I always enjoy the Second Sunday of Easter, because the Gospel reading at church is one of my favorites. It’s the Easter story of the disciple, Thomas. This account shows the compassionate way in which Jesus deals with his disciple’s doubt. Jesus does not scold or punish Thomas for doubting that He had risen from the dead.
Instead, Jesus meets Thomas where he is at and speaks to Thomas His word of peace.
Thomas’ Easter story in the Gospel of John has two scenes. In the first scene, Thomas is absent when Jesus appears to the gathered disciples. The disciples were afraid and hiding. They were fearful of the Jewish religious leaders. That fear was well-founded. These very same leaders had just put Jesus to death only two days before. If the religious leaders hated Jesus so much that they handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified, what might they do to the disciples of Jesus? This question doubtlessly occupied their minds as they gathered, hidden behind locked doors.
Other questions might have occupied the minds of the disciples, too. They may have wondered if Jesus really were alive. John and Peter had told them that the tomb of Jesus was empty, with the grave clothes lying folded as if unused. They had heard the report from Mary Magdalene of how she had seen Jesus risen from the dead. But they had not yet seen Jesus themselves. Was Jesus really alive?
Then, Jesus shows up. Jesus comes to answer their questions, silence their doubts, and calm their fears. Jesus does so with one word: “Peace!” Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” By speaking the word, “peace,” to His disciples, Jesus is not just greeting them in the usual way. Jesus is not just another ordinary Jewish rabbi greeting his students with “shalom.”
Jesus is different, because when he says the word “peace,” peace actually happens! He has the power to speak words that do what they say.
This is the Jesus who said, “peace” to the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee, and the storm stopped. This is the Jesus who said, “Fill the jars with water,” at the wedding in Cana, and the water became wine. The Jesus who said to the Roman official, “Your son will live,” and the boy was healed. The Jesus who said to the crippled man at Bethesda, “Rise and walk,” and the man did. The Jesus who said to Lazarus, who had been dead four days, “Come out,” and Lazarus came out of his tomb.
As John tells us at the very beginning of his Gospel, Jesus is the Creator God, who said, “Let there be light,” and light happened. Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is God, and when He speaks, what He says happens!
The same Jesus who spoke into the chaos of the dark and the deep before creation, now speaks into the dark and chaos of His disciples’ fear. Jesus says, “Peace,” and peace happens. As soon as Jesus speaks this word, the disciples were glad. Jesus’ word of peace creates peace in the disciples’ hearts; their fear is gone! The word does what it says. It puts them at peace and drives their fear away, making them glad.
But in this scene someone is missing; Thomas is missing!
In scene two of Thomas’ Easter story, the other disciples tell Thomas that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, and has appeared to them! Thomas responds, “I don’t believe it. Unless I can see Jesus with my own eyes and touch Him, I won’t believe it.” Thomas is still left in his doubts because Jesus hasn’t spoken His word of peace to Thomas yet.
Then, Jesus replays all of scene one for Thomas’ benefit. The doors are locked again, as the disciples shelter in place. Jesus shows up again and says specifically to Thomas, “Peace.” Jesus’ word “peace” terminates the doubt in Thomas’ mind, calms the fear in his heart, and awakens his faith, so that he can believe that Jesus really is alive!
In the Gospel of John, the response of Thomas is the greatest confession of faith, the greatest proclamation of who Jesus is. When Jesus speaks His word of healing peace to Thomas, Thomas replies, “My Lord, and my God!”
The word of the risen Christ Jesus does what it says. It brings peace, calms fear, and awakens and nourishes faith. This word causes its hearer to believe in, confess, and proclaim Jesus as Lord and God.
In the anxious times in which we live, we are a lot like Thomas. Like Thomas, we have fears and doubts. Like Thomas and his fellow disciples, we are even stuck hiding behind locked doors!
So Jesus comes also to us with His healing word of peace. Through the preaching of the Word, Jesus Himself comes to us as fully and completely in His word as he did to Thomas. He says to us: “Peace!” We may hear the voice of Jesus through recordings and digital media, but the Jesus who walks through locked doors has no problem coming to us through technology. Jesus comes to us, who have not seen, and He speaks to us His Word that does what it says. He says, “Peace.” With those words, Jesus awakens faith in our hearts—the faith to trust Him right in the middle of COVID-19. We are then moved to respond to Jesus’ word as Thomas did. We confess and proclaim, “My Lord, and my God.”