It is Easter Sunday Evening and the 10 disciples are shut away in a room. It may well have been the upper room used for the last supper - or one very similar. You would have thought the mood would have been one of excitement and celebration - after all Mary had seen the Lord; He had risen. John had seen the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes and had believed. However the reality of it had not yet dawned, hence they were shut away for fear of the Jews.
Then suddenly Easter Glory breaks in and Jesus is visible standing there in the middle of them. He immediately quells their fears and anxiety - with the familiar greeting. 'Shalom'. The literal translation is more than just peace, but also means well being. Shalom gathers up all the blessings of the Kingdom of God.
His Shalom or peace on Easter evening is the complement of ‘it is finished' spoken from the cross on Good Friday. His Shalom is no ordinary 'hello,' it is the supreme Easter Greeting.
Having spoken, Jesus is quick to reassure them that he is not a ghost and offers his hands and side as evidence that it really is him. John records the disciples were overjoyed. You bet they were.m You can just imagine they were ecstatic. Jesus was back - it is all going to be okay. Joy is the basic mood of Easter, and I am sure Jesus joined in with the joyous mood as well.
But Jesus had come for a purpose, not just reassurance and to reinforce that He had conquered death, but something more.
He had come with their instructions. All their training with him was at an end. Here was the climax.
To get the mood right and calm them down, Jesus again says that wonderful greeting,
‘Peace be with you’ - and then He begins the commissioning.
‘As the Father sent me, so I send you.’ The apostles were
commissioned to carry on Christ's work - not instructed to start
a new one. This is what ‘apostle’ means - one whom Jesus sends
How comforting is that. From that day until now the Church in every age
is to be an apostolic one - sent and accompanied by Jesus.
With that he breathed on them and they felt it. Jesus knew that they could
not do this on their own; they needed the power of the Holy Spirit. Not to make
them a holier-than-thou group, not for a spiritual experience, but for their total
reliance on God the Holy Spirit.
Our daily prayer is to feel the breath of the Holy Spirit. If we are to be the people God wants us to be, we need to know that Jesus has both sent and accompanies us, and we need to be constantly reminded that it is ‘not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord.’
We don't know any more detail, how long Jesus stayed with them, how did he go, - did he just vaporise into thin air, or leave by the door? How did the disciples feel, what did they say to each other? So many unanswered questions.
The next instalment occurs a week later - and this time it involves Thomas.
Thomas, bless him, like so many of us if we are honest, reacts in a predictable way. The dour, dogged, stable Thomas, who earlier had suggested they might as well go with Jesus if only to die with him, Thomas, always resigned to the coming fate, but nevertheless having shown impressive loyalty, Thomas, who always could be guaranteed to say what the others were probably thinking, Thomas, who had complained that Jesus wasn't making things clear enough. When Jesus was explaining that He was shortly going to leave them to go to the Father, he asks ‘how are we to know where you are going?' The previous week when all the other disciples had gathered together from their Good Friday hiding places, and Jesus appeared to them, Thomas is somewhere else. Maybe his attitude and absence are linked somehow. Thomas wasn't going to be taken in by all this euphoria - he wanted concrete proof that Jesus was risen, and he lays down his conditions before he will believe. And for that he has been typecast forever as Doubting Thomas. Not only did he doubt the resurrection but the word and the reliability of his friends and the women. But perhaps we should not be too hasty to write Thomas off as unbeliever - maybe there is a bit of Thomas in all of us. Maybe there was a bit of spiritual jealousy - why have they had this wonderful spiritual experience and I have not, just because I wasn’t there. Maybe there was a bit of anger - the disciples might have seen Jesus, but it wasn't my fault if he came when I wasn't here - it's not fair. Maybe there was a bit of resentment - 'why am I always left out?'
If we can identify with any of those attitudes we need to pray that Jesus will be as gracious to us as he was to Thomas. One week later Jesus appeared to them again. Just so that Thomas didn’t miss out on anything. Jesus gives the same greeting. Shalom - all the blessings of the Kingdom of God be with you. If that wasn't enough for poor Thomas, there were to be two more wonders for him. First of all Jesus really is alive and is talking to him, and secondly all of Thomas's conditions are repeated back to him. It was as if Jesus had overheard the conversation - the 'other world of the spirit' is nearer than we think...
We will never know if Thomas acted upon Jesus invitation to put his finger into the wounds –I suspect not - there was no need, he believed.
Suddenly John's Gospel comes full circle.
He had started his account of the life of Jesus with ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was God.’ And here is Thomas at the end of the story - not a failure now, but the first to declare: My Lord and my God. Thomas brings the gospel round to when it started - he is the first with his breathtaking statement, with his new found boldness and faith, he is the first person to look at Jesus and address him as God.
Thomas teaches us all a lesson, Faith is not always an easy straight-forward affair - faith is a battle with doubts. There are grounds for faith all around us if we only open our eyes. ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief’ - Lord, help us to be like Thomas, the man who struggled but was able to make the confession which is the foundation of the gospel: ‘My Lord and my God.’