Meditation of the Week
Even Through Locked Doors
Keywords: Resurrection is Not an Argument, Five Sermons, Evidence, Peace, Bad Language, Persistence, Doubting Thomas
Every year, the week after Easter,
we consider some of the first reactions of the disciples
upon learning about Jesus raised from the dead.
This morning, to that end, we’ll read from the Gospel of John.
Last week, on Easter morning, we read Luke’s account of the empty tomb
but things aren’t all that different here:
John tells us Mary went to the tomb early, while it was still dark
to help tend to Jesus’ corpse.
He had died too late on Friday, near the sabbath,
for it to be done properly
so she came when the sabbath was over,
the next business day, as it were.
But Mary found the tomb open.
So she ran back and told the disciples
(there is a lot of running in John,)
and two of the disciples ran to see what was going on,
and they found it just as she had said:
tomb open, no Jesus, cloths-that-he-had-been-wrapped-and-buried-in
all folded up just so
and they saw it, and they went back home.
But Mary stuck around,
and the angels try to console her
and the gardener tries to console her
only its not the gardener,
and they share this deeply moving moment
where he calls her name,
and she hears it, and she knows, she just knows
and she calls out to him, Rabbouni, my teacher,
and he tells her not to hold him back,
but to let him be what he now is
And so she goes back to tell the others:
I have seen the Lord.
And then the text continues.
It presumes we’re interested in the next chapter,
as if we wouldn’t be on edge for it.
What about the others?
How did they react?
Surprise. Worry. Adulation? What?
Now, ours is a culture that loves cliffhangers,
that delays Season Eight of the Game of Thrones for more than a year
just to hype what happens to Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen,
That ramps up the final Avengers movie so much
that it is poised to sell almost a billion dollars in tickets worldwide,
this weekend alone.
To their credit, the stories that show and movie tell are quite moving, poignant.
And so too, I dare say, is the Easter Gospel.
More so, really, though the Gospel is not designed to be imagined in CGI
the way computer graphics conjure up the fanciful.
They’re meant to be experienced with the same sort of awe that Mary felt
her whole world turned upside down
at the possibilities that the risen Lord is offering to her
possibilities that she can’t hardly process in that short amount of time
possibilities that would turn the world around
and help us find a new way of being in this world of ours, this Easter world.
Here’s that next chapter, according to John:
19 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 Jewish authorities,
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.’
24 But 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.’
26 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.’
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.’
30 Now 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.
May God bless to us our reading,
and our understanding,
and our applying of these words, to how we live our lives.
I want to be honest with you,
I feel very fortunate to be a pastor.
I get to walk with people through important moments in their lives:
births and baptisms,
marriage and partnering,
graduations and transitions (good work, Kate!),
new jobs or life changes that cause people to move away,
care of loved ones in the hospital,
funerals and holy goodbyes.
These are holy moments,
because God is there in the middle of them.
Sometimes I get to evoke God through Prayer.
Sometimes I just get to feel God, working on the edges,
prodding people to ask deep questions,
stirring our spirits when we get too settled,
comforting us when we’re afflicted.
Pastors have to remind ourselves
that we are constantly looking out for holy things,
these holy moments,
and that, sometimes the rest of the world
isn’t looking around with the same glasses,
not working with the same vantage point.
Part of what we do, as pastors, is help encourage that perspective,
that strategy, that effort among our people.
These post-Resurrection appearance stories begin to ask us to do that:
Where have you looked and seen Jesus Christ alive these days?
John’s first story tells us that the disciples have retreated to a safe place.
The doors are locked.
They’re frightened because they killed their leader
and that means everyone is on edge.
Maybe all this running around has people nervous too:
Mary and Peter and the other disciple
and Thomas, apparently, who isn’t there.
Where is Thomas?
Did he find his own safe place? Hunkered down on the other side of town?
Did he try to get there, only to find that there was no way that was safe
like when there’s a marathon in town, and all the roads are blocked off?
But the core of Jesus’ people are there, in that room,
in preservation mode.
They’re going to ride out the storm, and then….
well, who knows what.
Maybe go back home?
Some of them might go back to fishing.
The others, too, back to the towns they grew up in, perhaps.
Nothing this week happened the way they thought it would
when they got there
Jesus riding in on a colt
and most of them waving along side him with smiles and tall shoulders.
That’s the before picture.
Then Jesus comes.
Even through locked doors,
Jesus stands in the midst of them with an irenic phrase:
“Peace be with you”
and in an instant, everything changes. Everything is new again.
It’s going to be all right.
It’s going to be different, but it’s going to be all right.
They look, and they see that it’s actually Jesus.
He has the wounds of his crucifixion still
a sign that we don’t get to go back to the way things were
a reminder that we all carry all of our scars with us, even Jesus…
that new life doesn’t mean a return to the past, but something different.
But here Jesus is, alive and in the flesh.
And Jesus shares some of the Holy Spirit, and the scene ends
and we’re left grateful and shaken and again wondering
what the NEXT chapter has for them
now that they finally know what we know: Christ is alive, and that changes everything.
But first, John wants to tell us about Thomas.
A while ago, in John, Chapter 14, actually, if you want to go check it out,
we got to know about Thomas.
He was the one who asked where Jesus was going
when Jesus said that there were many rooms in his father’s house
and that we know the way to where he, Jesus, is going…
That confused the disciples,
and Thomas was the kid in class not afraid to raise his hand,
to ask questions, to want the answers,
so he said “we do not know where you are going.
Help us understand.”
So he already is seen as the inquisitive one, the questioning one,
not the guy who would fake-it-till-he-made-it
but the one who wanted to ask to get the info so he would get it.
