You know what? There is simply way too much stuff in these verses to adequately deal with it all in this space. Way, way too much. We need to look at Thomas, since it is his words that give our title for this week. But we’ll come back to him in a moment. There is also the whole Pentecost theme that appears here in John’s Gospel. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (20:22). This is very different from Luke’s version that appears in Acts, with tongues of fire and mighty winds. It is a quieter, gentler Pentecost perhaps. But we’ll leave that one too.
Then there is that pesky, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (20:23). Yeah, like that hasn’t caused centuries of abuse of power from the hierarchy of the church or caused self-righteous Christians to think it is their job to be judgmental and to point out specks while conveniently overlooking logs. But hey, he said we have the power to determine what sins are the bad ones and which ones don’t really matter all that much. Right? Well, no. But we’ll have to return to this one at another time. Sorry.
And then there are those curious verses at the end that seem to open the door to all kinds of stuff. Like maybe it is possible that Jesus kinda sorta wants us to think for ourselves sometimes? That we’ve got to take his life and teaching and apply it to stuff he never took the time to tell us about? Or that John and the others didn’t take the time to write down about what Jesus said about hedge funds and immigration? You think, maybe? Well, someday we’ll come back and cover that.
But right now what occupies our thinking are those doors. On Easter evening, they were locked. Locked for fear, John says. But they were locked up tight. The disciples were locked in, behind doors, behind piles of furniture too perhaps. Blinds may have been drawn on the windows, and nobody moved much in case someone below heard the footsteps on the floors. They were huddled, hunkered down. Behind the doors. And who was there? Well, Thomas wasn’t, we learn that later. So, what does that leave now? ten? Maybe ten. But maybe more. See, in the Gospel of John, the word disciples is a slippery term. It’s not just the twelve, usually. John rarely just talks about the twelve. He’s interested in a bigger crowd. The twelve, now ten, plus the women who were there. And maybe others. At one point, Jesus sent out seventy. Maybe there were seventy, or sixty-eight, in that room, crowded in, avoiding eye contact (which would be hard if there were seventy) Maybe less, maybe ten, maybe a few more.
And if the women were there, did they try again? “Look,” Mary of Magdala says, “It was him. He’s alive!” “Yeah, sure Mary. Maybe your demons have come back? Just sayin’. And didn’t you think it was the gardener? You have no idea who it was, do you? It was early; you were up all night; none of us slept. You must have been dreaming.” “No, it was him. He said my name. When he said my name, I knew it was him.”
She crossed her arms and turned to Peter and John who were trying really hard to be interested in the pattern of the rushes thrown on the floor. “You were there. You came running in like your shorts were on fire and dashed into the tomb. What did you see?” The silence hung in the air behind the locked doors. Nothing. They saw nothing. Not what they expected to see. Not what they hoped to see. They saw nothing. Now they sit, comforted by nothing, afraid of everything, hoping locked doors would save them.
They didn’t. Jesus came. That’s what John says. The doors were locked and Jesus came. How did he come? Dunno. John doesn’t say; he just came. “Peace be with you.” He had to say it twice, because the first time they didn’t hear it for fear of . . . him. He sighed (must have) and showed his hands and his side. Then, John says, then they rejoiced. How long did he stand out there banging on the doors hoping someone would let him in? Jesus, who had earlier that morning burst through a stone door, now appeared through a locked door and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then Thomas shows up. How much later? We don’t know. Later. They tell him, those almost seventy or maybe ten disciples tell him, “We saw the Lord.”
“Yeah, sure,” says Thomas. Ah, Thomas, why did you doubt? Because the doors were still locked. “We saw the Lord! He showed us his wounds be which we were healed. He offered us peace. He gave us power, he sent us out to forgive!” Yeah? The doors are still locked. A week later, the doors are still locked. The truth is, none of them believed. They saw, but they didn’t believe – not enough to open a door anyway; not enough to venture out. Seeing isn’t always believing. Or maybe there is seeing and there is seeing. Seeing with our eyes doesn’t always lead to seeing with our faith.
A week later the doors were shut, but Jesus came anyway. With a sigh, undoubtedly, but he came. He came to show them what they needed to see. Just like he shows all of us what we need to see. Remember? That’s the Easter proclamation. He is going before you, going back home, going to familiar territory, going where you belong, where you live and work, and there you will see him. That’s the promise. That’s what they were offered, what we are offered. We will see him.
But wait. What about that “blessed are those who haven’t seen and yet believe”? What about that? Well, I think he threw that in because he heard the locks turning on our own doors. And he wanted to pry them open. Maybe coming through locked doors was strenuous; maybe it was painful. Or maybe he wanted to spare us the false security of locked doors and just be open enough to see him in our midst, showing us his wounds, the brokenness of this world, the suffering of Christ on the backs and sides and hands of our brothers and sisters. But also, to see the grace and the forgiveness that is poured out even on us just when we’re sure we won’t get it, just when we are afraid we can’t have it and we turn to push the doors closed against a world too cruel to live in, too empty of him. Or so we think. But he’s there.
He doesn’t like your locked doors. We try to shut him out like we shut out a cat on the wrong side of the door. We act like we don’t see him. But Jesus is persistent; he keeps banging; he keeps coming through. And in our darkness, he appears with a shaft of light that’s almost blinding. And he says, “Peace be with you.”