There is something very human and attractive about Thomas. His very doubting is consoling for all of us. But let us not forget the beginning of today’s Gospel where the other disciples made a similar journey from wretchedness to elation and joy. They too had their moments of disbelief, not least in refusing the witness of an excited Mary Magdalene. Thomas was just a harder nut to crack.
Locked doors are mentioned almost immediately. We know all about that as well as alarm systems, electric fences, gated communities, security forces etc. It all points to the dangerous world we are living in today. Long gone, at least in the cities and towns, are the days when you could just leave the key in the door, and let neighbours ramble in casually for a chat and a cup of tea. Add to that the number of new gadgets like smartphones and laptops that we have acquired. They all need minding too.
The major player behind all this security is fear. It might be sobering to think how much of our budget goes on calming our fears. Sadly, because of this dangerous world we are much more fearful today than we used to be. Fear of what others can do to us tends to close us in on ourselves, not just in the physical sense of getting stronger door-locks, but also in other senses. We tend to be somewhat withdrawn around people whom we perceive to be critical. We are slow to open up to someone we think will judge us. Fear of others can often hold us back and stunt our growth.
On that first Easter Sunday the disciples’ fear was deep. Jesus, the one they had pinned their hopes on, was brutally murdered. They could well be next in line as I’m sure the Jewish authorities would like to get rid of every trace of Jesus and his movement. Then they had to deal with their sense of guilt at having deserted Jesus in his hour of greatest need. Their dreams shattered, they were totally helpless and hopeless. So rock bottom were they that not even an excited Mary Magdalene rushing from the empty tomb announcing that she had seen the Lord could quell their doubts.
But as rock bottom for the alcoholic may signal a turning point, so too with the disciples. In their very helplessness they were ripe and ready to receive the Easter Jesus. His very entrance into that barricaded room makes it clear that here we have something of a totally different order. Walls are no longer walls and locked doors no longer such as Jesus appears among them. A new age has dawned; a new creation has been ushered in; and it all is gift from an ever gracious and merciful God.
What makes Jesus’ appearance really special is that he doesn’t keep this new risen life to himself. He comes precisely to share it with his disciples and with us. Furthermore, no locked doors are going to bar him. Nor does he recriminate them for deserting him. Rather his presence is one of peace, mercy and forgiveness. His first action was to breathe the Holy Spirit into them, filling them new energy and hope, freeing them from fear and releasing them to share in his mission. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you,” he said. In the power of the Spirit they came to life and went out from their self-imposed prison, to bear witness to the risen Lord. Thus is born a new community of believers, the church, witnessing to the resurrection both in word and by the quality of their living.
The apostles were filled with energy and hope! What a refreshing statement and how often can we really say that about our own lives. Given all the negativity around us as well as it being part of the human condition, it’s not always easy to be full of energy and hope. Sickness, depression, the loss of a loved one, no work or meaningless work, lack of meaning and purpose can all drag us down and render us insipid and withdrawn.
This morning’s gospel suggests a way out of our self-imposed confinement. If Magdalene makes no impact on us, the Lord will find another way to enter our lives and to fill us with new life and energy for his service. No locked doors, nor even locked hearts, can keep him out. He finds a way to enter the space where we have chosen to retreat and he empowers us to resist what is holding us back. He does require some openness on our part; at the least some desire on our part to become what he is calling us to be. The risen Lord never ceases to recreate us and to renew us in his love. Easter is the season to celebrate the good news.
And then there is Thomas, the obstinate, resistant and disbelieving one. At least the other disciples huddled together for support but Thomas chose to plough his own furrow and demands physical evidence. “Unless I see, I can’t believe.” There is something very modern about Thomas. ‘What you see is what you get!’ is all that matters. But just as the risen Christ broke through locked doors and walls so he accommodates himself to Thomas’ conditions and says, “Put your finger here.”
In the risen Jesus we have someone who meets us wherever we are. He takes us seriously in all our fears and doubts. The Lord is prepared to stand with us on our own ground, whatever that ground is, and from there he will speak to us a word suited to our personal state of mind and heart. We don’t have to get ourselves to some particular place in order for the Lord to engage with us. He takes himself to where we are, even if it is a place of fear, doubt or failure.
May this blessed Easter season be a time of openness to receive the Lord’s coming into our everyday lives, so that we too might say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” And, like the good Lord, may we we receive others where they are, rather than where we would like them to be.
Sunday, 3 April 2016