The gospel for this morning hits close to home. The disciples are closed up in a house behind closed doors, fearful.
They were fearful of those who had killed Jesus, and it calls to mind our own situation as we sit behind locked doors afraid, or at least anxious, of COVID-19, the virus that has killed so many.
Fear and isolation set the stage for this resurrection appearance of Jesus.
The followers of Jesus are in shock. They have lost their leader. John makes especially clear that Easter is not a light switch; it is not a single moment in time where the followers of Jesus suddenly become filled with joy and start making Easter Eggs or chocolate bunnies.
No, especially in John, New life comes in waves. Mary discovers an empty tomb. She leaves, confused- she has not yet discovered new life. She shares news of Jesus’ missing body with Peter and others, who explore the tomb themselves. Then, Mary returns to the tomb to have an encounter with Jesus, whom she first mistakes for the gardener, finally realizing that Jesus has risen. Easter comes gradually to different people in different places. The loss of Jesus was traumatic, and his death won’t be overcome instantaneously.
And so now, later on the very same day that Mary discovered that empty tomb, many of the disciples are gathered in a locked room. They are still afraid. And in this fearful state, Jesus comes to them, like he did to Mary. Jesus comes through doors locked with fear, and he shows them his wounds. And he says, ‘Peace be with you.’
Many of us grew up with this story in Sunday School hearing Thomas cast as the bad guy. ‘Doubting Thomas,’ he has been named through the years. In more recent years, Thomas has been seen in a more nuanced light, though. Thomas wasn’t in the room with the disciples. We don’t know why. Maybe he wasn’t as scared as they were and he was out in the town. We just don’t know. But Thomas hears the account of Jesus coming to the disciples and giving them peace. Thomas is yet another party in this gradual Easter. He simply wants the same peace the other disciples have received from Jesus.
Mary has seen Jesus. Other disciples have seen him. And Jesus, the good shepherd, the seeker of lost sheep, doesn’t forget Thomas as he demands the same peace the others have had.. Jesus pursues Thomas. Through locked doors again. For Thomas this time, Jesus comes. Patiently, Jesus allows Thomas to see it is him, let’s him touch his wounds. And, when Thomas is satisfied, Jesus grants him peace.
Easter is not something that happens all at once. Easter happens in different ways, at different times. Every year, my favorite part of the Great Vigil of Easter is the precise moment of the Easter Proclamation in the middle of the service. That is the moment when the lights are brought up, and the organ plays bright music, and the mood changes from dark to light, and we start saying Alleluias again.
For me it has always been the signpost that Easter is here! But this year, I think many of us are realizing that the original Easter, in fact the real Easter that plays out in our lives in so many ways in so many times, has very little of that kind of precision.
Easter, rather, seems to be a liminal space if we are to take the gospel of John seriously. It is a gradual transition, from death to life, of things which have been cast down which are being raised up, of things which have grown old which are being made new, it is not a singular point in time. The gospel does not focus on a narrator’s perspective of what happened to Jesus’ body in the tomb, describing some concrete moment in time when Jesus’ lifeless body was reanimated. Instead, we are directed to focus on the liminal space that the followers of Jesus had to navigate as the resurrected Jesus made his rounds. They are changed. We are changed. It is Easter, but the joy comes slowly.
Now, as we settle into a full month of secluding behind locked doors for fear of infection in this pandemic, we are starting to look forward. It is becoming clearer and clearer that our path ahead is not simply turning back the switch on normalcy. Instead, we will go through waves and stages. This will be a long transition; an expanded liminal space as we grapple globally with a new way of being for some time.
Transitions, these liminal spaces, they are scary. The good news in the gospel is that Jesus pursues the disciples, and he offers them peace in the midst of the liminal space. When Thomas expresses dismay, at not believing new life can work, Jesus pursues him, comforts him; offers him a way forward. The wounds do not disappear. But new life comes, nonetheless.
And so, here we are, behind our locked doors. Something is happening in the world around us, something is happening that we don’t understand. Like Thomas, sometime or another most of us cry out for Jesus to pursue us, to seek us out, to prove he is truly among us, to offer us reassurance of peace.
So, dear people of God- Thomases and Marys, disciples and doubters- know this. Jesus pursues you. Cry out! Lift your voices high to heaven and demand, like Thomas, to be heard.
Like those thousands of years ago, we are in a time of grief, a time of collective loss, a time where we need to be gentle with ourselves as hurt piles upon hurt, and wound upon wound.
So name those things to the One who pursues you. Because you are pursued, just like Thomas. In all your longing, in all your isolation; in all your hurt, in all the suffering of this world; the one who comes through locked doors, and bears his body comes for you to grant you peace, and to bring hope of a new day. And to remind you that you– that we– are not finished here.
Because you are made for one thing: To be beloved of God, and to be pursued no matter how isolated, no matter how quarantined, no matter how ill or healthy, and no matter what this world can come up with. Take heart, and believe: there is new life!
The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Easter 2A, April 19, 2020
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego