Today's gospel reading teaches us about fear and doubt on one hand and faith and risk on the other.
We don't have to be taught about fear and doubt – not if we have lived a few years and kept our eyes open. Living is bound to cause us to have fear and doubt. Nearly a decade after 9/11, we still fear a new terrorist attack. We worry about a persistent flow of people into our country from the south. We tremble when we remember a congresswoman being shot down at a grocery store in Arizona and the ever-present possibility of global warming or natural disasters, like the earthquake and Tsunami that devastated Japan. We worry about the nagging economic recession that seems to threaten our standard of living. The constant possibility of bad things happening confronts us on almost every news program.
Furthermore, the culture of fear and doubt that pervades modern life is characterized by many radio and television political talk shows that trade on the currency of demonizing one side or other and whipping up fear about them in the hearts of listeners. Does anyone feel safe anymore in this kind of cultural environment?
Sometimes it makes us want to hunker down and hide in what seems like a safe place, doesn’t it? That’s what the disciples were doing in the situation related in today’s gospel. They cowered down in fear behind locked doors, where they had huddled for a week. Their bubble had burst. Enemies of their leader had killed him, and they must have wondered who among them would be next. Even before Jesus was crucified, Peter had been so afraid that he denied – three times – even knowing him. Because one of them, Judas, had betrayed Jesus, they might even have feared one another, wondering who might be the next to betray the others. They were afraid and kept the doors locked, even though the once-crucified and now-resurrected Jesus had been there once already, giving them an initial experience of the reality of the Resurrection.
We, too, know what the disciples were feeling, don’t we? We know about living behind locked doors in a culture of fear. We, too, are frightened disciples. We know about what fear leads to: insecurity, anger, anxiety, physical illness, escapism, emotional paralysis, compulsion, addiction, uncertainty, and doubt. All too often, out of a sense of perceived threat and in self-protection, fear leads us to self-protective and over-reactive behavior. If our fear comes from being harmed or threatened by others, it can lead to the sins of intolerance and prejudice, to reprisals and retribution, returning evil for evil.
Sometimes we despair as we wonder whether we can ever find viable options to such a culture of fear. But such is the Good Friday experience – and Christians know that the Crucifixion experience does not remain death on a cross and loss of hope. Luckily for us, God offers us the Easter experience – the reality created by Jesus, who, by overcoming death, chose the way of risk and faith instead of fear and doubt. That’s the reality he brought to Thomas, and that is the realization that set Thomas free to affirm the life of faith.
Jesus comes to us as he came to Thomas by placing us, too, right smack in the middle of the same Easter experience. Jesus, as God, comes to us as he did to Thomas and the other disciples – comes to us all even before we stop doubting, even before we overcome our fear, even before we know we can unlock the doors of false security. God brings the Easter reality to us in whatever we are doing, but especially when we are afraid and doubtful. As he helped the disciples, God helps us discover what we can be and what we can do – if.
If even when we are not completely free from doubt and uncertainty, we dare to step beyond the locked doors of fear.
If we can find the faith to move ahead, beyond fear and doubt, our Lord assures us that, in his name, we can do and become more than we ever imagined. Because, whenever we cower behind the locked doors of our lives, Jesus is present, as he was for Thomas, gently and patiently breaking through our insecurities and doubts and calling us out into a life of faith.
Wherever we are, Jesus is there to love and empower us. Jesus is there to help us discover that we, too, are an active part of the Resurrection; that we, too, are part of the continuing Easter story; that we, too, are the Body of Christ, risen to the new life of love and peace and grace that has the power to transform fear into faith.
Embracing Jesus as Thomas did, embracing Easter, leads us to see what is on the other side of our locked doors. Embracing Jesus as Thomas did offers us a different view – a different way from that of fear and doubt. It is a way of love and forgiveness and peace and tolerance and respect for others.
Of course, this is very difficult in the midst of a culture of fear. In our humanness, we are bound to resist God's way of love because it seems so impossible. We are bound to feel like Thomas in his initial reaction. It is hard to believe something we cannot see and that is foreign to us. It is hard to believe what the world discounts and resists. It is hard to believe the power of love and forgiveness and the power of God to overcome fear and bringing good out of evil.
And yet, Easter is what Jesus came to show Thomas – to teach him that God will not let the bad win out in the end. Easter is what Jesus comes to show us – that by faith we too will not let the bad win out at the last. Easter is this: that we can see the possibilities that come from joining Thomas in affirming Jesus as he did, saying, “My Lord and My God.” This assertion of belief will help us understand the power of what Jesus said to all the disciples when he appeared to them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He gave them, as he gives us, Godly peace so we can move beyond the locked doors of our lives – beyond what shuts us off from community with our brothers and sisters. The risen Christ makes himself known to us and gives us God’s peace, setting us free from our darkest fears. He gives us the keys to unlock the closed-up doors of our lives. And as we unlock them, with God’s peace and love, we are free to begin living with the power of Easter in our hearts.