John 20:19-31 – The Locked Room

ALM Carol O gave this sermon on Sunday 16 April. Here it is for you again:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my strength, and Redeemer. Amen.

Can you imagine being so scared, so frightened, you lock yourself away and hide, no hope, no faith, absolutely terrified for your life? This is how the disciples felt in our gospel story today. God’s story which is our story. Yes the stories we read each day each week in the gospels are our stories. In Holy Week, I hope, like me, you stepped into God’s story as we followed our Stations of the Cross, as we walked that final hour with Jesus on Good Friday. So let us step into today’s story with the disciples, hiding behind locked doors for fear of the authorities.

It was Easter evening, the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection, the day they saw the empty tomb, the day Mary Magdalene announced, “I have seen the Lord.” But the disciples were gathered in the house, the doors locked with fear. Jesus’ tomb was open and empty but the disciples’ house was filled with panic-stricken people and the doors locked tight. They know Jesus is dead; that his body has gone from the tomb, but they have no understanding as to what this might mean. They believe that the body has been taken away but don’t know where it is now, even though Mary has told them that she has seen the Lord; it still makes no sense to them. They had locked out Mary Magdalene’s words of faith, hope, and love. They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and weakness.

It is in this context that the Risen Christ appears to the disciples. What is the first thing He says to the them? Does he say, ‘Where were you?’ or ‘You abandoned me?’ No. He says, astonishingly, ‘peace be with you’. This is a conventional greeting, but it has an additional function in this scene. The gift of this peace to the disciples, who have locked themselves away for fear of the Jews, is explicit evidence that Jesus is risen indeed, and the risen Christ brought the peace among them. It is a different peace. No one could say, “peace be with you”, and no one could give them joy at that moment of great fear. It was the peace of the risen Christ who overcame death. Only the Risen Christ could say, “Peace be with you” in this story in the locked room.

Again, Jesus repeats ‘peace be with you’. Then says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Remember, this is a group of frightened men hiding in a locked room; who don’t even understand what has happened to Jesus. In that state, he tells them that he is sending them out. Jesus now breathes on them and says, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’. Jesus, the one who until very recently was dead, breathes life, breathes the Holy Spirit into the weak, frightened disciples. In receiving this forgiving power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples are then to go out and do the same, to go and forgive others in that power.

Jesus knew what the disciples needed; to hear and see and touch him. In this first appearance he shows them his hands and his side, to prove he is not a ghost but real and can be touched. Now Thomas wasn’t present and when he returns, he believes that the disciples have had some kind of hallucination. He needs to touch Jesus in the very spot where the nails went in. He must be sure, it’s the same Jesus: that he’s not a ghost or just a man that looks like him. It can’t be that man they lived with for 3 years and saw brutally killed. Can it?

Then Jesus appears for a 2nd time, again in a closed room, and again, the first thing he says to the disciples is ‘peace be with you’. Then he immediately knows what Thomas needs and offers him the chance to touch the place where the nails were in his hands and feel where the lance pierced his side. Jesus is happy to show him how real he is. This is enough for Thomas, we don’t even know if he takes Jesus up on the offer to put his finger in his wounds, he simply says ‘my Lord and my God’.

Jesus knows what we need. He knows we need something tangible to let us know that God is real. Something we can touch. So, he gave us the sacrament, the bread and the wine. A reminder each week that Jesus is real. We can touch and taste and receive him in the bread and the wine. Just when you were worried that God felt like an imaginary friend, we are reminded, week by week at the Eucharist that Christ has died, Christ is Risen – He is real.

Wow, if this were a movie now, rather than a story in the bible, this would be the part where Jesus’ head turns from Thomas and looks directly at you down the camera lens and says ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’. That is, you. That is, me. Jesus steps out of this story we are reading directly into our lives. His story is our story. Our story is his story. He comes to us in our fearful, dead, inadequate, failing state and says ‘peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you, Receive the Holy Spirit, you are blessed because you believe in me.’

We pray:

Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth; send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and all our virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake Amen

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