We have an advantage over the people who lived through that first Holy Week. We can take out the stories that appear in Scripture from Palm Sunday through Easter morning and engage with them at our leisure...reading the parts that are familiar and ignoring the parts that might disturb us. But the people who lived through that experience did not have that luxury. The entire horrible week cascaded around them with utter cruelty and an unexpected vengeance that could crush the soul of the most resolute trailblazer.
Consider the situation that existed early on Sunday, the day we call “Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday”: Mary had gone to the tomb early in the morning and found it empty. She came and got Peter and John who went with her and checked it out for themselves but didn’t know what to think about it either. So they huddled in a room behind locked doors out of fear of being discovered by religious authorities who might do to them what they did to Jesus. It was not a horrible nightmare from which they would wake—it was all too terribly real and the unknown future was suddenly brimming with barely controlled panic. Anguish and failure at abandoning Jesus weighed heavily on broken hearts. They were in hiding, tired, leaderless, terrified and deeply alone in a hostile environment. Not all the disciples were present. Judas was dead. Thomas was missing. Some had started back toward home. Who even knew where they were? Things were just falling apart. They could certainly do with a little good news.
And that news arrived. In the midst of their despair, confusion and desolation—when they least expected it—Jesus showed up precisely when they needed him the most.
And not only that, Jesus kept showing up again and again continuing to dare his band of friends to be filled with renewed purpose when all they could see was despair.
When Mary wept at the tomb, Jesus came.
When the disciples huddled fearfully in a locked room, Jesus was not deterred.
When some disciples had given up and were homeward bound, Jesus found them.
When Thomas needed to see in order to believe, Jesus showed up.
When we need to believe, Jesus shows up too.
Jesus came because he said he would. How did he know that it is frequently our human nature to want to see before we believe something? How did he know that our frail earthly disposition does not take things simply on face value? Faith is not always tangible, is it?
Consider the situation of the disciple Thomas, who has earned the dubious nickname of “doubting Thomas.” He was not present when Jesus first showed up to the disciples behind the locked door. When he heard their bizarre report, he didn’t believe them. It might have been too great a personal risk to think that somehow Jesus might really still be among them...that Thomas’s own grief and disbelief at the previous week’s events might be eased. “I’ll believe it when I see it!” is the modern idiom of Thomas’s declaration of disbelief to the other disciples. It is eerily similar to the question we might blithely toss out when our own faith response to something is presented with an unbelievable idea. After all, who wants to be made to look like a gullible fool?
But, sometimes we, like Thomas, need to question something in order to understand it and integrate it in our wary hearts. Does that question make Thomas faithless? Does that make you or me faithless? If God were a vengeful Being who throws us out the door because we ask questions or entertain doubts, I would have been on the street of spiritual dropouts a long time ago.
Questions and doubts are not signs of faithlessness. They are signs that God is stirring in us. They can be indications that there is a responsive readiness to take the questions of faith seriously. They are signs of hope and indicators of growth. So Thomas represents for us not so much one who doubts, but one who seeks to know. We can view things through a lens that supports a worldview of limitations and disappointments or we can view things through a lens that expects abundant and amazing possibilities.
Maybe that was one of the things the disciples learned as they careened from grief into a time of wonder. Namely, that God is always at work in our world and in each of us in ways we cannot predict or really fully understand.
The Rev. Susan Andrews of the Presbyterian Church, says: “The truth of Easter is that all of humanity is blessed with a God who defies the locks of logic and grief and prejudice and fear, a God who blesses us and then sends us, fresh and filled with hope, back into a hopeless world…Again and again Jesus comes to where we are, startling us and breathing on us and sending us to be embodied hope for others. Like Thomas, we can miss the moment if we are so intent on proving God or playing God or pushing God that we don’t actually ponder the presence of God…When we least expect him, and when we most need him, Jesus just appears.”
In spite of boulder-burdened tombs, locked doors, destroyed lives, God showed up anyway. Guess we need to remember that. The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!!