Peace in the Midst of Fear
“Jesus Appears to His Disciples
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Purpose of John’s Gospel
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Today marks the second Sunday of the Easter season, the season in which we celebrate and experience anew the Resurrection power, victory and Life of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. The context of this reading and the experience of our Lord’s first disciples is so very similar in so many ways to what we are facing in the world today with the outbreak and spread of the covid-19 virus. People all over the world are shut in to their homes with fear and uncertainties about the effects of this threat on their lives. Just as the Israelites in Egypt shut themselves into their homes on the night of the first Passover, having slain the Passover lamb and applied its blood to their door frames, so we are being called to a deeper place of trust in and reliance on the Lord’s grace, promises and power for our protection.
Verse 19 paints the picture we see taking shape around us in the last few weeks as the virus has spread into a pandemic. For many, there is fear in their thoughts: “what about our family, our health; what about our jobs, our income; what about the future of the world?” But suddenly, the living Risen Christ appears in the midst of our fears and speaks those life-giving words, “Peace be with you!” And showing them His nail scarred hands and spear-pierced side, “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” The rest of the eleven told Thomas, one of their number. “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas said he would not believe unless he saw for himself, with his own eyes, the risen Lord and His saving wounds. The next Sunday, the first day of the week 8 days after the Lord Jesus had first appeared in their midst, He appeared among them again, and this time with Thomas present. Thomas bows with reverence as he sees and touches for himself the Person and the wounds of the One who told them beforehand that He was the Resurrection and the Life.
Our Lord makes a foundational statement about Thomas’s reaction and the response of all future believers who have followed Him in the midst of all manner of threat, persecution, martyrdom and plague: “Stop doubting and believe….“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John closes this dramatic chapter with the assurance, “these (things) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may life in His Name.” Shut into our homes, many having to work from home and others unsure of their jobs and future, fear and doubt seem to plague many, all too often fed by the world’s system of reporting on this pandemic and sensationalizing its current and future effects. Because for many media outlets, fear sells. The mindset of reporting all too often is, “if it bleeds, it leads.” To be sure not all news reporting approaches the pandemic from this perspective, but it certainly seems to be the world’s way of “seeing” things.
But what about us as followers of Jesus who have encountered Him in a living, personal and life-changing way by believing in Him as He breathes His Spirit upon us, quickening within us a vibrant, transforming gift of faith that enables us not only to know Him personally and experientially, but also to “see” in a different way than those who do not yet know Him? St. Paul reminds us emphatically that those who have believed in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior, have been given different eyes by which we, “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Paul tells us with the assurance of the message of the Gospel and his own experience of having been “blinded” but now “seeing” that which is unseen (that is, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ) that he has “seen the Lord”, just as the first disciples excitedly announced to Thomas. He announces to us with divine assurance the good news that, “that which is unseen (to the natural perspective) is eternal”, unchanging, stable, always the same; whereas, that which is seen (from the natural perspective) is temporary, subject to change. “Therefore”, he continues, “we do not lose heart!”
So, in the circumstances that surround us on this second Sunday of the Easter season, there remains the eternal Good News that “Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!” And our loving Savior breathes afresh upon us by the power of His Spirit, commissioning us, sending us into the middle of the chaos and fear and anxiety with the testimony, “I have seen the Lord”, I have experienced and met Him personally and He is alive and His power no foe can withstand. He can appear in the center of your home with the gift and blessing of His “peace (shalom) be with you” and turn your fears and doubts into great joy that opens our eyes to “see” Him and everything else in a new and eternal light. Believe and see!!