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.
Do you know what today is? What it is typically called? How church professionals describe today? It is known as “Low Sunday,” the Sunday after Easter. After the glorious crescendo of Easter morning, there is a tendency in many churches to experience the ecclesiastical equivalent of an exhausted collapse. We send everybody home on Easter Monday, Typically the preacher and staff take a rest, from their labors. The flowers are wilted and discarded; the hats are gone, back in boxes and back on the shelf; the music is a bit more subdued; and needless to say and most conspicuously of all, nobody needs overflow seating on the Sunday after Easter.
It is a very good day to ask a very important question: “What was the point of it all? Is there a point? Is Easter, with all its wonderful celebration, an end in itself, or does it lead somewhere?”
It is a question addressed in the text this morning. It was Easter evening. After the public execution of Jesus, his closest friends and followers did the prudent thing: went into hiding. Someone found a safe house in Jerusalem, a room big enough for all of them, a stout door with a strong bolt. They had been there, hiding in that room, since Friday afternoon. One of their number is not there as this little post-Easter story begins.
There they were, lying low, trying to be inconspicuous, waiting for the furor surrounding the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus to settle, afraid that if they were seen publicly they would be identified as his friends, arrested and crucified.
Earlier that day, before dawn, a few of the women had ventured out while it was still dark. They had gone to the tomb to anoint his body with spices and ointments and had returned breathless, almost hysterical, babbling something about the tomb being open, his body gone, angels and earthquakes. Mary claimed to have seen him and talked to him. The ones in the room dismissed it: an “idle tale,” they concluded.
And then, that evening something happened that none of them would ever forget, something that made all the difference in the world, something that challenged everything they thought they knew about life and death. Suddenly he was there, Jesus. Was it an apparition? Did they imagine it? Jesus came. And what he said was “Peace be with you.” He said it a second time so they wouldn’t miss the point: “Peace be with you.” And then he told them why he was there, why they were given this Easter experience: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Jesus came. Jesus entered back into the disciple’s lives. And he gave them words of encouragement: “Peace be with you.” He said it a second time so they wouldn’t miss the point: “Peace be with you.” And then he told them why he was there, why they were given this Easter experience: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
On this “low Sunday,” on this second Sunday of Easter, do you hear Christ’s words? “Peace be with you.” Or are you in hiding? Are you Someone who found a safe house? Are you someone who is staying in a room big enough for all of the disciples? Are you staying in a room that has a stout door with a strong bolt? Are you filled with fear and uncertainty like Jesus’ disciples? Hear again, Jesus words: “Peace be with you.” Don’t you feel better? Why does Jesus repeat this phrase to the disciples?
The point here is to get these people out of that room. The point here is to give them enough peace, enough of his spirit—his life and breath—to get them up and moving again. The point here—the point of Easter—is to get frightened, discouraged men and women who are very much inclined to stay put, to stay in the room as long as necessary, to get them up and moving toward the door, toward the streets of the city, toward their homes and families and communities—toward, that is to say, life in this beautiful world now suddenly, dramatically, and profoundly different because Jesus has come to them and breathed on them and sent them.
So…..that should be our encouragement too! We have been given peace, spirit, life and breath! We are Easter people that need to get up and move towards the door. We are resurrection folks that need to move towards the streets of the city. We are empty tomb people that need to move towards our home, families and communities.
But…that doesn’t mean we put aside our doubt. It means that we go out of that upper room into the world carrying our questions and concerns. The resurrection of Jesus does not erase the trouble of our past and catapult us into a wholly new future. Instead, we look more like the disciples, our lives a mixture of fear and joy, doubt and faith. We look like those disciples behind a locked door.
One of the more famous images of Scripture comes from that line in Revelation when Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Ordinarily when someone knocks at a locked door at your house, you know that it’s up to you to get up and unlock the door and open it. The good news of Easter is that even if you are too afraid to do that, too ashamed or too paralyzed by this or that feature of your own life, the lock won’t stop Jesus. He will appear right in the middle of your locked-up heart and before you even have the chance to say or do a blessed thing, he will say “Peace to you!” When he does, all I can plead is that you will take him seriously. He will show you the holes in his hands and the slit in his side, not so much to prove to you that he really is Jesus. He shows you those sacred signs as proof that when he grants peace to your heart, it’s the genuine article and the real deal. Given what he went through to secure that shalom for you, all you can say in response is what Thomas said a week later, “My Lord and my God!”
Commentary provided by John Buchannan, David Lose, Scott Hoezee, Amy Plantinga Pauw and Marianne Meye Thompson.