Just like Mary in the garden in her grief, Jesus appears, slowly and gently. In a similar way, both times, Jesus doesn’t beat down the door or make a grand entrance. He arguably makes a somewhat creepy supernatural- like appearance, just appearing before them even though the door is bolted shut. But other than that, it’s pretty low key. Jesus in our moments of despair, fear, and hurt, comes to us gently and lovingly.
Sometimes this scripture is read as Jesus- the Scolder of doubters. But if we look at the Gospel of John as a whole, Jesus is actually just being really consistent here. The Gospel of John is marked by seven signs. (Recall that we mentioned this a few weeks ago when we learned about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, which was the seventh sign.) At each of these seven signs, people are amazed. (Who wouldn’t be in awe at seeing water turn to wine??) And each time someone gushed over these signs or miracles, Jesus pointed towards what was beneath these signs, which was trust in God. Jesus didn’t want the ﬁxation to be on the trick, but rather the example that God will always show up and provide for God’s beloved. That seems to be true here as well.
Thomas receives the short end of the stick historically as being the biggest doubter. “Don’t be like Thomas!” First, be like Thomas. Don’t just take other people’s word for it; make sure you experience life and faith ﬁrst hand. Second, Thomas is merely the projection of all the disciples and followers leading up to this moment in the Gospel of John. Jesus isn’t scolding Thomas. He’s reminding everyone, including us, that while seeing and believing is ﬁne and understandable, there’s even a deeper way to experience faith.
This is where it gets a little tricky and a little scary for me sometimes. I hear other theologies and interpretations of Christianity ringing in my ears telling me to let go of everything, to not worry, to just give it to God and God will handle it. That gets tricky for me because I believe we’re called to be engaged in this process of faith and Kin-dom building. I think we’re meant to be co-creators and co-conspirators with God. I don’t like being absolved of any responsibility or action.
There is a sweet spot that is the good kind of uncomfortable that asks us to trust in God. These are some of the strangest times. We don’t know how long this period will last. We don’t know what the long term eﬀects will be or how we’ll look back on this time in years to come. The disciples were in a similar place of fear, longing, and uncertainty. Even though Mary had come to share the good news...they maybe didn’t believe her immediately. Or maybe they just didn’t even know how to process that information. It’s a big thing to just believe after all.
Therefore, it does not surprise me at all to ﬁnd the disciples huddled around a wooden dining room table (at least in my imagination) paralyzed into silence and stillness by fear. They don’t know what to do or believe. The authorities are still hunting them down. Who wouldn’t hide in that scenario? Who would be jumping, bursting, ready to believe the most hoped for and most impossible thing after a death? Did their eyes deceive them? As someone who struggles with mundane decisions like what to eat for lunch, this kind of lack of clarity would have absolutely paralyzed me. I would be on the end of the table. Next to one person, so I had some contact, and then freedom on the other side of me in case I needed some space.
How would you respond? Where would you be in the room? What would you be feeling?
Jesus came to them. Shocking as it may have been, I imagine him as his thoughtful and kind self. He left the door locked. He didn’t shove them out into the world, forcing them to face every fear and challenge at once. He met them where they were--physically and emotionally.
Hear this invitation and this promise: God meets us where we are. We are all experiencing this pandemic diﬀerently. Be gentle with yourselves and be gentle with others. There is no right way to do this just as there is no right way to do faith. Remember? God meets us where we are--wherever we are. While it might be hard to just “let go and let God” as the saying goes...there is wisdom in letting God hold our worry, our fear, and our anxiety. We can’t control those things anyways.
God may not make those things magically disappear, but God is pretty good at transformation. We can be unsure, afraid, worried and still have hope. Hope allows us to stay present and to imagine a possible future. Jesus brought hope with him in those moments when he visited his beloved--Mary, the disciples, and Thom- as. And most importantly, he brought peace to their stirring spirits. He brought healing, as he often did and continues to do.