Doubting Thomas – Peace

John 20:19-31

Have you ever done or said something you regretted? Have you laid awake at night, thinking what you might have said instead, going over and over the scene in your head?  I wonder if Thomas felt that way, under the scrutiny of the other disciples, after doubting their word about having seen Jesus.

Wouldn’t we all, after denying their story initially, perhaps in the hours and days to come, question ourselves?  We don’t know what was happening among the disciples in the week following Jesus’ appearance that Easter evening. Were they bickering, or maybe sitting in sullen and fearful silence?

We can only guess, but there’s more going on than the words printed in this periscope. So let’s unpack it…..

Holed up in a locked house, we find the disciples, hiding, afraid for their LIVES.  Just that morning, they’d heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus had appeared to her and spoken to her. The disciples were likely perplexed, and uncertain of what steps to take, if any.  They believed that Jesus, who they thought was the Savior of the world, was dead. How did their journey with Jesus come to this? They were so sure he was the one!  Now they didn’t know what to do or think.

In the midst of this tension and anxiety – imagine the thickness of emotion in that room –  Jesus shows up among them and says, ”Peace be with you.”  But it’s not clear whether the disciples recognize Jesus until after they’ve seen his wounds. Then they rejoice! This person who is only noticed when he speaks, is indeed the Risen Christ!

Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” He tells the disciples that he sends THEM as he has been sent by the Father, and breathes the HOLY SPIRIT onto them, sharing God’s POWER with them. 

But it doesn’t appear that any of them have moved.  Jesus returns a week later to the same house – the disciples still there, and Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” Which really means, “The peace of Christ is here now……..the peace of Christ is here, now!”

And Thomas is given what he requested, to see and touch the injured flesh of Jesus.

On doing so, Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is the highest affirmation of Jesus’ identity in John’s gospel, making clear that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God….

I think Thomas has gotten a bit of a bad rap. The writer points out that he is called “the twin,” but he is remembered throughout history as “Doubting Thomas.”

He didn’t ask for anything the other disciples hadn’t already received. They all SAW that it was Jesus before rejoicing his return to the living.  And Jesus didn’t express any consternation over the disciples need to experience his presence.

Realistically speaking to the human condition, to doubt isn’t an either/or.  Doubt or believe. No. To doubt is to question, to wonder, to feel uncertain or to lack conviction. Really, all the disciples were doubting. Thomas was simply bold enough to say so.

The people closest to Jesus doubted! And sometimes, so do we.

But Jesus’ response to their uncertainty – our uncertainty – was to provide what was needed to believe, to strengthen their faith, and demonstrate the permanence of what Jesus did for all humanity on the cross.  Doubt will not separate us from God’s love. Nothing will separate us from God.

So doubt is not an absolute negative. Doubt might bring us to question out loud, and questions generate conversation, and talking about what we believe, or don’t believe, can bring clarity and understanding.

When we are open about what we believe, we build Christian community. We grow together, we strengthen or reform our beliefs, we plant seeds of faith in the curious or misinformed. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

I call it theological conversation.  To wonder about God and the mysteries surrounding Jesus – how does God act? Where is God? How does Jesus show up in a locked room? What does God want from us or FOR us?

These are the questions of little children and grown-ups, of new Christians and biblical scholars. Theology is the study of God, so when we think about God, when we wonder about God with each other, we practice theology. We are all theologians.

From John’s gospel we see that God comes to us no matter how big, or tiny, our faith. Even at our weakest, when we might feel the furthest away from God…God is with us. And we have our own stories to share within God’s story.

When my husband, KC, had what he now calls his “unpleasantness,” which was a rupture in his ascending aorta, Medical staff told me it was a good thing he made it to the hospital, and that if he made it to surgery, he had a better chance of surviving. They were telling me there was a high chance he wouldn’t live through the hours ahead!

But I wasn’t fully hearing them. I felt as though my feet weren’t really touching the floor, as if I was being held up, somehow. I heard their words and I remembered, but I felt as though I might be in a cocoon – everything just slipping by me – almost dream-like. 

On some level I was terrified of losing my husband, but on another deeper level, I felt an extreme peace that told me, no matter what happened, God was with both KC and me, and whether he survived or went on to a new kind of living, everything would be OK. I remember telling my pastor at the time, the only words that didn’t feel like a jumbled mess, “God is here.”

What I experienced, I believe, was the PEACE of Christ, extended through everyone around me. The ambulance driver who waited for me at an entrance that was a shortcut to KC in the ER.

The gentle explanations of the doctors, my family who were suddenly there to support us, and stayed through the evening. My nephew who drove to bring my son home from school, which freed me from that worry. And the many friends who texted me they were praying.

God comes to us in ways we’re able to comprehend in that time and situation. God meets us where we are and guides us through fear, or sorrow, and into joy, into new beginnings. 

We see this in the story of Thomas, whose belief came to fruition by the revelation of Jesus.

God revealed God’s self to Thomas and the other disciples in the flesh of Jesus, and to us through the telling of Jesus’ story. In Christian community God reveals God’s self to us through one another.

We have NOT seen and yet have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing may have life in his name.

Not only life as in from birth to death, the lives the disciples feared for. That life in Greek is psyche or bios, the life span of every living creature, in body and mind.  Life that comes from believing is a different word in the Greek – zoe – which is life given to those who believe, to those born of God. Zoe, is life that transforms us from just plain life to living in the abundance and eternity of God.

Over the course of our earthly lives, faith is not static, and humans may come to believe at any age. But God extends to us the peace of Jesus Christ, which surpasses understanding, and frees our hearts and minds to live into God’s abundant eternal life. Peace be with you.  Amen.

Sermon, Easter 3, May 5, 2019  Deacon Kirsten Kessel