Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
This passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter Day. It has striking similarities with the preceding passage, which we heard last week: Jesus’ appearance to Mary on the first Easter morning. Maybe one of the most striking differences, however, is the setting: where it takes place. Whereas Mary went to the tomb, searching, the disciples are in a house, hiding.
We hear that they have locked their doors, for fear of the Jews. Some commentators argue that the reason ‘for fear of the Jews’ was added in a later version of the narrative, as it does not appear when Jesus appears a second time a week later to reveal himself to Thomas also.
I would like to dwell briefly on the image of the locked door, as it resonates strongly with the situation in which we currently find ourselves. As we already noticed, the scene as a whole is in strong contrast with the first Easter morning, and also the locked door can be juxtaposed with the open tomb.
The doors are locked. Whether it is because the disciples are worried to be arrested, or because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves, we don’t know. What we do know is that they are afraid. This story being a familiar one, I often felt that the disciples were a little bit feeble in hiding away. Didn’t they have a message to proclaim, a job to do, but now they are hiding together in a room?
However, after almost four weeks of staying at home for fear of Covid-19, I realise that it’s not that simple. Apart from fear, the disciples may also have needed a little time to think what they had to do, in our government’s words, maybe they too tried to do ‘the right thing at the right time’. There is a lot that can be said about how and when to make decisions, and it is easy to criticise those who do have to make them. However, I might leave that conversation to a later point, as I’m sure that some of you would like to be able to comment too!
Going back to the disciples, we see the remarkable truth of our faith: Jesus is not stopped by those locked doors. Amidst their fears, despite their barriers, Jesus stands among his disciples and says ‘Peace be with you’. Peace, joy, the antidote of fear, cannot be kept out and will find us.
Importantly, Jesus then shows the disciples his hands and his side. It is important, I would like to suggest, not to prove that he is indeed the risen Lord – as they will have already recognised him –, but to acknowledge the past, and hence to acknowledge the present.
Particularly in this Easter season we are reminded that the Christian message is one of hope, that it is indeed Good News. Yet, that does not mean that our fear, our pain, our grief is to be denied. In showing his wounds, Jesus acknowledges that he, the risen Lord, is also the crucified Christ.
Maybe now more than ever we need to hear that message. The message that fear and peace, that pain and joy, will both be part of our lives, for each of us in our different ways. The Christian message is not one of winners and losers, but the universal message of hope and peace in our fear, for each and everyone of us.
However, we may sometimes feel more like Thomas, who wasn’t there when Jesus appeared. We may feel at times that we have experienced the suffering and the pain of the Crucifixion, but not the peace of the Resurrection. That is hard, and Jesus says to them, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’. It takes a lot of faith to hold on to the promise when we haven’t seen.
So maybe that is one thing we, who feel we have seen, can do: share the peace. Be to others the sign of hope they are waiting for. We do this in our worship every week, when we share the peace, but can do this in our lives too, by sharing something of ourselves. We may not be able to appear through locked doors as such, but we can pick up the phone: a kind word can break through people’s fear and worry. And when we can move around more freely again, there is no reason not to keep this up: a call, a card or a visit. A way of saying ‘Peace be with you’. Then were we glad when we saw the risen Lord.