Sermon on John 20:19-31 Preached on the 11th of April 2021 in All Saints' Church Rome
A couple of years ago, I was in England for a little while. I attended morning prayer multiple days a week during that time. One of the church ladies, Gill, joined me. She had been widowed a long time ago and at the time found it very hard to suddenly be alone, when I met her she was very active in the church. She talked about how every year she opens the church between Christmas en New Years, to allow those who were lonely and struggling, to find a safe place and some fellowship. She also talked about her job as a volunteer in the hospital, as a buddy, to talk to whoever needed it, and offer company. But in recent months, it felt like God was guiding her somewhere else. She felt a bit lost and isolated with these feelings, after all, she did a good job at the hospital, why not continue that?
One morning she brought an icon with her, one that she was painting, and had been working on for over twenty years. I was amazed by the artwork and the commitment, and her continuing process of watching, listening and praying while painting. I felt like I could never commit for that amount of time, I am way too restless! And I talked about how my work consists of short projects in which I create and set something up, and then move on. When we were praying, and the icon was looking over us, the energy and atmosphere changed. Minutes went by in silence until we finally looked at one another. I never knew this could happen, Gill whispered. It felt as if the Holy Spirit was here with us. I think God wants me to move on, be a bit more like you, and start up something new, she said. I smiled, it did feel as if the Holy Spirit had been with us. I felt it had been trying to tell me to slow down and watch and listen, perhaps be a bit more like Gill. We both walked out the door that day, touched, by each others story, and by God’s presence in our midst. Any fears or doubts we previously had about changes, were taken away, and instead we experienced an overwhelming feeling of peace.
It’s one week after Easter, one week after Jesus’ resurrection. We all proclaimed, “He is risen, Alleluia!” And we truly believe he is risen. We rejoice and celebrate, it’s a joyful time. The disciples however, were experiencing different emotions. After watching their teacher being persecuted, tried, whipped and crucified, they must have been fearing for their own lives. It is not surprising to find them in our gospel reading today, hiding away in a house, with the door securely locked.
Despite the bolted door, Jesus came and stood with them, greeting them with the phrase, “Peace be with you.” But Ofcourse, they were not at peace, they were living in fear. Now I want to bring your attention to John Chapter 14, where Jesus is trying to tell his disciples of what will happen to him, to them and to the world. In verse 26 and 27 he says, 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
But they were afraid, and even after receiving the holy spirit and despite the joy the disciples feel when they recognize their teacher, they are still hiding away in the house. Although, not all disciples were there, Thomas was out and about. He was not hiding, and when he came back to the house and the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he did not believe them, and I was wondering why. Could it be because he is distrusting of everyone else, he only trusts what he sees with his own eyes? Could it be because perhaps some of the disciples had a tendency to tell stories and exaggerate certain elements? Or could it be because the disciples were not acting the way one would expect. Their teacher had died, and then came back and showed himself to them. They were overjoyed, but not overjoyed enough to overcome the fear, they did not open the door and go into the streets to celebrate.
A week later the same thing happened, yet this time Thomas was present. Once again Jesus greeted them with the phrase, “Peace be with you.” And when Jesus stood in their midst he invited Thomas to touch his wounds. What if the disciples there, had not only bolted the door, but also their hearts and minds? Preventing them from recognizing Jesus, denying themselves access to the presence of God, stopped from living out their faith and proclaiming the gospel, not able to testify of the resurrection, obstructing them from using the Holy Spirit received. When Thomas touched his master’s wounds, he exclaimed: “My Lord, and my God!” Recognizing Jesus for what he was, but he needed to touch him in order to be touched by God. To have the doubts, and fears be replaced with trust.
I think we all can empathize with the disciples locked in a house, and the feelings of unrest, doubts, and worries. Some of us will be afraid to go outside because of our own health, others will be concerned and cautious for the health of others. And it is not always enough to hear someone say words of comfort, or, do not be afraid, or peace be with you. Because we don’t always want to hear it, we’d rather stay safely inside our bolted rooms. For at least that is what we know. Sometimes we need to touch and be touched, in order to get out of the situation or emotion we find ourselves in, to see a new perspective and a new path. And one way of doing that, is to share. This can be goods, like in our reading from Acts, but it can also be time, experiences, laughter or sadness.
Remember what the reading of acts said: “all the believers were one in heart and mind... they shared everything they had... there were no needy persons among them.” This still counts, and we can still do that today. We can share our fears and anxieties, and in sharing, we open the door a little bit, we open our hearts and minds. Allowing others to enter, to share their compassion, their peace, with us. And we are blessed, blessed by Jesus Christ himself. He wishes us to be at peace. To have no fears, and to believe. Because our God, is a God of love, he wants to care for us. He wants us, to care for each other. And he wants us to find his presence in our midst. That can be in the ray of sunshine coming through the window, it can be in an invitation for a cup of tea, it can be in the notes the neighbor plays while practicing piano. It can happen at so many unexpected moments, in many different situations, at any time. But you will know, because you will feel His grace, and peace will be with you.