There are two conclusions about life that we ultimately have to make. Did Jesus rise from the dead? Or did he not? If he didn’t, as Paul says, we are of all people most to be pitied. But if he did, then our hope is sure because it is founded on a promise that confronted death and won.
It’s easy to say something like that, to hold up a coin and show you both sides and say pick one and stick to it. The stakes in that case aren’t very high. But when something goes wrong, when a loved one dies, when a pandemic takes away everything from family reunions to a spontaneous drink with friends, the meaning of those words, “Jesus is risen, Jesus is Lord,” are a lot easier to ignore or even forget. Sometimes the world just gets too big and too messy for us to really believe that the battle has been won and we are the victors. Sometimes we just want to lock our doors and stay inside for fear of what may confront us without.
What is doubt but fear that Christ has not risen?
That fear is exactly what kept the disciples inside on the first day of the week after Jesus’ death. When Mary Magdalene brought news of the Lord’s resurrection, none of the disciples went out to find him, rejoicing in the power of God. Instead, they locked themselves in their rooms because they were terrified.
It was in the midst of that fear that Jesus appeared before them, saying, “Peace be with you.” He held out his hands and showed them his side. “Peace be with you.” And Jesus breathed on them, giving them his Spirit, the Spirit of peace, the Breath of God, before he disappears. But in his absence, the doubt once again creeps into the disciples’ minds, and when Thomas emphatically and infamously does not believe their report, they all go back into hiding, locking the door behind them. A week later, Jesus appears again, saying again, “Peace be with you.” And immediately he turns to Thomas and shows him his hands and his side; and Thomas, repenting of his doubt, recognizes that Jesus is who he is. My Lord and my God.
If we ask what or who overcame the disciples’ doubt, the answer, I think, is obvious. The risen Lord himself. But just because the answer is obvious does not make it any less remarkable. Jesus doesn’t confront his disciples’ lack of faith or the fact that they abandoned him, he just shows up. And in that act of showing up, the Son of God, by his very presence, scars and all, lifts his disciples out of their fear and commissions them to do his work. “Peace be with you,” he says again and again; and the peace he gives is himself.
As much as we might not think it, as much as we might protest against it, we are the very same as the disciples. Confronted with death and disease, with the threat of violence or with the pain of indifference, we can be tempted to hide in our homes, to put our lamps under a basket, because we cannot risk the hurt of Christ’s resurrection not being true. But when we doubt, Christ himself answers. He reaches out to us through his Word, through the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, through the church herself, saying, “Peace be with you.” Because Jesus is risen, because Jesus is Lord, the promise is true: where there is a cross, there will always be resurrection. AMEN.