believe without seeing, those who can handle the mysteries of life, they are the strong ones. Those of us who have not seen have the benefit of the doubt when we believe despite our doubts, despite our not seeing. If you think about it, faith is giving Jesus the benefit of the doubt.
What evidence do we have that Jesus rose from the dead? We give this scripture the benefit of the doubt. What evidence do we have that the church has not been duped all these years. We give the church the benefit of the doubt.
We give each other the benefit of the doubt as we seek together, as best we can to follow Jesus’ way. Faith is giving God the benefit of the doubt. God’s grace in Christ is giving us the benefit of the doubt. How do we know someone like Don McIlwain 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.
We only have a few near-death experiences reported, and we have to give those people the benefit of the doubt. But we are blessed, we are benefited all the more 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, and he is willing to engage him at the level of his doubt. Yet 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 offers, more than any proofs. We have evidence but not proof. And our evidence is Christ’s peace, the peace we experience in worship, the peace we experience in prayer, the peace we experience in the beauty of nature. The peace that passes all understanding when we walk through a heavy grief and are surrounded by the love of our friends. The peace that still our souls when our lives feel like locked rooms, full of fear and confusion.
You walk into this worship service, Christ is here, pouring out peace in your soul, encouraging you to believe, to forgive, and to share that peace and forgiveness with others. Sometimes the doors to your heart are locked, but Christ can enter anyway. And his message always is “Peace be with you. Sure, you have your doubts. No big deal. Here I am. Believe.” And once you are rejoicing in faith, his message is “Now that you believe, receive the Holy Spirit. As my Father sent me, so I send you.” So let us be at peace, let us forgive, let us believe, and let us share the peace we have been so graciously given by always giving the benefit of the doubt to all whom we meet.
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.