The Upper Room
Second Sunday of Easter 1. John 20:19-31
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 High Priests, the Romans and the mob mentality that had crucified Jesus. So here they are shut in, drawing some comfort from being together. I am sure they would have been wrestling with their unbelief and dismay that Judas had betrayed Jesus, and now he was dead as well.
What about Peter, how on earth would he have been feeling? Haunted still by the words that betrayed his fear and his friend Jesus. We deplore Peter’s denial of course we do, but what would we have said if we had been in his shoes?
And Thomas where is he? Thomas, the patron saint of pessimists. We can just hear him telling Jesus, ‘No good will come of it, I’m telling you, this going back to Jerusalem, but if you must go, we will all go with you.’ Now Thomas is missing.
Then suddenly Easter Glory breaks in and Jesus is standing there in the middle of them. He immediately quells their fears and anxiety with the familiar greeting. 'Shalom'. Peace be with you.
His Shalom or peace on Easter evening is the complement of his cry ‘it is finished' on the cross on Good Friday. This is no ordinary 'hello'; it is the supreme Easter Greeting. I am sure Peace is the last thing the disciples were feeling – who is this? It looks like Jesus, it sounds like Jesus, but he was crucified, He died. Jesus is quick to reassure them he is not a ghost and offers his hands and side as evidence that it really is him. John records that the disciples were overjoyed to see him. You bet they were. I can just imagine they were ecstatic. Jesus was back it is all going to okay. But Jesus had come for a purpose. Not just to bring peace 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 says that wonderful greeting again; ‘Peace be with you.’
‘As the Father sent me so I send you.’ The apostles were commissioned to carry on all that they had seen Jesus doing.
They had become apostles. The word means - one whom Jesus sends and accompanies. That is very comforting – Jesus is still going to be with them. So from that day onwards the Church is is to be an apostolic one - sent and accompanied by Jesus.
Having commissioned them, he breathed on them, and they felt it. 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. My daily prayer is to feel that breath of the Holy Spirit. I don't know about you, but if I am to be the person God wants me to be, an apostle, I need to know that Jesus has both sent and accompanies me, and to be constantly reminded of Paul’s message; that it is "not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord."
We don’t have any more details just a lot of unanswered question! How long Jesus stayed in the room with them, how did he go, did he leave by the front door or just disappear, how did they feel, what did they say. I am sure they would have been pinching themselves to make sure that it was not a dream.
Thomas, as we know, had missed it all, so the disciples told him; ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he just could not believe them – it is easy with hindsight to think him stupid but would we have been any better?
The next instalment is a week later - and this time it involves Thomas.
Thomas ('bless him') is like many of us, if we are honest. He reacts in a predictable way. Dour, dogged, stable Thomas who earlier had suggested they might as well go with Jesus, if only to die with him. Thomas, resigned to the coming fate, but he was not entirely negative, he did show impressive loyalty. Thomas who always could be guaranteed to say out loud what the others were probably thinking. Thomas who had complained that Jesus wasn't making things clear enough. 'How are we to know where you are going?' The previous week when all the other disciples had gathered together in the upper room, daring to come out from their Good Friday hiding places, Thomas is somewhere else, he had missed seeing Jesus. Maybe his negative attitude is understandable, he wasn't going to be taken in by all this euphoria - he wanted concrete proof before he would believe. From that moment he has been typecast Doubting Thomas. Not only did he doubt the resurrection but also the word of his fellow disciples and the women. But perhaps we should not be too hasty to write Thomas off as an unbeliever – I am sure there is a bit of Thomas in all of us at some time in our Christian life.
Perhaps he had a bit of spiritual jealousy – ‘why have they all had this wonderful spiritual experience and I haven’t? Why did Jesus choose to turn up when I wasn’t there? It wasn't my fault, it’s not fair.’ Or there might have been 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 with us just as he was with Thomas.
One week later Jesus appeared to them again, just as he had before. All the doors were shut and to ensure that Thomas didn't miss out on the blessing, Jesus gives the same greeting. ‘Peace be with you.’ If that wasn't enough for poor Thomas, who must have been excited and terrified at the same time, there were to be more challenges for him. First of all Jesus really was alive and is talking to him, and secondly all of Thomas's conditions are repeated back to him. Thomas had said: ‘Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side.’ 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. Thomas is not a failure now, he is the first disciple with his breath-taking statement ‘My Lord and my God,’ and 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 straightforward affair - faith is a battle with doubts.
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief ~ Lord help us to be like Thomas, the man who struggled with his faith, but was able to make the confession which is the foundation of the gospel. ‘My Lord and my God.’
We are now Easter people, and we have to carry on and finish the job the apostles started. The commission Jesus gave ~ ‘as the Father has sent me, so I send you,’ will stand until Jesus comes again.
Even so come Lord Jesus.