John 20:19-31 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.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was the evening of Easter Day, and some were celebrating because they knew that Jesus was alive. Many others were grieving, because death had shattered their lives, their hopes, and their confidence. Many who celebrated did so rather quietly, because the dangers might still be just outside the doors, doors that were firmly locked, to be opened only for the most trusted.
It sounds a bit like the story we read this morning, but this happened just last week.
I did not know of those who sheltered behind locked doors because of that morning’s bombings as I preached the resurrection last week. I’d not opened my news feed, or my email, and no one had yet mentioned the tragedies of six separate coordinated bombings of churches and other Easter celebration places in Sri Lanka. Hundreds died immediately, and yes, it was a Moslem fringe group that carried out the attacks.
Other Moslem people had informed the government of their fears that the fringe group was likely planning something horrible, but the message was not heeded, or forwarded.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus said when he appeared to those gathered in the upper room. (I’m going to be rather graphic here, so be warned.) Jesus showed them the torn flesh of his hands, where the nails had first broken through the flesh of his wrists to fasten him to the crossbeam, and then the weight of his body elongated the wounds into what he showed them. He displayed the gaping wound in his side from which blood and water had spewed after his death.
It is then we are told that the disciples rejoiced. How does one rejoice after witnessing something so gory? I wonder if Jesus chose to keep these wounds in the resurrection, if he knew he’d need them to prove his identity in a situation that is utterly unbelievable? The disciples rejoiced because that gory display proved to them with absolute certainty that this was Jesus standing here before them.
Then he said, “Peace be with you,” again.
Peace, in the midst of a world that encourages a government to capitulate to the voices of the radical… just as it happened when Jesus died.
… in a world that widens the gap between the rich and powerful and those who work more menial yet necessary jobs, because there’s always someone else who will work.
… in a world that blows people up because they’re Christian, or because they’re not…
… in a world that sneers at people who are different, when really, we’re all different…
… in a world that seems unable to let go of the past and move forward in God’s grace…
… in a world where bullying is rampant, and compassion too rare…
… in a world where blame seems to dictate response, or the lack of it
… in a world where peace is elusive to many, and sporadic for others…
Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” not just once, nor only twice, but a third time the next week when Thomas is present there with them. Then he invites Thomas, if he really needs to investigate more closely the wounds of Jesus’ body, to do so. The story doesn’t say whether Thomas actually takes him up on it. My guess is that the wounds are obvious enough that he doesn’t need to. Jesus had died, undeniably. Jesus was again alive, undeniably. And much of this world seems not to care.
When Jesus was born, angels from heaven promised peace to the shepherds in the hills, and Jesus repeats those words today. Where is that peace?
Where is peace when suicide bombers obliterate themselves and everyone in the vicinity? Where is peace when shooters massacre people gathered for worship in mosques or synagogues? Where is peace when fully-fueled planes are flown deliberately into occupied buildings? Where is peace when we flip people off, or litter the community with trash or animal wastes for others to handle? Where is peace when the cyclones deposit floods over entire communities and people are forced to wade through waist-deep waters to survive?
Is peace only for the time after death, when we join with Jesus in the resurrection?
If that were so, Jesus would best have made himself such a suicide bomber in order to take his friends with him rather than subjecting them to the martyrdom which would eventually take the lives of most of them.
Instead, Jesus meets them in the midst of chaos, as they cower behind locked doors, and says, “Peace be with you.” He gives them the power to wash the past away, and to hold one another fast with hope and confidence. He gives peace where there is no peace. He gives new life where we are surrounded by death. He gives, and the world, as horror-filled as it can be, will never be able to take away what Jesus gives.
Peace be with you.
I believe Jesus did choose to retain his wounds in order to prove God’s love for us, and the miracle of new life. Honestly, though, I can’t imagine a heaven that won’t allow us to leave the horrors of our own deaths behind.
Until we get there, let us live in the peace Jesus brings, even when peace may not be obvious in our own lives. Let us share that peace in whatever way we are inspired to do so, with everybody, especially those who seem to have none.
Peace be with you.
Let it be so… in Jesus’ name. Amen