The Gospel for this week takes place the evening of the Resurrection. Only Mary Magdalene has encountered Jesus Risen from the dead. It is difficult for the others to believe without encountering him themselves.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear
We do not hear whether the disciples discuss Mary Magdalene's story while they are hiding. Their fear is greater than their curiosity. There has been one death, and they are afraid that the killing has only just begun.
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.
How does Jesus simply appear there? No one asks! Now their joy is greater than their curiosity! The marks of death are still on him, but he stands there, so obviously alive. Their fear has turned to joy.
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. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
To us, it sounds strange to hear that Jesus breathes on them. Even before the pandemic, we did not breathe on each other. It would be rude. What can this mean?
First, we can say that if Jesus breathes, he is truly alive; there can be no doubt. What did it feel like once again to fill his lungs with fresh air when he first stepped out of the tomb?
Jesus breathes; he has life. But this life is different from the life he had before. It is different from the life you and I have now. Locked doors are not a barrier. Jesus has reached a higher level of life. Risen life—life that does not end in death—has a different kind of breath. His breath is the life of God.
When he breathes on them, Jesus says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." He breathes his life, his Holy Spirit into his disciples.
Soon they will not see Jesus because he will return to God the Father. But now they have encountered him, and the encounter is within them. Jesus has given them the Holy Spirit; they share his life, they can share in his work. They will go out and forgive sins, just like Jesus does, just like God does. Jesus breathes on them giving them the help they need to do the work of the Kingdom.
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.”
Poor Thomas. For a whole week, nothing new happens. What is that week like for Thomas? He must feel so left out, so isolated. The other disciples filled with the Holy Spirit and the encounter with Jesus do not infect Thomas with their joy. He has not encountered Jesus Risen and he doubts whether it is true. Thomas does not say that he will never believe, but he is not going to believe just because they tell him. He wants to encounter Jesus himself.
Because of his doubt, people like to call him "Doubting Thomas." This is hardly fair, though, is it? None of the other disciples believed in Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus; they were too afraid.
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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
In Thomas' doubt and isolation, Jesus encounters him with his peace. Jesus knows that Thomas needs to encounter him personally in order to know with his whole body and soul that Jesus is truly Risen. (Same as the other disciples!) Jesus knows that Thomas needs something real—something to see, something to touch—in order to believe. And Jesus has mercy on him; he gives himself to Thomas. Presented with the body of Christ, Thomas—let's be fair and call him, "Faith-filled Thomas"—makes a great declaration of faith: My Lord and my God!
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus, so full of mercy—that free gift of himself—remembers us who have not seen him. This Sunday, a week into his Resurrection, Jesus remembers us who have come to believe. In that room, in that moment of Thomas' exploding faith, Jesus encounters every one of us, across time and space, and blesses us.
My Lord and my God!
Jesus knows that Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and the other disciples need a personal encounter in order for doubt and fear to transform into faith. He knows we need a personal encounter, too. How do we encounter our Lord and our God?
We are given the Word of God. We read it. We listen to it. We think about it. Do we encounter Jesus?
We are given each other. We speak his Word. Peace be with you. And with your Spirit. Do we encounter Jesus?
We are given the Body of Christ. We touch it. We taste it. We become it. Do we encounter Jesus?
We have encountered him, and the encounter is within us.