John 20:19-31 – Second Sunday of Easter
I honestly can’t recall someone preaching this way at a service that I’ve gone to, but I’ve often heard rumors that this text was used to preach about the negativity of fear and doubt for many decades: “Don’t doubt like Doubting Thomas.” Or why on earth are the disciples afraid and locked behind closed doors? Didn’t they hear the news from Mary? Jesus is risen!
But, I have to say, as I look at this situation, I can relate to it.
According to John, the crucifixion and resurrection are taking place over the Passover festival. The streets would be lined with people who are there for their pilgrimage. People from all over would be flooding the streets. It’s much easier to be a newbie to a town when you’re surrounded thousands of other newbies. Think of Thanksgiving Day in New York or Inauguration Day in DC. Follow the crowds and you’ll have a better chance of knowing where you’re going.
Now, by the first day of the week, in theory people would be starting to return home. Although Passover would have been seven days before the Diaspora, Deuteronomy 16:7-8 says, “You shall cook it and eat it at the place that the LORD your God will choose; the next morning you may go back to your tents. For six days you shall continue to eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly for the LORD your God, when you shall do no work.”
So, the disciples in their grief, also afraid to be associated with Jesus, are no longer protected by the mass of crowds. They are now only with the citizens and authorities of Jerusalem. Then add a week in between Jesus’ visits, and it is even more of a return to normalcy in the city. It’s far easier to recognize a tourist on a day when there are no celebrations or special events. And all these disciples probably are tourists. They are fishermen and average folk from Galilee and other surrounding areas. They have been to Jerusalem before, but they aren’t necessarily natives. They may not have a space to stay. The only place that feels safe is this upper room where they last saw, last ate with, last remembered the love of their friend and teacher.
While some of you might be bold enough to step out into the city (maybe like Thomas did since he was nowhere to be found in that upper room), I personally understand the “laying low”-ness of the disciples here. Where do you go next?
And that’s how Jesus enters into their lives. He doesn’t scold them for their fear. He doesn’t tell them how foolish they are. He simply enters into their life, allowing them to understand that he is not going to be physically present any longer. They are going to have to learn to feel his presence in within themselves and amongst each other in the Holy Spirit. They are going to have to find the will and confidence to walk out into the world and witness as leaders and not just as followers.
Where was Thomas?
A fun way to discount the “doubting” portion of Thomas is to explore the possibilities of where he might have been. Was he hiding even further away? Or was he out looking for Jesus? Is the person who we most associate with doubt actually the bravest of them all?
The Week after Easter (in church)
I hope you had a wonderful time at Easter. I hope your pews and seats were full. I hope there was joy and loud boisterous music. I hope that your people were enchanted in the best ways by the feast and festival of it all. Even in my neighborhood at home, neighbors were out wishing everyone a Happy Easter. It was a joyous time and it was really easy to be a Christian.
Easter is a really easy time to be a Christian. Honestly, I think it’s even easier than Christmas which has so many secular components to it as well. And so, our people in our congregations are on top of the world this week, “Isn’t it so great how many people there were!” “Hopefully they all come back next week!” “Maybe the church is coming back!” It’s the annual post-Easter hope and it is even more exuberant this year being the most “normal” Easter we’ve had since 2019.
But very likely we are going to return to our normal attendance (maybe even less as the choirs and bands take a break in some places) on this Sunday after Easter. And it’s going to feel a lot like us sitting with the disciples in the upper room. The world is all returning to normal and now we have to figure out how to be Christians in this world that is no longer celebrating with us. It’s fear inducing. If we are going to spread the message of Jesus Christ and witness to Resurrection Hope, we might just have to go out into the world.
(Cue every church member locking the doors).
It’s a lot harder to be a Christian after Easter. But we are still called to be disciples after Easter. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. According to John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for she will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever she hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come.” With the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are called to walk out of our upper rooms and be bold about our Faith in this world. Now is not the time to hide.
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