Let’s start with the grief.
We meet the disciples. It is Easter night, but for them it’s still Good Friday. They know Jesus’ body is no longer in the tomb; there’s murmurings that Jesus has been seen; and rumors the Romans are coming for them. They huddle in a secret room traumatized and shattered.
We might expect the disciples would be celebrating. Instead, we find them huddled behind locked doors. They are afraid for their own lives, fearful of uncertain futures. I think in their heartache, the disciples are also fearful of Jesus.
They’ve failed him so miserably. Peter has denied him, they’ve all deserted him; abandoned him. Perhaps the last person they want to meet is Jesus, risen from the dead to confront them with their failures.
So they’ve locked themselves in and him out.
But here he comes to stand among his friends. A tomb can’t keep him in. A bolted door can’t keep him out. He undresses. He reveals his damaged body: his injuries, his lacerations, where he was impaled, torn hands, shredded feet.
Have you ever met anyone who is locked in?
You don’t have to knock very hard, on any door, of any heart, to find someone who won’t let themselves out.
Have you ever been locked in? Locked in or locked out? Apparently, Jesus hasn’t.
There are no walls thick enough to block the entry of the Risen Christ. Joining the disciples in the safe house, he comes to them as no apparition, no ghost, no vision who pops in for a visit to say all is well.
He comes to his grieving and panicked friends with a simple: “Peace be with you.”
It’s also translated as “Shalom.”
Shalom is a multidimensional word. Rabbi Adam Feldman[ii] taught me about Shalom. He said Shalom means completeness, tranquility, wholeness, health. Shalom is a spirit is of wellbeing, safety, soundness. Its heart is fullness, rest, and harmony. Its root is to be perfect and full.
“Shalom be with you,” says Jesus.
- The Peace that passes all understanding, be with you.
- Shalom will keep your hearts and your minds in me.
- Peace and I give you rest.
- Shalom and you will find stillness for your souls.
- My Peace I leave with you. My shalom I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you…”
And Thomas misses the whole darn thing.
“We have seen the Lord,” they bellow. But Thomas is not persuaded. Thomas is not convinced. “Unless.” “Unless, I see the mark of the nails in his hands and his side, I won’t believe, cannot believe, refuse to believe. Unless I see. Unless I witness. Unless.”
And of course that one statement has landed him the perpetual title of Doubting Thomas.
Prince of Suspicion.
Sir Thomas the Skeptic.
But that’s a misnomer. He gets a bad rap, our Thomas. We all need time to recognize the Lord. The disciples themselves didn’t recognize him until he showed them his body.
One preacher puts it like this: Thomas is first and foremost a pragmatist. We forget that when Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you and you know the way to the place where I am going,” it is Thomas the pragmatist, who replies truthfully, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know then the way?”
We forget, when Jesus speaks of going back to Jerusalem, it is Thomas who knows Jesus’ is going to his death. Thomas is no fool. He counts the cost before opening his mouth. He counts the cost before deciding. He boldly urges the others: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Does that sound like a doubter?
These first words of shalom are no:
- band aid for grief;
- no remedy for fright;
- no medicine for terror.
Jesus’ words of peace are a balm for sorrow, but more than that, they are a promise of strength. You see the disciples locked themselves together in fear; but they will go out together in faith.
And that kind of Shalom, the kind that Jesus breathes on us, brings a respite from our grief, a fortifying from our fear; an establishment of power in our helplessness.
It’s just like Jesus to bless us with an Upside-Down-Kingdom where his vulnerability surpasses any lingering rage we might have for a bunch of disciples who have been acting like cowards, and hide-out in a locked room. I mean get it together you bunch of wimps.
But here he comes, the exposed Jesus, who walks right in, disrobes, and in his nakedness reveals a broken body – for them: lacerations, torn skin, ripped hands, sliced feet. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
- My shroud is gone, now take off yours.
- My tomb is behind me, now come out of yours.
- No more hiding, no more burial, no more shame, no more guilt, no more regrets.
At the center of the Easter Gospel, is a great truth that Jesus Christ comes looking for us.
- And when we allow ourselves to be found;
- When we take off our shrouds and come out of our graves;
- When we let go of the embarrassment and remorse;
- When there’s no more hiding nor resistance,
- Then the walls come crumbling down;
- and the key falls out of the lock;
- The Good Shepherd comes us, his friends, his sheep, his flock:
“… so that we may come to believe …”
[i] John 20:19-31, NRSV: When 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.” After Jesus said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas who was called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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.” A 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.” Then Jesus 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 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.
[ii] Before his death in December1999, Adam S. Feldman was the Senior Rabbi at The Jewish Center of Princeton, Princeton, New Jersey.
Scripture quotations marked NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, ©1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.