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Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

When 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.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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.’ A 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.’ Then 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.’ Thomas 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.’ Now 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.

May these written/spoken words lead us to the living word Jesus Christ or Lord. Amen

It is Easter Sunday Evening and the ten 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; they did not want to be crucified.

Then suddenly Easter Glory breaks in and Jesus is visible 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 his cry ‘it is finished' on 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 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 be okay. Joy is the basic mood of Easter and I am sure Jesus joined in with the joyous festivities 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 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 and accompanies. How comforting is that! So from that day till now the Church at every age 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 that it is not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord. And so he breathed on them. Christ breathed life into his fledgling Church which now, certain in his resurrection, was ready to carry his peace into the world outside that room. We don't have any more detail, how long he stayed in the room with them, how did he go, how did they feel, what did they say?

The next instalment is a week later - and this time it involves Thomas.

Thomas, so like many of us if we are honest, reacts in predictable form. 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 never the less he did show impressive loyalty. Thomas who could always be guaranteed to say what the others were probably thinking. Thomas who previously had complained that Jesus wasn't making things clear enough. 'How are we to know where you are going?'

As we have just heard/read, the previous week, when all the other disciples had gathered together from their Good Friday hiding places, Thomas is somewhere else, he had missed seeing Jesus. Maybe his attitude and absence are linked somehow. Thomas wasn't going to be taken in by all this euphoria - he wanted concrete proof 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 reliability of his fellow disciples and the women.

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 in Thomas - why have they had this wonderful spiritual experience and I haven’t?

Maybe there was a bit of anger in Thomas - the disciples might have seen Jesus, but it wasn't my fault if he came when I wasn't here -'it wasn't fair.' Maybe there was a bit of resentment in Thomas. 'Why am I always the one that is 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. In order that Thomas didn't miss out on the blessing, Jesus gives them 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 his conditions to believing are repeated back to him. Unless I put my hand in the wounds.. It was as if Jesus had overheard the conversation – the spiritual world 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 and suddenly John's Gospel comes full circle.

It opens with the account of Jesus’ life -
In the beginning was the word and the word was God.
At the end of the story, Thomas, not a failure, but the first to declare ‘My Lord and my God.’ brings the gospel round to when it started - he is the first with his breathtaking statement 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. There are grounds for faith all around us if we only open our eyes. Lord I believe help my unbelief - May the Lord help us to be more like Thomas, the man who struggled with doubt but was able to make the confession of faith which is the foundation of the gospel - My Lord and my God. The grave couldn’t keep Jesus in and the door cannot keep him out.

May we, twenty first century apostles, make space, time, and an open door for every doubting Thomas to meet Jesus for themselves? If only today’s apostles who say we believe in the risen Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit would come out from behind those closed doors, then perhaps the rest of the world could confront its doubts.

Surely we must come out from behind the doors that we close, be open to God, and be open to being transformed into bold-speaking, earth-shaking, headline-making apostles.

For once we were no people, but now we are Easter people, we have been bought with a price. We, like Thomas have to believe without the physical contact with Jesus, we need his peace and to receive the breath of his Spirit.
Where can we touch Jesus, see him and hear him today?

Firstly we have that great leap of faith that enables us to know that in the Eucharist we have the risen Christ. We touch him as well, whenever we help someone who is hurt or in need. When we listen with patience, when we comfort a child, and value the elderly or infirm. When we take hold of each day and give to Jesus Christ all that we are and do, the pleasures and the pains. Through all the experiences of life we receive his gifts of peace and comforting presence. This will give us the joy and the confidence to come out from behind the closed doors and with the boldness of Thomas fulfil the resurrection commission ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Amen

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