In today’s gospel, we find the disciples locking themselves into a room because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. They are not in a good space. This is the proverbial ‘between a rock and a hard place’. Even though Mary Magdalene had come to them from the empty tomb announcing, “I have seen the Lord,” this was not enough to overcome their fear. And they had every right to be afraid. What had been done to Jesus could also be done to them so as to get rid of every trace of Jesus. But it wasn’t just fear that kept them indoors. They were sore with grief and guilt for having deserted their Master in his hour of need. They sought refuge in each other’s company but there is a hole in their little community that they cannot fill. They lack Jesus, the one they had pinned their hopes on. Whom will they follow now? What will they be able to do without him? They are a community without a mission and without vision; a frightened group closed in on itself. The darkness that covered the whole earth on Good Friday still lingers on painfully in their hearts.
Then, suddenly, Jesus takes the initiative and effortlessly comes to them. He simply stands in their midst and says to them, “Peace be with you.” We’ve heard the story so often that this extraordinary statement fails to surprise us. For the disciples, however, this was really a bolt from the blue. How could someone dead and buried suddenly appear? What’s more, his greeting of peace is extraordinary. There is no reproach or recrimination, just peace, flowing like a river, pouring the oil of gladness and forgiveness over their grief-stricken hearts. This little community, recently so distraught, begins to be transformed. From fear, they pass to the peace that Jesus instills in them. From the darkness of night, they pass to the joy of returning to see him full of life. Jesus had broken through their walls of unbelief and they were all filled with incredible joy.
But then, there is another twist. Incredible though this joy may be, it doesn’t seem to last. True, they got out of there and found Thomas to tell him the good news but then their joy appears to wear thin. Eight days later we find them once again huddled behind closed doors. Presumably fear had once again entered their hearts. But there is another issue. Time wise it’s only three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, but emotionally it’s a much bigger deal. All the resurrection stories spell out the great struggle the Apostles had in coming to terms with this radical transformation. It’s not in our DNA to jump from deep mourning to great joy in a matter of days. This can only be encouraging for us also as we too struggle to believe that God can be such a God of surprises!
And then there is Thomas, who, it seems, was an even harder nut to crack. There is something very modern about this man who lays down certain conditions before he can believe. Yet in wanting to see the wounds of Jesus and place his finger into his side, Thomas is merely making sure that the risen Lord is not just some fantasy or hallucination but is the same Jesus who died a cruel death. He does not want to separate the resurrection from the cross which has implications for all of us. It means we cannot live the “risen life” of Jesus authentically unless we bear in our bodies the wounds of the cross. This means being conscious that we develop the capacity to love and to be loved only by dying to ourselves. Our wounds are also a constant reminder of our frailty and that it is God’s grace that raises us up to new life. When Thomas touched the wounds the true greatness of Jesus dawned on him, his doubts vanished, and his faith was reborn. In the end, his confession of faith far outstrips that of the other apostles in confessing that Jesus was not only Lord but also God.
Today is Divine Mercy Sunday and the risen Lord is Divine Mercy in action. In all the resurrection stories, we find God’s mercy reaching out and tracking down all those who felt scandalised and abandoned by Jesus’ death on the cross. The risen Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. Twice, as we heard today, he appeared to the disciples behind locked doors. Then he tracks down the disciples on the road to Emmaus and gently opens the Scriptures to them so that they can come to believe once more. Finally, in John 21, when Peter and a few others aimlessly go back to their former lives of fishing he is there waiting for them in the morning with a cooked breakfast. The point cannot be clearer. Nobody is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. No matter how much we feel we have neglected or denied Jesus — and don’t forget, Peter did that big time — God’s mercy is there for us. The Book of Revelation has Jesus say, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” God in Jesus, can reach beyond our human imaginings into places and situations that we can’t.
Today Peter tells us, “God, in his great mercy, has given us a new birth as his sons (and daughters) . . . so that we have a sure hope and promise of an inheritance that can never fade away”. Peter is writing to people who probably had never seen Jesus yet loved him. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ The same goes for that little community so devoted to the teaching of the apostles, to prayer and caring, not just for each other, but the wider community. We too have not seen Jesus, but may these wonderful stories allow Christ’s word of peace and reconciliation to touch us and move us into mission!
Sunday, 23 April 2017