On the second Sunday of Easter, with the Resurrection still firmly in our minds, we always listen to the story of “Doubting Thomas”. We know the story well, it was probably one of the first Bible stories we were ever told. Jesus has been crucified and the terrified disciples are barricaded behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. The obvious thing we normally concentrate on is Thomas’ lack of faith and how much more challenging it is for us who “have not seen and yet still believe”.
While all of that is true, instead I am intrigued by the fact that we hear that the disciples were in hiding “for fear of the Jews”. Since the disciples themselves are Jews, I suppose the statement cannot mean that they are afraid of Jews in general. Certainly they are afraid of the Jewish leaders who were behind the plot to kill Jesus and would no doubt be now after any of his supporters. Their fear would also be magnified because what was certain and clear has suddenly dissipated and now their very future itself is in doubt – what should they do next?
It is not hard to imagine the fear and anxiety that the disciples were going through. Our own first reaction when feeling anxious and threatened is to bunker down and lock the doors, to become focused on our own security and safety. The disciples were doing no more than what we would probably do.
Maybe, and this is a big maybe, the disciples were also afraid of Jesus! After all, by this stage rumours of Christ’s resurrection had probably reached their ears. That just compounded the fact that they had failed him miserably. Judas had sold him out for 30 pieces of silver. Peter had denied him three times. The rest had deserted him as the reality and the consequences of the crucifixion became apparent. Perhaps the last person the disciples wanted to meet on that first day of the week was Jesus, risen from the dead and ready to confront them with their failures!
But you just can’t hide from the Risen Jesus – he will not be stopped by locked doors or past failures. He comes not to confront his disciples with their failures, but to grant them peace. His greeting, “Peace be with you,” carries the sense of the Hebrew greeting “shalom,” a blessing that denotes more than simply tranquillity but a deep and holistic sense of well being. It is not some passive sense of feeling good or the mere absence of conflict. The peace that the Easter Christ breathes on his terrified and confused disciples shows them a way out from behind the self imposed locked doors.
I wonder if we are really so different from those first disciples? The promise of today’s gospel is that Risen Jesus cannot be stopped by our locked doors. Jesus comes to us as he came to the first disciples, right in the midst of our fear, pain, doubt, and confusion. He comes speaking peace, breathing into our anxious lives the breath of the Holy Spirit.
What is more, he keeps showing up! As we hear today, he came back a week later for Thomas. Jesus keeps coming back, week after week, among his gathered disciples here at OLR Parish — in the Word, Sacraments, the bread, and the wine — not wanting any of us to miss out on the life and peace he gives. And he keeps sending us out of our safe, locked rooms, into our community that, like us, so desperately needs his gifts of life and peace.
Wishing you and yours every blessing.
Fr Peter Brannelly