Many of us have been there, or have at least practiced for handling a threatening situation. Frightened by something going on around us, we lock our doors and windows, sheltering in place. We separate ourselves from others, unsure about who we can trust. We focus inward, afraid of the unknown.
That is where we find the disciples in this morning’s passage. They are sheltered in place. They know Jesus is no longer in the tomb, Peter and the other disciple verified that to be true. They know Mary has seen the resurrected Christ and that he has commissioned her to tell the other disciples that he is alive. Yet even with this knowledge of Jesus conquering death, they are afraid. Afraid of the information they have, afraid of those who caused the crucifixion, afraid of accepting that Jesus truly lives, and maybe afraid of moving forward.
Then without fanfare, without a need to knock at the door, or to come through a window, Jesus is in their midst. Greeting them with the words, “Peace be with You.” Words he will use repeatedly as he reveals who he is to his followers and as he offers a life giving alternative to the fear which has forced them into hiding. Words of grace: no reprimand, no commotion, no room for doubt.
Followers encounter the presence of God in the risen Jesus and that presence calls them to live with a sense of peace, not fear. Calls them to experience the reality of peace that he shared with them at the Last Supper: “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (14:27) A peace now experienced as they talk with the risen Lord.
It is a peace that gives them, and us, courage at points throughout our lives “where we fear that God’s goodwill for the world’s well-being is a pious dream, out of touch with the chaos and hatred of everyday life. For the one who offers the words of peace is the very one who has endured the brunt of that chaos and hatred, yet now stands in their [and our] midst – risen, indeed!”
With this peace comes a call to action. Once the Disciples recognize him as their Lord, Jesus offers peace to them again, immediately followed with the proclamation: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” He commissions them to leave their fear-filled, inward looking, locked room, and to take Christ into the world. He provides them with the peace, the example, the evidence, and the breath of the Holy Spirit needed to fulfill their commission.
This passage in John indicates however that Christ knew this commissioning would not produce instant acceptance by His followers. He comes to them a week later, showing Thomas, who was absent the first time, the places he was pierced. Gently giving Thomas what he needs to comprehend what has transpired and to prepare him for fullfilling his part of the mission. The response of Thomas is to recognize the one before him as his “Lord and God”.
Identifying those to whom the disciples throughout the generations are sent, the risen Christ tells all those gathered with Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
None of us gathered this morning have seen in the sense that the disciples gathered in that locked room saw. Yet, all of us have the opportunity to see as the Holy Spirit reveals the truth of scripture to us, have the opportunity to experience the risen Savior in each other, to have the grace-filled peace of God’s presence in all the joy-filled, as well as chaotic and difficult times of our lives.
In this passage we are all commissioned to reflect Christ in our day to day lives. Through study, conversations, prayer, and openness to the Holy Spirit we all have the resources available to move us from the locked rooms of fear into the challenging connections outside of our personal space, where we must go so others can experience the risen Christ through our faith and actions.
Some of us came to believe through the faith stories of others. Some through Christ-filled actions of love, compassion, patience, and forgiveness. Others through a combination of these and others forms of God’s grace extended to us in some way by a person or persons of faith. Those connections are not possible if believers stay locked behind closed doors.
As I considered Christ’s call on our lives while reflecting on this passage from John this week, forgiveness emerged as an incredible life-giving, peace sharing, power given to each of us who believe. As Jesus sends his disciples, us included, into the world as the Father sent him, he says,23”If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Out of context, that seems like permission to evaluate each other’s behavior, to determine who will be forgiven, who will be left outside of our circle. It may seem permission giving to hold a grudge or to walk away from someone who disagrees with us or hurts our feelings. We may see it as a way we can seek revenge without breaking any laws.
In the context of all that happens in the days and hours before this power is given to believers of the resurrected Christ, I don’t think it is any of those things. Instead I think it is the power to love as Christ loves: patiently, sacrificially, radically different than the world loves. To forgive as God forgives, not holding grudges, not keeping a record.
Each of the eleven disciples gathered in that locked room had a different life story, each had denied, questioned, been slow to understand, looked with different expectations as to how Jesus would institute God’s Kingdom. They would sometimes disagree in the years to come as to exactly how to share the message and yet they shared the peace, grace, and Spirit endowed on them by Jesus the Christ and were connected in his teachings, his life, death, and resurrection. Forgiveness was a critical part of their carrying out the commission they were given.
Jesus gives each of us the power of forgiveness.
There were so many times on his earthly journey Jesus could have refused to forgive: the religious leaders who sought to undermine his ministry, the people who found fault with whom he kept company, those who refused to listen, his disciples who denied access to the children, his disciples who argued over who would have a place of honor, his disciples who fell asleep when he asked them to watch with him, his disciples who denied him when afraid to acknowledge him would cost them their status or safety, his disciples who needed help believing Jesus is now the risen Christ.
Jesus shows us how to use the power of forgiveness – patiently reaching out until we accept forgiveness – never giving up on us – coming back as many times as necessary until we understand and believe – just as he did for Thomas.
With this power we stay connected to one another and to God. With this power we can fully realize the Peace and Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
Just as Jesus the Christ commissioned the Disciples and empowered them with peace, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit, He commissions each of us.
He calls us to stop fearing the things going on around us, to open the doors and windows of our hearts to reach out to others, and to embrace the unknown with the confidence God is already there.
I am not suggesting that we stay in abusive or bullying situations, that we jump into the middle of a fire-fight unprepared, or that we stop teaching our children about stranger danger.
I am suggesting that Jesus models a way for us to share God’s love with the world and that it starts by accepting our commission, leaving the safety of our locked mindsets, and recognizing the power of forgiveness in completing our mission. I think when we do, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will experience the Peace Jesus brings in new ways and others will be drawn to join us on the journey.
 Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2: Sunday, April 23