April 27, 2014
John 20: 19-31
Some American Indian tribes employ a rite of passage to initiate their members into adulthood. The details of the rite are secret and carefully guarded. On the longest night of the year, a young boy of 12 or 13 years is taken to a tree in the forest. There, alone, and without provisions or weapons, he is told to stand still until the dawn. The young boy must face the threat of wild animals, the darkness of the forest, and the terrible fear of the unknown. You can imagine how happy he must be when at last he sees the rays of the dawn. But then, he sees something else that makes him even happier, because at dawn, out from one of the trees nearby, steps his father. Although the boy thought he had been alone, his father was watching and guarding him all through the night.
The experience of the disciples in today’s Gospel can be compared to that of this young boy. Their story, like his, took place at night. They too were alone and afraid. They were alone because Jesus, to whom they had pledged their lives, had been brutally crucified. All their dreams of serving in his company had been brought to an abrupt end. They were afraid because the power of Rome that so efficiently brought Jesus to his death could at any time be turned against them. So they gathered behind locked doors and trembled in fear. Then, suddenly, Jesus steps into the locked room and offers them peace. Everything changes in that greeting. The apostles now see that Jesus is alive. They realize, as did the young Indian boy, that although they thought they had been alone, Jesus had been watching them and guarding them. Now they could see and hear him. Now Thomas was invited to touch him. Jesus’ presence was obvious.
But the most important lines in today’s Gospel are the lines that Jesus says to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We are the ones that Jesus is blessing in those lines, because we have not seen his risen body and yet we have faith. You see, the reason the disciples saw the risen Christ was so that we do not need to see him. The reason that Thomas touched the risen Christ is so that we do not need to touch him. If we believe in the witness of the apostles, we can believe that Christ is near even when his presence is not obvious.
When we have to face a crisis in our life, when we lose someone that we love, are hurt by someone that we trusted, have to face the consequences of a terrible mistake, we want to see Jesus. We want the assurance that he is with us. But Easter tells us that even when Christ is not visible to us, we are visible to him. When we have to face decisions about our future—what school should we attend, who should we love, what career should we follow—we want to touch Christ. We want the confidence of knowing that he is with us to help us make the important decisions in our life. When we face sickness, when we begin to realize that our life is coming to an end, we want to hear Christ say to us, “Peace be with you,” so we will know that he will be there to greet us when our life is through.
The apostles were allowed to hear those words so that we do not need to hear them. If we cling to their witness, then we will know that Christ is truly risen. And with that faith we will not need to be afraid. Although at times it may seem like we are standing alone, Easter faith will tell us that Christ is watching and guarding us all through the long dark night.