“Invited Into Forgiveness and Grace!”

Second Sunday of Easter                                                                              27 April 2014

(Acts 2:14, 22-32  Psalm 16  1Peter 1:3-9   John 20:19-31)

Invited Into Forgiveness and Grace!”

It is Sunday evening, the day of resurrection, Jesus is out walking. When Jesus gets to the house, it looks all boarded up; he realizes the doors are all locked.  He knows the disciples must be inside.  He keeps pounding on the front door, and then goes around back to see if anything’s been left open.  Everything is locked up tightly!  Jesus knows they are in there!  They must be hiding upstairs in a room, keeping it locked in order to keep out unwanted persons. 

Jesus just wants to see them!  These were his best friends for three years; you know, the ones who betrayed him, the ones who pretended they didn’t know him; the ones who hid when he was arrested; the ones who ran away when he was dying; the ones who were frightened and ashamed to be associated with him.  These were his best friends?

But all he wants to do is see them.  He doesn’t want to get in their faces!  He doesn’t want to chide their cowardliness or their betrayal.  He just wants to let them know he is alive!  But everything’s all locked up,  so he does it his way:  he just appears in the room! There he is—right in front of them!

I guess there were a whole lot of things Jesus could have said.  Such as: “Hey, where did you guys disappear to on Thursday night in the garden?”  “You cowards, where did you all run off to when I needed you on Friday?”   “You traitors, I just came to tell you I’m done with you.”

Jesus could have said all that and a whole lot more.  But he did not.  He did not!  Jesus greeted this messed-up group of pathetic friends with the words:  “Peace be with you!”

Of course, the story isn’t over yet because Thomas was out and about, maybe preparing to get on with the work of rebuilding his shattered life.  Apparently Thomas was not locked up as were the other disciples.  So when Thomas is there the following week, when Jesus comes back, he only asks for what the other disciples had already experienced the week before.  And Jesus obliges.

There is not a time when I don’t read this Gospel text that I cannot help but think of that brilliant novel, Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.  [Maybe more of you have seen the story on stage or the film, than have read the book.]  Toward the very beginning, we meet Jean Valjean, a common laborer who had been sentenced to five years in jail for stealing one loaf of bread to feed his starving family.  His time in prison, stretched from five to nineteen years, has withered his soul.

Finally released from prison, hopeless because no one will give him work or sell him food because of his criminal record, he stumbles into the house of an old bishop, who treats him as an honored guest.  However, hardened by his years in jail, Valjean, confused by the bishop’s generosity, steals silver plates from the bishop’s cupboard and flees into the night.  The next day the police arrive at the bishop’s house with the captured criminal and the stolen silver.  Confronted by the man who returned his generosity with treachery, however, the bishop astonishes both the thief and the police:  “I’m glad to see you,” he says to Valjean, “But I’m confused; I also gave you the candlesticks, which are worth good money.   How could you forget to take them?  Here, they are yours!”

The criminal looks at the bishop with a look on his face, I suspect, was similar to the way the disciples looked at Jesus in that locked room when Jesus does not chide them, but simply invites them into forgiveness and grace. 

We then see Valjean’s lengthy and pathetic weeping as he begins to comprehend the whole world of forgiveness and grace into which he has been ushered.  In that moment Valjean dies to his past and is reborn, and much of the rest of the story is that of the new life which Valjean  lives as a result of his encounter with forgiveness and transforming grace.

I don’t know for sure, but I think the disciples in today’s Gospel text have sunk to a new low following the news from the women that Jesus was alive.  I think they really did not know what to do.  I think they were really scared of what Jesus would say and do to them!  I suspect they were nervous and anxious, terrified and exhausted, spiritually bankrupt, withered in their souls. 

I don’t know when was the last time any of you may have even begun to feel such tiredness of body, mind and spirit—but it’s no fun.

Being touched by God’s grace, everything now changes for Thomas and the disciples.

Jesus never begins by saying, “you are such losers.It’s over and I’m out of here.” 

Jesus is saying:  no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, or think you’ve done, whoever you have betrayed or let down, no matter how far you have wandered from me, I’m gonna come and find you!

The Good News of this Gospel story is what Jesus says when he gets into the locked room. He says, “Peace!  I am not accusing you!  I am inviting you!  Come closer!  Come near to me!  Get a better look!  Touch me if that will help you!”

We all can so easily become children of resentment and fear and anxiety, holding grudges and promoting stereotypes.  But we need not live that way. Maybe the lesson for this Second Sunday of Easter is not so much that if we had more faith we will recognize the Risen Christ when he walks into our lives; or if our faith was stronger we would not be like “doubting Thomas.”

Rather, the lesson may be more, that as long as we love each other, we are never alone.  “It’s me,” says Jesus.  “Peace be with you!  Don’t be afraid of me!  I bring forgiveness! Come closer!”

Might I ask you this morning:  Where is the transforming grace touching your life?  Where is Jesus inviting you to “come closer”?  Where is the invitation to a new area of healing in your life?

Easter is knowing that because we have been joined by Baptism to the same Jesus who showed up in that locked room, for us nothing need ever be the same again!   

Christ is Risen! [He is Risen, indeed!]  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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