Without Easter we are history -- Carl E. Olson
A week after the resurrection events another appearance of Jesus occurs: The appearance to Thomas. This timing of the Gospel of John has obviously led to the habit of appointing that text to our lectionary every second Sunday of Easter.
I tell a story of a congregation in Washington Sate now and again. They were rich with woodworkers once and did much of their own work. One of those projects was the altar complete with the carving work on the face of it. The piece is absolutely beautiful. But, this is the here and now where things are kind of imperfect. The artist was an expert carver. He was not a student of antiquities or the Roman numeral system. As a consequence, the second table of the law is numbered as follows: IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, XI, X. Don’t see the mistake? Look again . . Now you saw it! Yes, there is a question that this altar asks: What exactly is the 11th commandment? Being one who loved the Gospel of John, Pr. Phil Falk of blessed memory began to answer that question by saying: “Thou shalt be community.” (Jn 15:17)
In the continuity of the Gospel of John, Jesus’ greeting to the disciples at his first appearances is really a matter of continuity. His peace he leaves with them, not the worlds peace, but his peace. (14:27) The denial of Peter, and the unbelief of Thomas are the result of the false peace of and with the world. Does the world actually have peace to give and is what it can give actually peace? Let us remember that for 30 years the world kept “peace” by a system of mutually assured destruction. We now call it: “The Cold War.” Or is that: “the cold peace?” Maybe it is the same thing.
In a cold peace the Peters of the world do what it takes to stay alive, knowing their lack of faith and loyalty and oddly scared by the most common occurrences, even the noise of a rooster, that jolt their consciences back to their guilty states. In a cold peace the Thomas of the world live in hopeless disappointment with deep cynical scars on their sense of trust, having been betrayed by the world’s disposal of their hopes. In a cold peace the Mary Magdalens of the world cry by graves morning not just death but total deprivation of all that they love — even the dead tokens of the cherished memory seems to have been taken from them leaving them to wonder if everything that ever mattered to them actually ever happened. (20:13)
Peter can live on but will always be guilty to the core by his own reckoning but putting on a brave combative front to cover it up and make sure you do not remind him. Thomas will live on, but never hope, commit, or trust again, wondering if anything really matters. Mary will live on but always wonder if anything is really real or if this is all but a crazy dream or, to use the bard’s words, a tale told by an idiot.
As Jesus appears post resurrection these are the people and the realities that he addresses person to person. Others witness Jesus, but these three get their names linked to a particular resurrection encounter. Those encounters have a certain commonality: He is familiar but he is strange somehow. He is not recognized. He is not expected. He is ambiguous but the situation eventually reveals it is he. (20:15, 20:26ff, 21:4ff) Yet in all these he is eventually recognizable precisely by the very scars that the world carved hoping to gain and maintain its cold version of peace. The fact that he lives exposes that that peace is a lie. His words tend to address the malaise of their souls so to take them out of the world’s peace and into the peace that he is bidding them.
It is an otherworldly peace that they are to live in and under, this group that shall be community. It seems to be the peace of the disciple that Jesus loved. The one who knew the servants at the high priests home and got Peter into the courtyard, yet himself in equal danger did not deny Jesus. He is also the one who saw and believed at the sight of the folded grave clothes. He is one who recognizes the voice and ways of Jesus in the work of the Spirit in the midst of the community. He is the one who follows and will follow until eternity should Jesus will it. (20:9, 21:7, 21:20) He was handed over to Mother Mary at the foot of the cross and he inherited her as his own mother in that moment as well. He somehow believes. Are you the one?