19 On the first day of the week, in the evening, when the disciples were gathered together without the shut door, afraid of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
20 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw their Lord.
21 Then Jesus said to them again: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so send I you.”
22 And when he had said these things, he breathed on them and said to them, “Take the Holy Spirit.
23 Those whose sins you forgive will have them forgiven; those whose sins you retain will retain them.”
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 Then the rest of the disciples told him: “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger in the nail scars, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 And after eight days the disciples were again together, and Thomas also with them. And the door was locked.
Then Jesus comes and stands in their midst and says: “Peace be with you!”
27 Then he says to Thomas: “Reach here your finger and look at My hands and give here your hand.
and put it into My side, and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and My God!”
29 Jesus said to him: “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe!”
30 Jesus did many other signs before his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that you, having come to faith, may have life in his name.
John 1:13. 20:19-31
This week, there was great concern in our community that a church in Liepaja held several services on Easter Sunday, in violation of the government’s emergency regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those who defend such actions say that worshipping in person can bring greater closeness to God and to Jesus, especially by receiving Holy Communion and saying our prayers. After all, “God will protect his people and will not allow the virus to strike them too”. The conclusion is that those who follow government rules and pray at home do not really trust God at all, and their prayers are nothing more than “soft beer and a rubber woman” (quoted from statements on the Internet).
When the disciples gathered on the first day of the week – that is, our Sunday – they met behind closed doors because they feared reprisals against them. It had only been two days since Jesus was killed on the cross. The news of Jesus’ resurrection was still too incredible to change their behaviour. It was already a big deal that they were meeting again at all. So painful was their own betrayal, cowardice and the realisation that they had overestimated their own strength. It just seems that one in two of our brothers in faith today are still more like the disciples before Jesus’ arrest than those who have had a major crash in their own lives and are beginning to come to grips with reality. I would very much like to be a hero of faith, without asking whether this is really the faith that God requires.
So notice that Jesus comes not to the heroes of faith, but to the stunned, intimidated, conscience-stricken followers who had just abandoned Him. Sometimes we forget that God’s grace is not just a pretty word, but that it corresponds to our position before God. We do not deserve that God raised Jesus from the dead, we do not deserve forgiveness, we do not deserve that we are always given a second chance again, we do not deserve that God enters our hearts, whether it is with others or alone in our homes.
Jesus sees the desperation of His disciples and He does not abandon them, but overcomes all the walls of fear and the keys of safety. Fear, bad conscience and mourning are no obstacle for Him, He enters into the midst of the disciples. Three times in this text Jesus repeats the words “Peace be with you!” This is not a simple wish – it is a command! How can peace be commanded? Once in a school, a teacher is trying to calm a frenzied class with a loud voice – Peace! I don’t know how Jesus’ disciples felt about his words, because in fact they didn’t know what Jesus had come for. Perhaps He was an evil spirit coming for revenge? Maybe He has come to rebuke the disciples for their actions before Jesus’ crucifixion? That is why Jesus repeats His words several times – “Peace be with you!” I do not come with hate, I come with good! Accept Me in your midst and rejoice with Me that all things have passed away. And Jesus shows His hands and His side as a testimony that He is the same One who was crucified. His scars are a sign of His recognition.
I love the story of Nasreddin and the young man who wants to become his pupil. The story of Mullah Nasreddin, a 13th-century Muslim scholar, is still the subject of countless stories, anecdotes and admonitions in Turkish society.
One day, a young man comes to Nasreddin, kneels before him and asks him to accept him as his disciple. Nasreddin ponders and then says: “If you can pass through the desert and come back and show me your wounds from the hot sand, the cruel sun and the unbearable thirst, then I will accept you.“
And then comes another very strange action of Jesus. He says: “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” And having said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Take the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you forgive will have them forgiven; those whose sins you retain will retain them.”
Jesus gives His disciples the authority to forgive sins. He inspires them with the Holy Spirit.
Those who have just received forgiveness themselves are sent to other sinners. It is their choice whether they want to forgive or not. However, is the one who chooses not to forgive aware of the grace he himself has received? The fact that I can forgive another in the name of Jesus Christ does not in any way mean that I am morally superior or more chosen before God than the one who receives forgiveness. Again, we look to God’s grace, not to our own merits.
All due respect to Jesus’ disciple Thomas, who a week later dares to ask for proof that Jesus is indeed not a mere phenomenon. Like past traumas, doubts must be spoken about openly, not hidden. Otherwise we can quickly become hypocritical dupes who are not interested in a true, honest relationship with God, with Jesus and with our brothers and sisters. Jesus does not reject Thomas and comes to meet him. May He be the one who unites us in this time, who overcomes all differences and forgives our shortcomings! Amen!