If the disciples, were in a scary movie, if the disciples as we encounter them in the gospel of John chapter 20 were in a scary movie, I think they’d last to the end. Think about it. There comes a point in every scary movie when the main character is watching tv or reading a book and hears a suspicious noise outside. They ignore it but the noise happens again, so they get up and go towards the door. While the camera zooms in on their hand slowly turning the doorknob we, in the audience, are like, don’t do it, don’t do it! Don’t open the door! Or the main character hears a scratching noise from an attic they never knew existed and they’re like, how curious, let’s go see what’s going on. All the while, we the audience are just losing it, what are you thinking, keep the door closed! If they were in a scary movie, the disciples have the recipe for success. Just stay inside the locked room, keep the door closed, don’t open it. But they’re not in a scary movie or a thriller novel. They are a part of the greatest story ever told. A love story between God and creation. A story of God’s amazing grace. They are a part of the greatest story ever told and, still, they’re only human. They’re going to feel afraid. Sometimes, they’re going want to hide, to close themselves off, to just turtle and block out the world. And our scripture today offers hope in the midst of humanness. A hope for them and for us. A hope that, amidst whatever we are going through, amidst our inclinations to turtle, hide, and wall ourselves off, God breaks-through.
Now, to get the full breadth and depth of God’s hope, we’re going to back up to the beginning of chapter 20. We’re going to back up and begin with dawn and resurrection.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”” Mary comes expecting a closed tomb and encounters and empty tomb. But she doesn’t fully understand what she is seeing thinks someone has stolen Jesus’ body. And after Peter and the beloved disciple check out the tomb and go home, Mary is left, still there, not knowing what to do or what is going on.
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb, 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” Amidst Mary’s sorrow and confusion, Jesus appears to her. She thinks he’s the gardener and questions him until Jesus says her name. And that utterance, him saying her name breaks through her walls of grief, confusion, and frustration. She cries out, Rabbouni, teacher and Jesus instructs her to go to the other disciples and share the good news. “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.”
Ahh, it feels good. But we’re not done yet and the text pivots. We go from Mary’s joy and sharing the good news in verse 18 to verse 19 where the fearful disciples have closed and shut themselves off in a room.
“When it was evening on that same day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…” This is the same day. In the morning we have resurrection and an empty tomb and in the evening we have closed doors and fearful disciples. Disciples, at least some of whom, based on verse 18, had heard about the resurrection from Mary and still shut themselves off from the world. Thankfully, just as Jesus broke through Mary’s walls, Jesus breaks through the disciples closed doors. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” Ahh, it feels good. But here comes another pivot. “But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas wasn’t with the disciples in the room. At that moment at least, he wasn’t closed off in fear but he’s still not getting it. Thankfully, just as Jesus broke through Mary’s walls and the disciples closed doors, he breaks through to Thomas too. “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!””
This whole chapter is beautifully crafted. The gospel of John tells the story in a way that highlights both the different ways we can close ourselves off and Christ’s steadfastness in breaking through no matter what.
Starting with Mary, who goes expecting a closed off tomb and found and open tomb.
Mary, who wept, struggled, and questioned until Jesus appeared to her and stood with her.
To the disciples who had heard from Mary about the resurrection, but were still closed off in fear until Jesus appeared to them, spoke peace, and stood amongst them.
To Thomas who doesn’t just need to see Jesus to believe but needs to, “put [his] finger in the mark of the nails and [his] hand in [Jesus’] side.”
The chapter slowly builds in intensity from Mary, to the disciples, to Thomas, and to Thomas’ final understanding and exclamation, “my Lord and my God.” This chapter shows all the ways we can wall ourselves off and close ourselves off. This chapter also shows Christ’s steadfast love and God’s amazing grace. Because no matter what, God still breaks through. And that y’all, that was good news 2000 years ago and is good news today.
The walls we build and the rooms we find ourselves trapped in may look differently than they did 2000 years ago but they are still there. For some of us they are physical, not being able to get out of our house, struggling to unburrito in the morning. Some of those walls and rooms manifest as numbing, codependency, or pushing people away. They may have come up suddenly or grew slowly over time. Some of them may have even started as a form of protection, to fence off our heart and mind from hurt and pain. But the insidious thing about walls and closed off rooms, the thing that makes them so dangerous, is that they block healthy as well as unhealthy things. The healthy love from family and friends and the care you want to show others, all of it gets blocked too. Even if it started with good intentions and a way to protect ourselves, walls and closed off rooms drain us, eat away at us, and impede the love we were made to give and receive. Which is why we need the good news of this chapter. Walls and closed off rooms are real, and the good news is that no wall, no room, no material, no locked door is an obstacle to God.
Jesus stood with Mary. He stood amongst the disciples. He offered his wounds to Thomas. And Jesus stands with us too. No matter what you are going through, God’s love breaks through. No matter how closed off you are, God’s amazing grace breaks through. You are loved. You are not alone. You will be found. The good news, is that God breaks through our closed doors and stand with us, no matter what.