Unsure of what to do with Mary’s testimony that she had seen the risen Jesus earlier in the day, the disciples are hunkered down, hiding behind closed and locked doors. Fear and confusion and uncertainty weigh on their hearts and minds. Jesus’ words and teaching, the signs and miracles he performed, probably flashed across each of their minds as they tried to sort out what was happening. Suddenly, Jesus is standing before them. “Peace be with you,” he says to them. Then, he shows them his hands and his side, each bearing the wounds inflicted on him as the forces of empire tortured and killed him – this was Jesus in the broken flesh. And he offers them the one thing that can cut through the fear, words that were meant not as mere greeting but as divine assurance that no matter what was happening in their present moment, that God indeed was still at work and Jesus would, as promised, continue to be present with them.
Jesus’ words of assurance recall what he said to them on their last night together – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” There is something different about this peace that Jesus gives. The world’s understanding of peace is founded in the absence of conflict which is guaranteed only by the threat of absolute and annihilating violence. It is a “peace” that is born out of intimidation and power, domination and control. The peace of empire extends only to those who willingly assimilate to the norms and expectations of the dominate cultural and political bodies. Fear is the primary mechanism through which it is maintained, and those in positions of privilege profit from the collective nature of it.
In contrast, the peace that Jesus offers is founded not on the absence of conflict but in the abiding presence of the One who desires to give us abundant life, to fill us with his joy in order that our joy might be made complete. The peace of Christ is characterized by the capacity for stillness and calm amid the storms of life. A capacity born not out of detachment from the circumstances of our present moment, but out of an assurance that the God who creates, redeems, and sustains is and will be with us even in the darkest of times. The peace that Jesus gives is not guaranteed by domination or control, but by the embodiment of the divine love that Jesus came to demonstrate and offer to the world. And because of this, this peace elicits courage rather than fear, strength rather than timidity, joy rather than despair.
In the same breath that Jesus speaks this word of peace to his disciples, he empowers them with the Holy Spirit and commissions them to carry on his ministry of bearing witness to the reign of God. Just as Jesus was sent to reveal the One he calls Father to the world, the disciples are sent to bear witness to Jesus and to the life he freely offers to the world. Each of us here today are benefactors of that mission and ministry. Somewhere along the way, we heard or saw someone bearing witness to this risen Christ; we felt the overwhelming power of the Spirit; we experienced the tenderness of divine love – maybe it happened in one moment of crisis, maybe it was the culmination of many small glimpses, but at some point, our hearts responded and we found within us a well of joy and, like Thomas, we proclaimed “My Lord and my God.”
Today, right now, in these circumstances of our lives, Jesus remains with us. In our isolation and loneliness, in our fear and uncertainty, in our exhaustion and frustration, Jesus continues to breath the Spirit into us, renewing the life that he gives us, and establishing his peace within us. In whatever way
we might identify with the first followers of Jesus locked in that room that night, we have the same invitation to “come and touch and see.” And while we may not be able to touch the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet, or put our hands in his side, we have the Spirit within us who opens our eyes to the signs of resurrected life around us. Through the Spirit, Jesus is here with us now, meeting us where we are, surrounding us with arms of love. All we need to do is accept the gift being offered us. And when we do, we will discover the joy of our salvation and the peace which surpasses all understanding.