On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
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.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to 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 into the nail marks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
Imagine for a moment that the gospel passage that we just heard started off like this, keeping in mind that this was the first time Jesus met with the disciples after his crucifixion. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Boys, I have some good news and some bad news.” Then Peter stepped forward and said, “Lord, you have risen from the dead! Your heavenly power has conquered even death! How could there possibly be bad news?” To which Jesus replied, “I want to talk to you guys about last Friday.”
After all, Jesus was fully human. On Good Friday, we heard the account of the Passion. Jesus bled, suffered, fell from both exhaustion and pain. Jesus cried out in anguish. And just hours before, he was sharing a meal with his closest friends who promised to be with him. But when the time came, Jesus found himself alone. Is there any doubt that Jesus felt the sting of being abandoned? I can’t speak for all of you, but if it were me who found myself alone at a time like that, I guarantee that I’d be harboring some pretty deep resentment.
But the first words spoken to his friends were, “Peace be with you.” Forget the disciples for a moment and consider the broader community of Jerusalem. Just five days prior to his death, they welcomed Jesus at the gates of the city by laying palms at his feet. They treated Jesus like royalty. Then presumably, this same crowd flip flops and screams for his execution. This community totally turned its back on Jesus in the worst conceivable way. How Christ respond? “Peace be with you.” No anger, no resentment, no bitterness, just peace.
There are two points that I really want to highlight in this scripture passage. The first, Jesus meets us where we are. The disciples were afraid and in hiding. They were the ones who turned their back on Jesus. But at the same time, they longed for him. They didn’t have to go out searching for Jesus. Christ came to them. Their desire to be with Christ brought Jesus into their midst.
The second point that I’d like to highlight is that when we sin, when we act in a way that is not Christ like, when we set our priorities so that other things or even our own selfishness come before God, we abandon Jesus. Just like the disciples did. The sting of abandonment is felt by Jesus all over again.
When, like Peter, we deny knowing Jesus, deny being his follower out of fear of being rejected or ridiculed, we are like the crowds who laid palms as Christ’ feet on Sunday only to reject him on Friday.
The beauty of Christ forgiveness is that at the very moment we lament the distance we have created between us and God, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.”
The fruit of forgiveness is indeed peace. When we choose to forgive or more importantly, when we choose to let ourselves be forgiven, we free ourselves of the burdens brought on by clinging onto pain and resentment. Each time we make the decision to hold onto the past hurts, it’s as if we are reliving the suffering brought upon us. The cycle of pain continues. But embracing forgiveness brings about peace.
What Jesus endured on Good Friday; being abandoned by his friends, rejected by his followers, and the shear brutality crucifixion. This is more pain than I could possibly fathom. And at the same time, knowing all that Christ experienced, to return to the community that brought him so much suffering and then to express with the truest sense of love, “peace be with you”. This is a level of forgiveness that I will spend a lifetime trying to achieve. But this is our calling,
This morning we hears Jesus say “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Our mission is clear, to love how Christ has loved us. To forgive, no matter how difficult it may appear. To be the vehicle which brings about peace. This is what Jesus has asked for us to do. When we approach his altar and receive him, when we take his presence and make it known amongst our families and communities we live out our calling.