Now, in today’s reading, Thomas has reunited with his fellow disciples
and they told him about that night,
when they were in the room and it was locked and Mary had come
and some of the disciples went to check it out and
wow, Jesus himself showed up, and he shared his peace and
gave some of the holy spirit and it was awesome and amazing and wonderful…
And Thomas stops them right there, and raises his hand
and says, yeah, but come on, give me something substantial to work with.
This is all….well, bonkers.
I need something more.
And a week later, Thomas gets it.
They’re there again, in the same house
the doors are shut again
though maybe they’re less afraid,
it didn’t say they were locked,
there was no mention of evading the authorities any longer.
Jesus comes, and shares his peace, and looks at Thomas
and says: “see, here I am, in the flesh. Check me out, whatever you need, my friend.”
And Thomas is gobsmacked:
My Lord and my God!
It’s ok, Thomas. It’s ok.
Blessed are you that you now believe,
and blessed is anyone who believes in me
even though they can’t have the actual physical moment that you get.
In our Bible Study on Friday, we went through
what could be at least five different sermons on this passage.
I promise, I’m not going to preach all five of them,
but let me just highlight what they could be.
We could go over John’s uncritical use of the phrase “the Jews”
to describe the community leaders that the disciples were evading.
That’s a problem, and its sloppy writing
because they were all Jews:
the disciples, Jesus, most of the people in the city,
whether they supported Jesus or not.
And one sermon could help us explore
why we need to be careful about John’s language here
particularly poignant on a day where we’re reeling
from another horrible instance of
anti-Semitic violence in our country, a shooting this weekend in California.
Jesus would be broken, bereft at this sort of hatred.
That’s an important word, on a day like today.
We could also talk about what Jesus says to the disciples
when he first sees them:
Peace be with you.
John tells us that Jesus brings a word of peace.
Not as the world gives, does he give, John says.
And that’s true: Jesus is a peacemaker,
the bearer of Peace to a frightened and violent world.
And when he shares his spirit with the disciples,
he is sharing that peace making power with them:
go out into the world in peace.
That could have been a second sermon.
Or we could talk evidence.
I’ve preached that sermon before,
about how this text affirms empirical observation and rational analysis.
Sure, how good is it that people believe when they cannot see me,
says Jesus, because he knows that he’ll go back to God soon,
and for the readers of this gospel
for everyone else to come, Jesus is going to be gone.
For the rest of us, for all of us,
faith isn’t about proof, about touching and seeing the actual body of Jesus.
It can’t be.
But, before that moment, Jesus was perfectly fine telling Thomas to check it out.
To touch and investigate. To explore and wonder.
And there’s nothing here that actually chides Thomas for his skepticism.
Sure, some call him “doubting Thomas,” but Jesus affirms him.
In fact, we come to see that our powers of observation and investigation
are as much good gifts from God as are any other.
There is too much made about a rift between science and religion,
and too many people of faith that don’t trust or listen to science.
Instead, science helps us see and understand the world God has fashioned and loves.
The fourth sermon might have been about that ending,
how John tells us that there are all sorts of stories about Jesus out there
and that these that he told are just some of the story.
There’s a fascinating sermon in there
particularly if we want to limit our understanding of God
just to the pages of these Gospels.
Instead, Jesus goes ahead, blows with the holy spirit
invites us to follow where he leads…
What could our faith look like if we viewed these stories
not as the limits to what Jesus was all about
but the foundation, the framework of Jesus’ life.
It opens up a whole new way of interpreting the scriptures
and invites us to listen for what God is doing in a dynamic, rather than static, way.
And the fifth sermon is probably my favorite sermon
about how those doors were locked
and how Jesus comes anyway
through the barriers we have, the problems we bear,
our worries and our fears and our insecurities.
Jesus shows up.
And he shares that Peace and he welcomes us back
and he makes all of it right again.
And if we’re gone. If we’re not there.
If we just can’t.
If we need another shot.
If we missed out.
No matter. Jesus will come a second time.
And will keep coming. Whatever you need.
Because that’s grace.
That’s new life.
Five sermons, at least, five different ways to see Christ alive in this story.
Which one speaks most to you, today?
Another pastor friend of mine wrote a Resurrection poem
that I’d like to close with today.
He titled it “Resurrection is not an argument.”
Here’s how it goes:
Resurrection is not an argument
Not an idea to which you might agree
And move on
Resurrection is a weed
Her roots cracking into concrete
Finding a way where there is no way
Resurrection is resistance
The thin Tiananmen man, white shirt
Facing down four machines of war
Vulnerability his only weapon
Resurrection is the dwarf mountain hemlock
Fighting through rime ice
Stunted by howling wind
But growing anyway
Resurrection is you
Showing up one more time
To a place you don’t understand
To a love you know you don’t deserve
But bringing everything you have
Hoping she is right
When she says you never disappoint
Resurrection is not an argument
It is a song sung in another tongue
That somehow still brings tears to flow
A warm hand finding your shivering shoulder
On the coldest night
Resurrection is life
And stepping into life
When all you know for sure
Is the shadow of death
May we marvel at the God whose love
reaches even through locked doors
to shake up this world with the most wonderful love we can imagine.
 A poem by the Rev. Ken Evers-Hood. He has shared it in numerous places, most recently on the NEXT Church website: https://nextchurch.net/resurrection-not-an-argument/
Image: The Doubting Thomas, by Leendert Van der Cooghen. At Wikimedia commons: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/Leendert_van_der_Cooghen_-_The_Doubting_Thomas.jpg