The Disciples locked themselves away in a room, imprisoned by fear. How can this be? Last we heard, Mary Magdalene ran off to proclaim the Good News that she had encountered the Risen Christ. Now, whether or not the Disciples really believed Mary or simply thought her grief had kidnapped her sanity, we can’t know for sure. We do know that Easter had not yet reached the men in Jesus’ inner circle. John tells us that the Disciples cloistered themselves behind a locked door on account of their fear of the Jews. Every biblical commentary I’ve ever read about this text scoffs at such a simple explanation for their terror. There was no evidence they would be the target of Jewish retaliation, or Roman violence for that matter. The man who’d been the problem—the one whom we call Savior—had been taken care of. The story was over, according to the authorities, and it seems that the Disciples agreed.
There they are, cowering behind locked doors. And while John doesn’t spell it out for us, the fear the Disciples felt was spiked with shame. They had failed their prophet, their teacher, their leader, their friend. If it was true that the tomb was empty and Jesus was walking the streets of Jerusalem again, were they really up for facing him? They had been cowards in the hour of his death, and now their fear and shame make cowards of them in the wake of his resurrection.
And then Jesus shows up. Even though the doors were locked, bolted shut with whatever sort of security device you’d find in an ancient Israelite home during the Roman occupation, Jesus is suddenly standing among them.
Isn’t this the stuff of ghost stories? Don’t only intangible haunts pass through doors? Aren’t we supposed to be focusing on the very real and tangible body of Christ, present and fully alive? Back when I was a skeptic, I used roll my eyes at this kind of biblical detail. Come on, now, John, I’d think. Dump the theatrics and stick to the story. But through the eyes of faith, Jesus’ sudden appearance in a locked door is much more than a special effect thrown in for pizzazz. Yes, it’s a sign of God’s impressive power made manifest in the Resurrected Christ. But God doesn’t waste his power on empty miracles.
Jesus, our Risen Lord and Savior, is shown here breaking and entering, and not just into a house. Jesus breaks the chains that bind God’s children to fear and shame, and enters our hearts. You might say he is like a thief in the night, only instead of stealing away with our treasures, he freely gives us the priceless treasure of salvation.
“Peace be with you.” This is what he says to the Disciples gathered there. Not, “How could you deny me, Peter.” Not “Why did you not go looking for me when Mary told you she had seen me?” Just, “Peace be with you.” The Disciples expected anger and disappointment, and instead Jesus greeted them with the ultimate sign of forgiveness and reconciliation – his peace.
With the passing of Christ’s peace, the Disciples are released from their cage of fear. They are released from the bond of shame. After showing the Disciples the traces of his wounds, Jesus reveals that he will still depend on the bumbling, fair-weather Disciples to continue his mission. He breathes on them, commissioning them with a ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness. Can you imagine the thrill of feeling God’s very breath on your cheek? What I wouldn’t do to have been a fly on the wall of that room. Just think what it would do for your faith, your trust, your sheer believe in the living, breathing, forgiving, loving Son of God. To have seen the wounds of Jesus, to have seen life where death had taken hold, to experience the jubilation of receiving the Holy Spirit from Jesus himself.
I had a friend who struggled with the notion of the resurrection. He got stuck, locked up in a prison of doubt and disbelief. He liked Jesus, perhaps even loved him. But he didn’t want to follow a Jesus who was evicted from the tomb. He didn’t want to associate with a Christ who mystically appears in locked rooms. He wanted a tidy faith that didn’t defy the laws of nature. But my friend has changed. He began to consider the reality that something happened after the death of Jesus. Something happened. That phrase became a mantra for him. For when you look at the Disciples before the business of Holy Week, you have a motley crew of men who only rarely understand the words of their Rabbi. It’s as if they take two steps back for every one step forward. As for Jesus, well, he was just one of thousands of men crucified by the brutal Roman government. He should have been forgotten, like the countless other criminals and rebels that met the same fate. Only he wasn’t. He became the central figure in a strange new religion that soon spread like wildfire throughout the known world. Something happened.
This is that something, friends. The encounter with the Risen Lord. Just as Mary Magdalene was transformed in the fleeting moments she spent in the physical presence of the gardener, the Disciples were changed by their joyful reunion with Christ.
No wonder Thomas was ticked. No wonder he stubbornly announced that he wasn’t going to believe a word the Disciples said unless he could see and touch Christ’s wounds for himself. He had missed the boat. Wherever he was on that evening, he wasn’t in the right place. Thomas has often gotten a bum rap throughout Christian history. How many Sunday School teachers have chided questioning kids to not be a “doubting Thomas?” But how can we blame him? He was the first person who was pressured to affirm the living presence of Christ without having laid eyes on his scars.
So Jesus does it again. He breaks and enters, though the closed doors of the house. He offers the same greeting of Peace, and addresses Thomas personally, offering to provide for Thomas what he needed to believe. Again, there is no condemnation. Even as he concedes that there is a special blessing in having faith without the benefit of proof, Jesus gently gives Thomas what he needs— the chance to touch the hand of his Lord.
Often, the entire focus of this text is on Thomas. Certainly, his struggle with belief and unbelief is a significant story. But I think it is wise to always return our attention to the One who returns from the grave. Here we have a story that reveals the depth of Jesus’ heart, a heart that still beats with compassion for creation. Here we encounter a Lord who doesn’t bother to knock, a God who shows up whether we are ready to face him or not. Here we are surprised by a Savior who forgives, again and again, releasing us from the bonds of sin and fear and shame.
Here we witness a Resurrected Christ who would let a man touch his tender wounds just to give him a chance to believe in God’s glory. Here we see that God’s idea of an Easter celebration is to kick down the door and give the gifts of Spirit and mission to a raggedy group of men who were, for better or worse, the church. We may not have seen, but we believe. The breath of his peace is still resting upon us.
Something happened. That something is Christ, and he is still happening, even here, even now.