It takes time for the resurrection to sink in: a whole lifetime at least, it would seem, and certainly more than just an afternoon. In the Gospel lesson for today, Mary Magdalene just told the disciples, that very morning about the resurrection: “I have seen the Lord!”
Now, are they dancing the the streets? No. Are they throwing a big party for all of their friends? No. What are they doing? They’re hiding. They are cowering behind locked doors out of fear.
Fear is not completely unwarranted in this case. When Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead, that is the moment when the religious leaders of his day begin to plan seriously to have Jesus killed. They even try to kill Lazarus whom Jesus raised.
Because people will follow you if you can raise people from the dead. People will flock to your cause if you can call them back from the grave. With a following like that, Jesus could lead a rebellion that would bring down death and destruction on the whole country. That’s why they want to kill Jesus in the Gospel of John.
There is still some warrant for concern. The resurrection means that we cannot be intimidated any longer with the fear of death. We cannot be manipulated any longer with the threat of destruction. It means that our value and our safety and our sense of meaning no longer come from how much we can spend or how much we can destroy. It comes from the love of God. Our moral compass is not constructed out of our own safety or pride or prosperity. Our moral compass is constructed out of the love and the hope of God.
That’s disruptive. There is some warrant for fear.
Then Jesus appears among them. Notice what he does not say. He does not say, “You all are a bunch of sinners, you have betrayed everything you believed in. You have hurt both the people you love the most and the people you know the least. Shame on you.” He does not say that. Notice, he does not say, “Look at my hands and side, look at what those evil Romans did to me, let’s go get them!” Doesn’t say that either. What does he say? “Peace be with you.” Says it repeatedly, four times. Even for us who are frustrated and crushed and disgusted by the way we have treated others and ourselves, frustrated and crushed and infuriated by how people treat others in the world, by how we ourselves have been treated, what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you, Peace be with you.” Did you hear what yet? “Peace.”
Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” God sent Jesus into the world to be the presence of God in the world, to show the world what God is like. Jesus sends us into the world to show the world what God is like.
I said this last week and I will say it again today. Jesus shows what God is like in the Gospel of John through a series of miracles. He heals people. So also, whenever you participate in someone’s healing, whether of body or of spirit, God does a miracle through you to show the world what God is like. Jesus feeds over five thousand people with almost no resources: five loaves and two fish. Whenever you help feed people God does a miracle through you. By this I mean helping out at the local food pantry, writing a letter for Bread for the World, or giving to Lutheran World Hunger Appeal. I also mean running a business with integrity and innovation and energy, and doing a job well for the sake of doing it well, because these actions support a solid economy, by which people can work and have enough to eat. God does a miracle through you, to show what God is like, that God provides.
Jesus gives sight to a man born blind. Whenever you learn something you did not know before, or teach someone something they had not known, God is giving new eyes. This is our journey, one of constant discovery and wonder, and it shows the world what God is like. God gives new eyes, always.
Jesus weeps at the grave of his friend Lazarus, then raises Lazarus from the dead. Whenever you weep beside a grave, or share someone else’s tears beside a grave, God does a miracle through you, to show the world what God is like, that God’s love, God’s tears reach beyond the grave.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Then Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them, just as God breathed the Holy Spirit into the human beings God had made out of clay at the dawn of time, just as God breathed the Spirit on the valley full of dry bones in Ezekiel’s prophesy, brought them to life again, a vast company, who were once completely without hope, “Clean cut off.” That’s why we hang on to hope, why we cling to God’s hope with as much tenacity and perseverance as we can, because giving up hope is against our religion.
Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples.
Now the disciples go out to do their job of showing the good news of the resurrection, the good news of what God is like. They find Thomas, who was not there that evening and they say to Thomas the same thing Mary Magdalene said to them: “We have seen the Lord.” This first attempt at sharing the Good News does not go as well as one might have hoped. Thomas is having none of it. He says “If I do not thrust my fingers into the nail marks on his hands and thrust my hand into his side, there is no way I am going to believe.” That’s how the Greek reads.
Now, I am going to take a little aside, because often people look at this passage and say “Thomas is trying to be scientific. Thomas is requiring proof.” Science and religion are not enemies. Science, by definition is the discipline of explaining things by means of physical evidence. It does not speak about God one way or the other. Likewise, we in the religious communities do not need to be threatened by what science discovers. We ask, “Where is God in that?” because that’s our faith. That God is there.
Science looks at the world and says “What an amazing world, I wonder how it works.” Religion looks at the world and says, “What an amazing world, I wonder why it works.” Science looks at human beings and says, “What a strange creature. I wonder how it got here.” Religion looks at human beings and says, “What a strange creature. I wonder what it’s for.” They are different, science and religion. Different ways of seeing. They are not enemies.
Notice, however, that the disciples do not throw Thomas out for his skepticism. Nor does Thomas reject the rest of the community because of their preposterous claims about Jesus. No, this is about relationship more than doctrine. Thomas is still with them a week later, in the same room, when Jesus shows up again.
And notice again what Jesus does not say. He does not say, “Thomas you dummy, here I am. Get with the program.” No. What does he say? Peace be with you. Then he shows Thomas his hands and his side, the places where he has been hurt, the places where he is vulnerable, where he is most human. And from that, Thomas believes.
When we show people the places where we are most vulnerable, where we are most human, those are the times when they see Jesus, they come to understand what God is like.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Blessed are you, when you are willing to walk this journey of belief, this journey of discovery, of witness. Yes, there is some warrant for concern. It is scary to be vulnerable with others. It is dangerous to be human. But that is where God works. That is where God shows Godself to others, and it is where God shows Godself to us.