Mary has told them she met Jesus that morning.
Are they waiting anxiously for Jesus to come?
We know Jesus told them, again and again, that he would die,
and on the third day rise again
So we might expect to find the disciples waiting in anxious expectation,
ready to welcome Jesus back.
The disciples are gathered in fear, behind locked doors.
They doubt, and fear, and wonder what to do next.
They are not ready for a miracle.
Jesus comes to them –
to his hiding, scared, unbelieving followers.
He doesn’t berate or rebuke them.
Jesus knows they have understood and followed imperfectly.
Jesus knows they have run away, and betrayed him, and failed to believe.
But they did follow.
They did listen, as best they were able.
In their very human imperfection,
they are the followers Jesus has.
And Jesus meets them where they are.
He comes into the locked room where they are hiding – and he blesses them.
“Peace be with you,” he says.
He calms their fears and reassures them.
It reminds me of so many places in the Bible
when a miracle is ushered in by someone saying, “Do not be afraid.”
“Peace be with you.” Jesus says – and offers them his hands.
He stands among them, in the peace and love he has always carried with him,
and they know it is truly him.
And they rejoice.
Now, finally, they see and understand what has been promised –
that Jesus has, truly, returned from the dead.
Joy and wonder replace their fear and pain.
Belief replaces doubt.
But that is not the end.
Jesus’ goal is not just that the disciples believe, and rejoice.
He has work for them to do.
Just before his death, he told them: “I give you a new commandment:
“That you love one another as I have loved you.”
Now again he tells them: “As my father has sent me, so I send you.”
The goal is not that they believe in Jesus.
The goal is that they follow Jesus.
Follow Jesus in loving all God’s people.
Follow Jesus in feeding and healing those in need.
Follow Jesus in living out the reign of God here among them, every day, every where.
Jesus gives them a job – a big job.
And he also gives them a gift.
He breathes on them.
He breathes on them. Think about that.
What an intimate, strange moment that would have been.
Jesus breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
He literally in-spires them, with his own breath.
He empowers them to do his work in the world, with his amazing blessing of peace
and gift of the Spirit.
And the disciples rush from that place, and spread the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth, right?
Well, no. At least, not yet.
Apparently they spend the better part of a week arguing with Thomas, who was not there on Easter evening, and does not believe them any more than they believed Mary.
And the following Sunday evening there they are again, in the same room,
behind closed doors.
And again Jesus comes.
Again he says, “Peace be with you.”
Then he goes to Thomas, and offers him the same assurances and proofs he gave the rest –
It really is me.
The impossible has happened.
And Thomas knows him.
Thomas sees that not only is he Jesus, the prophetic healer he has followed throughout Judea – he is God.
Thomas, the last one to believe what has happened,
turns out to be the first to grasp its full meaning.
This man who stands before him, returned from the dead,
is the man who is one with God.
The stories in the rest of John’s gospel continue in the same way.
Jesus comes to his followers while they are fishing.
He meets them and reassures them.
He calls them to follow.
He invites and forgives and loves them into new life.
In a beautiful commentary called Feasting on the Word, Gail O’Day wrote,
The Easter miracle of John 20 is that Jesus comes again and again to these scared and confused disciples. The disciples have not warranted a second visit by Jesus, but they get one, and a renewed gift of his peace. Thomas is given exactly what he has requested – a chance to see and touch Jesus for himself. The point is Jesus’ offer of himself, over and over again, to people who long to see him. With no questions asked, Jesus offers himself and gives the repeated gift of his presence and his peace.
“Easter is real, not simply in the trumpet celebrations of the week before, but as it unfolds in the lives and stories of disciples who are regularly tempted by fear and despair. John paints a vivid picture of the disciples, of their needs and wants, while at the same time portraying the risen Jesus in all the abundance of his grace.”
So where are we in this story?
I don’t find it hard to identify with the disciples – doubting, scared, hiding behind closed doors. Hearing but not understanding.
I even think that John invites us into the story, right here.
He has been telling a story of a particular group of people in a particular time and place –
Now, suddenly, he invites all of us who listen into the story.
“Blessed are those, Jesus says, who have not seen, and yet believe.”
Jesus is blessing us – and all the generations of believers before and after us,
who have heard the story of Jesus and believed.
Now the story is our story.
The Easter miracle is our miracle.
And it is a miracle of new life –
not just for Jesus, but for his followers as well.
As Brian reminded us last week, this uncertain, unimpressive group of disciples is changed
by their encounter with the risen Christ.
They do, eventually, go out of that room to carry the story and the reign of God into the world.
They follow, faithfully
not without struggle, and doubt, as the book of Acts records –
not perfectly, but faithfully, many of them to their own deaths.
In the resurrection of Jesus they also receive new life.
They become God’s first Easter people.
These weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost ar the season of Easter,
when we remember that we, too, are God’s Easter people –
the people who lives have been changed by a miraculous resurrection 2000 years ago.
Jesus has come to us – right where we are.
Jesus offers himself to us, again and again.
My favorite blogger, David Lose, wrote this week,
“Resurrection people don’t need to have it all figured out before coming to church, or helping out a neighbor, or feeding someone who is hungry, or caring for someone in need. If we have to figure it all out ahead of time, then we’ll never get started. Because, frankly, don’t you ever wonder if your acts of mercy or care make a difference? There are so many hungry people – will the few I can help really change things? There is so much hurt in the world – does the hand I extend or the listening ear I offer really change that? I believe they do, but I, like you, at times wonder . . and doubt. And yet because we are resurrection people, we believe as well as doubt and believing, even in this more fragile way, we act – we reach out, we feed, we care, we tend, we struggle, we work, we love, all without any guarantees, just a promise from the Lord who continues to bless those who believe amid their doubts and keep faith amid their uncertainties.
For Christ is Risen, and we are called and empowered to be his resurrection people in the world.“
Jesus meets us where we are – but Jesus doesn’t force himself on us.
Jesus offers himself, invites us to see and follow, but we have to take the next step.
We have to show up – at church, in prayer, in paying attention to God at work in the world.
Friday I had a conversation with a woman who was telling me that she is living with her elderly mother, who is in the early stages of dementia.
Her husband had lost his job last fall, and they had lost their house, and it was a blow.
But now, she says, she can see that it has all worked out the way it is meant to be.
She and her husband can be there to help her Mom just when they are needed.
That, I thought, is seeing with Easter eyes.
How many people would only see the loss, and complain, and feel sorry for themselves?
But instead, she sees the blessing in the midst of struggle –
the gifts of family connection and peace of mind just when it is most needed.
Sometimes being Resurrection people means seeing old struggles and pains with new eyes
– opening ourselves to see God at work in unexpected ways.
It means seeing Jesus, with his blessing of peace, offering new life in hard, barren places.
Jesus does not come to us because we are the ones who have it all together.
Jesus does not come to us because we believe all the right things.
Jesus does not come to us because our liturgy is perfect, our stewardship exceptional,
and our Sunday school pedagogically correct.
Jesus comes to us because we need him.
Jesus comes to us because we show up, in all our doubts and fears and imperfections,
hoping to be found.
Jesus comes to us because we are his Body in the world –
the ones he has chosen to send out
to haltingly, imperfectly, faithfully serve a hurting world.
Thanks be to God.