Prayer: Breathe in this place, O God, breathe in us by the power of your Holy Spirit, to open our minds,unlock our hearts, and enliven our trust, so that we may welcome the crucified and risen One and receive the peace and life he gives. Amen.
19 When it was evening of the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
A few years ago, while waiting for the bus to NYC, I went to use the restroom and as I locked the door, I noticed a handwritten sign on the door that said: “This door locks from the inside.” And having just locked it I thought, “duh?!” Of course the restroom door locks from the inside! How else would I prevent someone else from just walking in on me! If you are inside, you are in charge of the lock on the door. You can stay in there for as long as you like no matter how many people knock and yell on the other side. You don’t have to open the door.
Some of you will remember that I told this story five years ago when I preached on this text from John’s gospel. On the evening of the first day of the week, after Mary Magdalene, had stepped out of that locked room early in the morning, and had found Jesus, very much alive and had told the disciples that he was very much alive, hours later, they were still huddled in that locked room for fear of the Jewish leaders who had helped get Jesus killed. Coming to this story again, I kept thinking about that restroom sign: The door locks from the inside. And thinking about the reality that fear is the hand that turns the lock.
Fear is a natural human response. For over a year we have lived with fear of the coronavirus which has taken 561,000 lives in the U.S. alone. There are things that we rightfully fear and wisely protect ourselves from. I get why many people have stayed in virus lockdown for months and months despite the pain of isolation and loneliness. And I get why the disciples have locked the door and hunkered down in fear for their lives.
And this week, I’ve been thinking about the more subtle fear that lives inside of us, that lives inside of me. Fear that isn’t prompted by real threats to our physical lives, but fear that rises when someone says or does something that threatens our sense of self and worth, threatens our perspective, our place in the world, and the things that we have and hold dear. Fear that rises when things are changing around us and we don’t know what it will mean or what we might lose in the process of change. It is instinctive that we act on these fears that rise in us. We’ve been hurt, betrayed, bullied, overlooked, judged, abandoned. We want to protect, preserve, defend ourselves. So we lock the doors from the inside.
In the gospel story, we see Mary and Thomas, and I wonder, how come they didn’t lock themselves away in fear. How come Mary goes to Jesus’ tomb in the morning, and Thomas is out and about when Jesus suddenly appears to the other disciples in their locked sanctuary? Were they not afraid? Or did they feel fear but chose against it? And if so, what made this possible?
Mostly, I would like to be more like Mary Magdalene and Thomas who were not locked away in fear. But, I would also have liked being present when Jesus entered that room full of fear and said, “Peace be with you,” then held out his wounded hands and opened his robe to show them the gash in his side. I’m sure the disciples who were there could not wait to tell Thomas, “Oh my God, you missed it. You should’ve been here. That’s what you get for running around when you oughta be inside.”
Thomas did miss it. And he’s gotten a bad rap for simply wanting to see what they all have seen so that he too can believe in the possibility of resurrection. Thomas believes in crucifixion. He has seen a crucifying world—with its greed, violence, exclusion, inequities, diseases, and suffering. He has witnessed, time and again the death of mercy, kindness and compassion. What Thomas wants to see and believe is the unbelievable, the incredible—that this One human being, this Jesus he loves, could rise from crucifixion. Thomas wants to touch Jesus’ wounds and see with his own eyes. As poet Andrew King writes, Thomas wants to believe that Jesus could “rise from the worst that our world can do, rise from hells of corruption and cruelty, rise from violence, terror and hate.” Thomas wants to lay his hands on the impossible possibility that Jesus could rise and still walk among us, torn and wounded, and that Jesus could “touch us in our woundedness…hold us in our brokenness, our heartache, fear and despair,” and breathe his healing peace and Holy resurrected Spirit into our lungs and our lives.
In the end, of course, Thomas gets what he wants. Jesus isn’t prevented by our locked doors, our defended hearts. Jesus isn’t put off by our doubts, our questions, our desire to know and understand. Jesus comes to Thomas as he came to the others, in peace with an open heart, opened hands and opened robe. Jesus doesn’t come in judgment. He doesn’t say, “can we talk about the fact that you all abandoned me in my hour of need? Can we process what happened there? Can you see how wrong and hurtful that was?”
Jesus comes in peace. Jesus comes in forgiveness. Jesus comes breathing out the Spirit of new life, his life, God’s life that rises from crucifixion, that overcomes the worst that our world can do, the worst that we can do, and the worst that might be done to us.
The good news of the gospel of Jesus the Christ is that he rises from death and gets into the places where we have locked the door from the inside in fear, in self-protection, as a defense against being hurt, and as a shield against losing our sense of self and worth and power. Jesus gets into us as Holy Spirit who, with the gift of peace, counters our impulse to act out of fear. Jesus creates a community grounded in his forgiveness, and his peace. And he gives us the power to forgive those who harm us. The power to let others off the hook of our hurt and our anger so that we can be freed from using our energy to make someone else bad and wrong. Forgiveness is the power that enables us to rise and be healed from our wounds. The power that enables us to be the Body of Christ present to one another, and in the world as a people who are learning how to act, not from our fears, but from the life and peace of Jesus. The wounded healer who walks among us exhaling the Spirit and inviting us to keep breathing, to keep inhaling great gulps of resurrected, abundant life.
 Andrew King, “What Thomas Wants,” A Poetic Kind of Place Blog (https://earth2earth.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/poem-for-the-sunday-lectionary-easter-2-yr-c)
 King, “What Thomas Wants.”