I have several favourite preachers that I turn to, often, to see what they say on a bible passage. One of my all-time favourites is Nadia Bolz-Weber – a Lutheran priest with an outrageous number of tattoos and a potty mouth, with a passionate love of Jesus and a healthy disrespect for the confines of Church. I don’t know why it’s a match really 😉
What she has to say on this week’s gospel passage is so beautiful that I’ve taken chunks of it and my voice is intertwined with hers to such an extent that I need to give that acknowledgement to her, from the off.
So, this morning we meet the disciples, huddled in the upper room, for fear of the Jews, and unlike last time, Thomas is now with them too. And I suspect that having denied, betrayed, and abandoned Jesus the disciples were really wallowing in their shortcomings. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think they were passing around blame and justifications for the death of Jesus, trying to make the others faults greater than their own; ‘if Judas hadn’t betrayed him it would’ve been ok’ and ‘there was no space to stay at the foot of the cross anyways, with all those women around’ and ‘Peter, if you hadn’t denied him first, I was going to say I knew him’ …I mean, they’ve all screwed up.
And then, even while they’re locked away, it is here, amidst doubt and fear, amid blame and justifications that Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus; clearly no respecter of locked doors, or self-pity, or hiding, comes and stands among them. It is here he chooses to appear to his beloved Christ deniers – those he loves who abandoned him and he says ‘Peace be with you’. Peace? They’ve denied and betrayed and deserted and made fatal mistakes in their discipleship…and Jesus’ first words to them are, Peace be with you.
His final words, if they had been there to hear them, was ‘it is finished’. That was it, the end. The end of the old world order. And now is the dawning of the new world; all that was is gone and the new beginning is one of peace. Absolute, all consuming, fear swamping, peace. The old is forgiven. The new is freedom.
And notice the text doesn’t say “when they had repented of what complete asses they had been; and when they had perfected their faith and the purity of their doctrine; and when they had achieved the right condition of personal morality THEN they were worthy of receiving Jesus.” No. There they sat. Fear, doubt, betrayal and more than a little shame.
But it takes more than shame and locked doors to keep Jesus out. In fact; it’s just like God to barge in uninvited through our fear and locked doors to remind us, like it or not, that we are the recipients of peace, grace, forgiveness, and God’s spirit. Jesus just has this way of coming along and saying an insistent ‘yes’ to our polite “no thank yous”. And that’s exactly what he does for Thomas.
Thomas wasn’t there for Jesus’ first visit. He didn’t hear those first soothing words of peace. He only gets to hear about it second hand. And he doesn’t believe the disciples. And I don’t blame him! Their track record hasn’t been great so far, has it? Peter told Jesus he would die for him, just a few days ago, and that turned out to not be true, so he has said his own polite “no thank you” to the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. He doubts. And it’s not surprising is it, because even though Jesus has cryptically said he will be back, and the disciples have said they have seen him, it’s just not something that dead people do, is it? So, yes, he has doubts.
But doubting isn’t the opposite of having faith…it’s a component of having faith. Doubting can mean we haven’t forgotten the story. Doubting means that we don’t have it figured out all on our own. But the best thing about doubting is it’s honest.
And now, when Jesus appears again, Thomas meets him, honestly, with his doubts in his hands and mouth, and then he trades it all in as he comes face-to-face with Life and makes the boldest statement of faith that we hear in the whole bible: “My Lord and My God” he says. Jesus’ presence is the perfect antidote to doubt. We might still feel it, but it can have no power – it isn’t true – because Jesus conquered doubt at the same time He defeated death. When Jesus kicked death into touch, He also told guilt and shame and fear and blame exactly where to go. None of those things can function under Jesus’ peace.
So what about us, huddled here today in our 21st century equivalent of that same room. How are we feeling? What are we believing?
Here we are, along with those first disciples, tentatively trying to get things right, more often getting things wrong – doubting, denying, wandering off, forgetting. But, I have seen the Lord, friends. I have. I have seen him here in the mass and in the faces of each of you. I have seen him over coffee and broken bread. I have seen him in the gardens and the chapel. I have seen him in the ocean and the sunsets. I have seen the lord. And we will each reach out and touch his resurrected body at this altar in a few minutes. We have seen the lord. Do you believe? Will you, like Thomas, reach out your hands and touch our Risen Lord? Will you receive his peace and God’s spirit and be changed? Will you kneel in wonder and worship and echo that great and abiding statement of faith; my lord and my God, and will you pass it on to others that they too may have life in Christ’s name?
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia. Amen.