Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:19-31
19When 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 of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”
26A 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.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The disciples were gathered in the house, full of fear. Now they had heard the witness of the women and those who had seen the empty tomb and who had met Jesus in the flesh. You would think they would have been out celebrating that God had done that which they thought impossible. You would think, wouldn’t you?
But they were afraid after Jesus was killed, and even hearing the news that he had been raised didn’t change their fear. They were still huddled together, keeping to themselves, not wanting to share what they knew with anyone. It almost makes a person wonder…
And then Jesus joined them. Now that should have done away with any fear they were feeling. When Jesus breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit” that should have launched them out of their locked room and into their community, eager to share the good news with everyone they met.
Fast forward one week, and what do we find? They are… back in the locked room. Even Jesus meeting them in person and sending them with a word for the world, even Jesus, couldn’t spring them free from huddling together in fear in the locked room. It almost makes you wonder if they were paying any attention at all when Jesus told them to go out and be witnesses in the world.
But what about us? How often do we come together in worship actually expecting to meet Jesus in the breaking of the bread? How often do we come to worship where Jesus meets us, and it doesn’t even register as a tiny blip in our blood pressure? How often do we hear Jesus say to us “Go. You are my witnesses” and it doesn’t change a single thing about what we think or do or say? How often do we huddle in our church buildings, as though we are afraid to share God’s word with our community, and not even realize that we are directly disobeying Jesus in the process?
So what’s to be done about this problem? About our apathy? About our disobedience?
What happened to those disciples who also disobeyed their Lord out of fear that they might call attention to themselves and someone might not like it?
Clearly something happened, or the story would have died with them, and we would never have even heard about it. And the something that happened is the Holy Spirit. The first reading today takes place right after God got out the big guns to get his people fired up with the Holy Spirit. There was wind, and flame, and noise, and we’ll hear a lot more about that day in a few weeks. But the thing that we need to know today is that they were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they simply couldn’t help themselves. They were out in the streets preaching and teaching and healing and telling the story of the crucified and risen Christ. These were the very same people that just a few weeks earlier had been hidden in fear.
Now, those big Holy Spirit guns that God used to get the first disciples fired up… well, those big guns are trained on us as well. God fills us so full of the Holy Spirit that it should come shooting out of us every time we speak. And our job is absolutely not to huddle in a safe church building, acting afraid. We try to pretend that God’s work and mission doesn’t involve us in very big ways. We try to pretend that we somehow have an exception from Christ’s command to be actively looking for opportunities to talk about God every chance we get. Whenever we encounter a situation that needs our word and our witness, we are quick to hold up our hands and say “Oh no, not us. We’re Norwegian.” Or Swedish. Or Midwesterners. Or too old, or too young, or too shy, or too busy, or too whatever. I wonder what would happen if we all made a commitment – pinky-swear together – that we will never again use being Norwegian as an excuse ? Can you imagine how much Gospel would get loose in our community? Can you just imagine!
When Jesus showed up in that locked room, his first words were “Peace be with you.” Other times he is even more direct: “Do not be afraid.” “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid. Receive the Holy Spirit. You are my witnesses.” And today he shows up in this often-locked building and says “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid. This is my body… for you. This is my blood… for you. Do not be afraid. I am with you always. You get to bring light into a dark world. You get to bring hope to those who despair. You get to show love to those who are unlovable. Do not be afraid. You are my witnesses.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.