In today’s passage from John’s gospel, we find the disciples behind locked doors, fearful of what might happen to them at the hands of those who killed Jesus. And then – the risen Christ steps into the room, into the midst of their fears with the first of a three-fold “Peace be with you.” ! This first peace is the peace that perhaps comes when our worst fears are not realised; the relief that against all odds, death has not won; the realisation that out of the blood, the nails, the thorns, the beating, and the cross has come new life. Something we need to pay particular attention to as we move out of lockdown into something which will be life, but life changed and renewed.
When Christ shows them his hands and side, the disciples rejoice with the adrenaline rush that follows the miraculous — the crucified one is the risen one. Jesus then speaks a second “Peace be with you”, maybe this time it is a “not so fast” kind of peace, a kind of peace that lasts beyond the initial rush, that abides even when one remembers the cost and the challenges that still lie ahead.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” These are sobering words, even when the disciples see the living Christ since they have also just been shown his wounds. Christ’s victory will be theirs as well, but in order to get there, they will need the kind of peace that lasts even when — in the midst of their own blood, thorns, and cross – victory seems a dim and distant possibility. So we too need this second kind of peace when things seem to be hard, when we do not know how we are going to get through a certain situation or how all our struggles will ever come to an end.
The third “Peace be with you” follows a famous exchange with the disciples and Thomas, who was absent during the previous appearance of the risen Christ. As many have noted, although he is famous as “Doubting” Thomas, he asks for no more than what the rest of them, including Mary Magdalene, have already received, and Thomas’ words do not seem particularly troubling to Jesus. But perhaps the other disciples are exasperated with Thomas. After all, Thomas has in so many words called them liars to their face. “I won’t believe you until I see for myself.”
However, when we meet the disciples again a week later, they are still all together.
Jesus again appears among them, and before anyone says anything, says again, “Peace be with you,”. Perhaps this time it is the peace of reconciliation–“peace be among you,” the peace that follows when we forgive one another. This task of forgiveness was given to the disciples at Jesus’ previous appearance, verse It is John’s that most emphasises oneness and unity among the disciples, a oneness that shows the world that this message of life is true. So, this third peace, within the community, might be the most significant of all. For life in all its fullness cannot be lived unless we live as a community.
Jesus does not admonish Thomas and, in fact, invites him to satisfy his doubt by seeing for himself Even if he were to be considered a doubter (as the traditional interpretation understands him), he is welcomed into the peace of Christ before he can either apologise or defend himself. Congregations and communities of faith often do not do well with people who, like Thomas, challenge them with doubt and difficult questions. Christ calls them and us to live in his peace as a way of reaching our own peace with each other. He seems less concerned than we often are about sticking to one interpretation of his life and resurrection. He sends Thomas, doubters, and all of us to continue his work.
After all, in the end, it is Thomas ‘The Doubter’ whose response stands as the highest proclamation of Christ by any person in the gospel, “My Lord and my God!”.