Today we’re reflecting on an account from the end of John’s Gospel that spans two weeks, focusing on two consecutive Sundays. The first Sunday finds the disciples gathering behind locked doors. They’re reeling in shock because of Jesus’ execution, but they’re also frightened for themselves. They fear the Jewish authorities. A servant girl had recognized Peter as a disciple of Jesus while he was in the courtyard of the High Priest the night of Jesus ’ arrest . Surely, the other disciples could also be identified. It was very likely that the authorities would be coming to arrest them, too. They were scared. Many of them had already fled Jerusalem. In hushed conversations they were considering what their next move could be.
The group was also confused. Mary of Magdala had come to them that morning telling them that she had seen Jesus. She had gone to the tomb shortly before sunrise and found it empty. She immediately ran back to the group, and told Peter and John who ran back to the tomb with her. Peter and John looked inside the tomb and saw the burial cloths neatly rolled. Peter went back baffled by the discovery of the empty tomb. John, however, returned convinced that, somehow, Jesus was alive.
Mary remained at the tomb alone, crying. Wasn’t it enough that they had killed him? Did they have to take his body, too? Then she looked into the tomb and saw two angel-like figures clad in white sitting on the slab where the body had laid. They asked her why she was crying. “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” Weeping uncontrollably, she stood outside the tomb. Through her tears she saw a man standing near her. He, too, asked her why she was weeping, and “for whom she was looking.” In desperation she asked him, “If you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
He looked into her eyes with such wonderful love. He smiled, speaking her name, “Mary.” She recognized his beautiful voice. She threw herself at his feet 2 and clutched him around the waist. Over and over again she cried through her tears, my wonderful teacher! “Rabouni!” He told her to go back to the group. He wanted her to tell them that he was going to “my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” Mary went back and told the group everything Jesus had said, but they didn’t know what to make of her story.
Later on, as the sun was setting, “Jesus came and stood before them.” Everyone panicked. They were seeing a ghost! To calm them, Jesus, gently greeted them with the Sabbath blessing, Shabbat Shalom, “Peace be with you.” The greeting must have calmed them somewhat because Jesus felt comfortable to show them the wounds the nails had inflicted to his hands, and the gash in his side that was made by a soldier’s lance. He was showing them that he wasn’t a ghost. He was flesh and blood. They were seeing Jesus, their master and their teacher. He was alive just as Mary had told them.
He saw that they recognized him. He saw joy driving the sadness and fear from their eyes. He smiled at them while he blessed them a second time. “Peace be with you.” Pleased that their fear had lifted, he extended a commission to them. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Wow! Something very powerful was happening. A few moments ago they were crippled by fear and disillusionment. Now, their hearts were beating wildly with joy and happiness. Somehow, Jesus was with them again. He was reaching out to them. He was commissioning them to continue the ministry he had begun.
Jesus walked through the room and held each disciple’s head in his hands, brought his mouth close and breathed on them. Each one felt his warm, moist breath. One by one, they remembered the words of the ancient scripture, “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) They felt alive again. The crippling fear had vanished. They felt strong. They were ready to be his disciples again. It was Sunday. It was the first day of a wonderful new week. It was the first day of a new life. They were ready and willing to take up his ministry!
Later that evening, after Jesus had left them, Thomas, one of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve, arrived on the scene. The disciples excitedly “kept telling him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’” Thomas just couldn’t wrap his head around this. Jesus was dead. He had been crucified. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had put his body in a tomb. What was all this craziness about Mary seeing angels, and bringing Jesus’ message to them? Had they all gone mad? “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
The following Sunday, the entire group was together, including Thomas. Jesus again appeared to them. Again he imparted the Sabbath blessing, “Peace be with you.” He then turned his attention to Thomas.
“Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Like Mary at the tomb, Thomas fell to his knees and embraced Jesus, weeping and laughing at the same time. “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus placed his hands on Thomas’ head and hugged him lovingly. Then he looked up from Thomas to gaze around at everyone in the room. Everyone’s eyes were on him. Then his eyes seemed to look pass them. He was looking beyond the room they were in. He was looking into distant lands and places, at others gathered in rooms similar to this one, his eyes imparting the Sabbath blessing to them. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
It was the second Sunday that they had seen him. There would be many more.