We can cut the disciples some slack for hunkering down behind closed and locked doors after Jesus’ crucifixion. We can understand the grief and fear they would have felt all that long afternoon and sabbath evening after he’d been buried and then, after next to no sleep, all the sabbath day that followed. We can imagine them awakening on that Sunday morning still in shock, still hoping it had all been a bad dream, still having no idea what to do next.
But when it was evening on that day—which is to say: After Peter and another disciple had found the tomb empty, after the Risen Christ had appeared to Mary Magdalene and some of the other women, after Mary and the other women had run as fast as they could to the disciples’ hiding place and told them they had seen the Lord—after all that, there they remained.
Behind locked doors.
Luke’s gospel tell us that the male disciples considered the women’s testimony “an idle tale.” Mark is more straightforward, saying not once but three times that the men had not believed the women. They just didn’t believe them.
And so the men kept hunkering down—locked away from the world God so loves, isolated from the powers that killed their leader and destroyed their dreams, lost to all the other grief-stricken Jesus followers. Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew the tax collector, Simon, and the other James: 10 of the 11 who deserted and denied Jesus’ in his hours of greatest need, after Judas, the 12th, had betrayed him. There is no explanation of Thomas’ absence; maybe he was too terrified to even hang out with the other disciples.
Neither do our scriptures tell us what the mood was in that house. Were the disciples bickering, as they had so often when Jesus was with them? Were they wallowing in guilt and shame, thinking of all the things they could have done differently? Were they waiting for one of their number to step forward and show some leadership? Or was it nothing more complicated than being utterly heartbroken? And terrified? Were they simply being awkwardly, painfully, wonderfully human?
Well, God love ‘em!
God bless them for not pretending they were just fine. God love them for not immediately accepting the impossible and unimaginable just because someone said it was so. God bless them for not rushing out to follow some hare-brained scheme of their own. God love them for showing us that fear is healthy, that doubt is normal, and that grief must be honored. God bless them for being such a hot human mess that the Risen Christ had an opportunity to show us, again, both who God is and what it means to be fully, authentically human.
“Peace be with you.”
These are the Risen Christ’s first words to his beloveds. Not “where were you when I needed you?” Not “I told you would deny me.” Not “Couldn’t you even be with me in my last moments?”
Which is to say that the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples—and God is with us—not to condemn, but to forgive. Not to belittle, but to empower. Not to criticize, but to comfort.
Peace be with you. All shall be well. I am with you. I will always be with you, and you are always part of me. Let me help you. Receive the Holy Spirit.
All of that is well and good. We want to know that God is both with us and within us. But we also need to know that God is somehow like us, that while the Mystery that is God has many names, that God “gets” us. And this is where the Word Made Flesh of Christmas and the Love that Overcomes Death of Easter become real and true:
In wounded flesh. In scarred psyches. In human vulnerability.
It is the heartbreaks we have lived through, the losses we have suffered, the sucker-punches we never saw coming, the dreams we gave up on, the injustices that crushed us, the doubts we harbor—almost as much as the love and care, mercy and grace that carry us through our days—that mark us and shape who we become.
And so it was that, seeing the pain and confusion in his friends’ eyes, Jesus showed them the nail marks in his hands and the gaping wound in his side. Because it is our own personal scars that make us real, and it is in revealing them that we are known and loved and healed. Because we all want to be known and still loved, and yet revealing our wounds is hard. Being vulnerable is scary. Becoming authentically human requires time and effort and grace.
And so it was that, as if to drive the point home, Jesus again appeared among the disciples and revealed his wounds a second time. He invited Thomas—not doubting Thomas, exactly, but the latecomer, I-wanna- see-what-everyone-else saw Thomas—to touch him in the hurting places. To know him in the same way he had revealed himself to the others.
Friends, there is no magic to Easter. Resurrection does not suddenly make everything all better. One week after all the alleluias, a full week after the lilies and butterflies and every bit of joy and community we could manufacture from a safe distance, we are still sheltering in place, still doing our part to keep others safe, and still at least a little scared—only now we’re really feeling the pain of the shutdown, now we’re wearing masks when we have to go out, now we really want it all to be over, now we’re starting to try to wrap our minds around the possibility that this could go on for a long, long time.
We’re not doubting, exactly, but we sure would like to hear some good news. We sure would like to see someone showing some leadership. We sure would like to think that someone, somewhere understands what we’re going through and knows what we’re feeling.
Oh, we’d like to feel the Easter joy, we really want to have faith that everything and everyone we love will be okay, but it’s scary out there—beyond our safe places, beyond our locked doors, beyond what we can control, beyond our knowledge and experience, beyond our silver linings and stubborn hope.
This year I understand in a new way why Easter is not just a day but a season, the so-called Great Fifty Days: Because it can take a while to live into true Easter faith. It requires letting go of some ways of seeing things and opening ourselves to entirely new ways of thinking. It takes intention, a willingness to come to terms with our wounds and a decision to be more real about who we are. It requires the freedom and security to be able acknowledge our doubts and our fears, and then commit ourselves to trust Love anyway.
Real Easter Faith is less a mindless Alleluia than a “broken hallelujah”—a heart that is all the more grateful for what is because it has known loss and pain and fear, because it chooses to praise, because it has seen what wonders Love can work.
If this is where we are, there is no shame in it—no pressure, no rigid doctrines we must sign onto. Only love and mercy, forgiveness and tenderness, openness and invitation, presence and power.
And may God’s peace be with us all.