Every year on
the Sunday after Easter, we read several passages about what the disciples did
following Jesus’ resurrection. One of them that is part of our readings most
years is from the gospel of John on how Thomas misses the first appearance of
Jesus to the disciples, and when the disciples tell him about it -- Thomas
doesn’t believe them. So we usually talk about doubt and the role it has in faith.
But the thing that I want to focus on today is the rest of the disciples. Not
Thomas. They are all locked up in a room because they are afraid.
Listen to the story and think about that as I
read it. John 20:19-31
It was still
the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed
doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood
among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them
his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with
joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I
am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them,
they aren’t forgiven.”
one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus
came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds
left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though
the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be
with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put
your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
“Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet
Then Jesus did
many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t
recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe
that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in
So what does
it mean that the disciples were all together behind locked doors? You see,
locked doors don’t sound that weird to us today, because we lock our homes, we
lock our cars, we lock our churches. Everything is locked up, because we are
concerned about theft, about crime, and so locked doors have become normal, even
in the daytime. But in Jesus’ era, during daylight, doors were usually opened
and unlocked to allow in light and air. It was a sign that friends and guests
were welcome. So the fact that the disciples are behind closed doors, and in
fact locked doors is a bit surprising. Clearly they were in hiding, they were
afraid, and they were not ready to receive friends or guests.
So what happens? Jesus appears to them anyway. Even though the door being
closed clearly conveys that visitors are not welcome. He then speaks to them
words of peace. He tells them that they are sent out into the world, and he
breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, telling them that if they forgive anyone’s
sins, they are forgiven.
Jesus is being very pastoral here. The disciples were keeping their faith behind locked
doors for fear of the anger and judgment of other religious people. Jesus
is telling them to get out from behind the locked door, that they have a job to
do. They have to live their faith, not hide it.
[shocked] But then 8 days later, the disciples are still hiding behind
locked doors. They still aren’t doing what Jesus told them. Even after he
gifted them with peace and the Holy Spirit. They aren’t going out to the world,
they aren’t forgiving sins, they are just hiding. This time Thomas is there
Again Jesus speaks peace to them, and then he spends time directing his
speech at Thomas, but I actually think he is speaking to all of the disciples.
He shows them his hands and feet, he shows them the wound in his side. And
he says, “No more disbelief, believe!” If he isn’t just talking to Thomas here,
what he is telling the disciples is, “Look at me. I am still alive. God has
brought me through the crucifixion. I have suffered and died, and yet I am here
with you. What do you have to fear? What reason could you possibly have to hide
behind these doors? Stop disbelieving the power and promises of God. Get out
there and live your faith.”
You see, Thomas wasn’t the only one struggling with disbelief. Jesus’
speech is for all of them. Thomas is just the object lesson for all of them. And
for us. Thomas is still an object lesson for all of us today, especially those
people who hold their faith fearfully and cower behind locked doors.
The fact is
that there are many Christians who are afraid to express what they really
believe for fear of the consequences. This can happen in countries where it is
illegal to express certain religious beliefs, or where it is unsafe. Look at
the recent bombing of the churches in Egypt.
Even though a bomb had been found in one of the churches the week before,
and security officers were at the doors, they made no effort to stop the bomber
who can be seen on camera walking through the front doors, and moving to the
front of the church. Attenders say the security forces don’t really try to
protect them. Because of this a number of
churches in southern Egypt cancelled their Easter celebrations last week. Fear
stopped them from celebrating the resurrection of Christ. It is hard to imagine
a more fitting parallel to the disciples hiding in a room following Jesus’
But it isn’t just in places like that where
people are afraid to express their faith. It can happen in places
where we think free expression is the norm, like here in our country. It can even
happen in the church.
is that people who have very deep beliefs are afraid to express them because
they may not match exactly the official or predominant view. Perhaps they view
the bible as a human book, or they question what the divinity of Jesus really
means, or they don’t really believe that heaven is a place but instead it is a
state of unity with God. And so they hide, because they are afraid of being
condemned or kicked out of their religious communities because of the questions
It can even
happen due to politics. I actually know a pastor who was fired for expressing
concerns over President Barack Obama’s policies soon after he was elected, and
I know a pastor who was fired for expressing concerns over President Donald
Trump’s policies. Such actions leave us as leaders of the church in a fearful
position. When our faith obviously believes something that is a critique of the
culture, should we hide behind locked doors, or should we speak up? Like the
early disciples we often choose to hide rather than be honest with our thoughts.
I know this is true of many people who find themselves afraid of the
consequences of speaking and sharing their true belief.
In our Wednesday night classes we have talked about the ways to create safe
places where people can honestly share the depth of faith, struggle with its
questions, so that we can have dignified and honest dialogue, and so that the
peace of Christ empowers us to do the work of the church – proclaiming
forgiveness and hope.
a safe atmosphere allows us to do is to actually talk about the hardest parts
of our religious faith without fear of judgment, it also builds up the whole
community, filling us with a spirit of renewed belief. So for example, because
Thomas is willing to disagree with others in faith, and not be afraid of
condemnation, Jesus is able to come to Thomas and move him into a new belief. At
the same time the rest of the disciples are also encouraged to grow in faith so
that they have the courage to live their faith.
Of course it can also happen that one person’s questions challenge the
whole community to reevaluate their faith and priorities. 500 years ago Martin
Luther courageously nailed a list of 95 issues he had with the church to the
door. The result of that act was reform, and the greater Christian church was
reminded that we are saved by faith, not by works. We needed the reminder, so
that we could spread the message of forgiveness to the world.
important that we don’t hide our faith behind locked doors, even in the face of
violence, even in the fear of condemnation. We are carry the message of one who
was arrested and crucified, died and was buried, and yet he lives. Why are we
The courage to
step out and speak boldly can lead us personally to deeper faith when we find
ourselves corrected by Christ, or it can lead the community to revitalization
as we challenge false beliefs that have become the norm. And so because of
this: I pray we may be able to welcome the Thomas’ who disagree and doubt,
while also being open to correction by Christ on our beliefs. May we have the
courage to come out from behind our locked doors so that we can proclaim the
forgiveness of Christ. Then as people find that forgiveness, we can all have
life in his name.