Jesus is alive! This is the good news of Easter Day. Each of the four gospels tells their version of the story: the tomb is empty on the day of resurrection, angels announce Jesus is risen (as he said) and Mary meets Jesus. It's a new day, the first day of the week, a day of new life, a day of celebration.
But not that first day, not for the disciples. They didn't believe Mary's story. Even those who saw the empty tomb didn't get it. They were afraid and they hid "behind locked doors" (John 20:19). They didn't believe it until Jesus appeared to them in that locked room.
We've traditionally focused on Thomas as the one who doubted, but they all did. "Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.' After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord" (John 20:19-20).
"Then" the disciples rejoiced. Maybe Thomas is held up as the example of all of them who didn’t believe at first, but he’s also the example that lets us know that doubts and questions are okay and need to be asked and tested. I think he was even the bravest of them all because I think he was already out starting to live the life that Jesus had taught. Perhaps Jesus' death inspired him to greater living.
But let's get back to the other disciples. Things seemed to have come to a sudden and tragic end. They locked themselves away in fear, not knowing what to do next. Surely they would be safe if they just stayed indoors and kept to themselves, with a good stout door between them and the world.
Jesus wasn't having that, though. He appears to them, offers the peace which he had promised, the peace of his presence, and, literally, breathes life into them. "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:21-22). It's John's version of the Pentecost story. There's no wind or fire or speaking in tongues, but only the peace of Jesus' presence and the breath of his spirit.
And there’s one more thing: the command to come out. Like Lazarus, they are not dead and this locked room will not be their tomb. There’s living to be done. Jesus sends them to do what God sent Jesus to do: to bring love, grace and life to all.
In the midst of a chaotic, struggling world, I want to suggest that we think about how often in our lives we lock ourselves away, or build walls, thinking that we'll somehow be protected from it. But that doesn't protect, it imprisons.
Or we build structure into our lives that we think is only bringing order and sense and yes, it does, and we appreciate that. But sometimes, if we don't constantly challenge ourselves with the need to go out into the world, it becomes rigid, restrictive and confining.
Jesus sends us out into the world to love. The peace he offers isn't an absence of conflict, but the assurance of God's presence. The spirit he breathes into us is inspiration, potential and possibility. For individuals, yes, but also for communities, cultures, nations: for a fearful world in need of new life.