When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear…, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ —John 20:19
This Sunday we hear the much beloved, post-resurrection appearance story best known as that of “doubting” Thomas. Theologians acknowledge that it is one of the more famous ones in all of the gospels because it speaks to a deep human condition. In the face of confusion, conflicting evidence and a world that requires empirical evidence before making a decision, doubt seems to be the norm for many people. In fact, doubt can be useful—when we operate from a “prove-it-to-me” presumption, we demand things like attention to detail and rigorous policies that protect us. But doubt can also lead to atrophy and emptiness, especially when it causes us to neglect the hope that is ours when we make faith our foundation.
Of course, humans being human, doubt permeates the whole situation after Jesus’ crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb. But you have to wonder, given their experience of the life and ministry they shared with Jesus, how they became holed up in fear with their doubt? Where was the evidence of their experience of everything Jesus had been and done with them the past three years? What had they forgotten that caused them to turn away from the Way?
First, they forgot the peace of Christ—a peace that is at the heart of the meaning of Easter. Four times in this meeting, Jesus repeats this reminder of something he said to his disciples earlier: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (14:27). The peace that “the world gives” is peace that seeks to alleviate fear by relying on the security of wealth, the protection of armies or the isolation of a locked door. But we know that these things do not last. When we stand in the material and forget the peace of Christ, we tend to become gripped by fear and doubt, and our sense of hope does not have the air it needs to breath and fill our spiritual lungs with grace. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection made a new future possible — a future that’s ready for us to move into right now through faith in him. We don’t have to live in fear because we have a savior who has guaranteed us peace and our future through an empty tomb. We can be so bold as to begin anew, resurrected to be peace makers and kingdom builders in our city because Jesus promised the kind of peace that passes all understanding.
The second key element in the spiritual architecture of Easter is the ongoing presence of Christ. Jesus “breathed” on the disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit, the very presence of the Triune God in their lives (v. 22). The Spirit would give them the power to do “even greater things” than Jesus had done (14:12) and provide the comfort, advocacy and peace that enabled them to carry out God’s mission in the world. When doubt and fear creep into our lives, we must rely on the witness of the Spirit to remind us that our lives matter and have purpose in God. It’s the Spirit that enables us to be people who forgive sins, who speak boldly and who demonstrate the teachings and the Way of Jesus (v. 23). It’s the Spirit that enables us to plant new ministries and be Jesus’ hands and feet in the community. The Holy Spirit provides us with the internal check of the presence of Jesus, which reminds us that our lives will never be useless when he is working within them.
The third design feature that doubters like Thomas (and us) need to remember is that our faith isn’t in an idea, or a concept or a principle — instead, our faith is in the person of Christ. Jesus shows up in person and invites the doubtful disciple to touch his body, to touch his wounds. Jesus is more than a concept, but a person who was “in the flesh” like us; who suffered as we suffer; who was tempted like we are tempted; who dwelt among us and gave his life for us (1:14). Thomas’ confession in the person of Christ, “My Lord and my God!” provides a foundation for our own faith (v. 28). Known to us in the breaking of bread, present wherever two or three are gathered, seen in the face of our brothers and sisters, and served in the giving of a cup of water or a warm coat—the person of Jesus is with us every day, encouraging and guiding us in being his presence in our city.
Beloved, unlike our culture’s worldly view, a Jesus-brand faith reminds us that “believing is seeing.” God has come to us in Jesus Christ, who continues his mission through doubters and misfits like Thomas and us. We are the resurrected body, we are the new life, and we are the presence of Jesus. A Jesus-brand faith is a willingness to follow him, even when we’re not sure where it will lead us. A Jesus-brand faith is a willingness to build a new thing even when we are not sure what we are supposed to build, because we know The One who holds the peace, the presence, the person and the future of the world in hand! Yes, we know The One who is calling us out and showing us a new path. We know The One who has resurrected us for a bold future. We know the One who will fill in the blanks that scare us and carry the doubt that at times might leave us too skeptical to move. Beloved, we can do this because we know the living God who absolutely knows the Way.
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapadefirstname.lastname@example.org