This is a long reading and it is sometimes difficult to focus on the message. I tried to focus on one theme and what struck me was that this passage encompasses such a wide range of emotions. This has guided me in sharing the examples of some of those emotions with you, many of them mirroring the emotions of the Easter story.
The disciples locked themselves in a room following the death of Jesus fearing that they would be persecuted by the religious leaders who had been instrumental in the decision to crucify Jesus. They would have been traumatised by the crucifixion and fearful of being arrested and suffering the same fate as Jesus. Would the religious leaders and the Romans torture and crucify them in the same way they had treated Jesus?
The significance of the locked doors reflects the depth of fear felt by the disciples, as the practice of locking doors was unusual because trust within the Jewish community was based on open access. The locked door made the disciples look suspicious and triggered the question, what were they hiding. The fear would have been overpowering and it can be a terrifying emotion, as I am sure many of us have experienced, and it can blind us to everything that is happening around us. We can experience fear on many occasions be it when we are awaiting results from a medical investigation, fear for the future.
In this state of fear, we can be blinded to the presence of Jesus standing beside us, offering His guiding hand to enable us to overcome our fears in any given situation. Jesus helps us to know, that we do not have to battle on our own, but can put our trust in Him. Let us remember that Jesus says a lot about fear in the scriptures and uses the words “fear not,” which is a constant reminder that we should not try to imagine the future before it happens.
There may have been another reason for their fear, in that they were dreading Jesus’s reaction to how they had behaved. The last time that they had seen Jesus was when He had been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. They had deserted Him and may have felt ashamed that they had forsaken Jesus in His hour of need.
They would have found this emotion of shame very painful and would have been full of remorse. They may have been apprehensive that Jesus would be angry with them and show them how disappointed He was by their cowardly behaviour. Had they locked the door to hide from Jesus?
Jesus suddenly appeared to them in this room, the door was locked and yet here was Jesus standing beside them. The significance of the locked door and Jesus being able to enter the room demonstrates the power of the risen Lord who cannot be contained neither by a rock tomb nor a locked door.
The disciples were wrong in making the assumption that the Lord may have shown any of these emotions. Their fears were unfounded as Jesus greeted them with no reproach but the words, “peace be with you.” He repeats this giving of peace when He first meets the disciples and then again when He meets Thomas a week later.
We can also make assumptions about Jesus and at times we can hide and lock Him out of our lives because of something we may be ashamed of. We can also make assumptions about how Jesus will respond to our prayers and cries of help because we have feelings of being unworthy of His unconditional love for us. This can compromise our relationship with Jesus and can blind us from recognising and welcoming Jesus in our lives and following His example.
However we can always be reassured that despite our failings, God will always seek us out where ever we are hiding and say, ”peace be with you,” as He reaches out to us in love.
This is a line from a prayer written by Alistair Smeaton in the URC Prayer Hand Book,
Grace – to receive what is not due to us. Peace – to live lives of gentle surety.
We are also often guilty of making wrong assumptions about people’s reactions which can sometimes hinder us from addressing and resolving our differences. The thing about making assumptions is that we can get worked up about nothing and we don’t get anything back in return
The disciples were frightened when Jesus first spoke to them and couldn’t believe it was Jesus. The Jesus who had been crucified. Then He showed them His hands and side. This was the moment when they truly recognised Jesus. Such powerful words of greetings and the presence of Jesus, helped to roll away the stone of the emotions of fear, of being ashamed and the perception that Jesus would be disappointed with them. These emotions were soon forgotten by the disciples and replaced with the feeling of great joy and they rejoiced when they saw that the Lord was alive. The fears of persecution may still have been in their thoughts but the feeling of joy was much greater for the disciples.
This brought memories of when I was a midwife. There were times of great fear for the health and safety of the unborn child and mother but it was an amazing experience when these emotions were replaced by great joy and happiness when the child was born healthy. The gift of new life being brought into the world.
The memories of joy are the memories that give us the strength, hope and reassurance in times of fear and uncertainty. In the midst of their joy and celebration of Jesus’s resurrection He breathes on them and said to them “receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that the disciples can begin to share the miracle of the resurrection through receiving the risen Christ. It is in the receiving of this gift that the disciples can begin their journey throughout the land declaring the forgiveness of sin.
Jesus wants to breathe the Holy Spirit on each of us, to bring new beginning and the gift of new life. This is the message of the resurrection .We experience peace through forgiveness for ourselves and for others, bringing happiness and fulfilment.
It is only in John’s Gospel that we hear of Thomas and I always feel rather sorry for him that he has been stuck with the name doubting Thomas because he was not the only one that expressed doubt when Jesus showed himself to the disciples. They too initially doubted the presence of Jesus when they saw Him in the locked room and when they heard the news from the others claiming that they had seen Jesus.
We must remember that from that first feelings of doubt Thomas then proceeded to share the gospel to distant lands never failing to share the message of Jesus with others who had never seen the Lord but through witness had come to believe.
We ask ourselves what has changed, what difference has the empty tomb made in our lives this last week and in the weeks to come? How will we witness and bring the message to those who do not believe.
I would like to close with a prayer written by Jan Berry.
Liberating God, when we are locked in by fear and doubt, break through the barriers and set us free.
When we are afraid and distressed, Speak peace to our troubled minds.
When we are hesitant and untrusting, take our doubting hands in yours.
When we are anxious and lacking in confidence breathe the energy of your Spirit into us.
Unlock the doors of our hearts and churches And set us free to go out and share
What we see now and know
The risen Christ. Amen