Finding Jesus in Isolation

Doubting Thomas is one of my absolute favorites. Maybe it’s that I like an underdog, but I always feel like Thomas is treated unfairly. After all, when Jesus meets the other eleven disciples, he displays his hands and side without prompting. All Thomas wanted was what the others got! I like that he demands to encounter Jesus for himself. He reminds me of the Greeks earlier in John’s Gospel, who approached Andrew and Simon saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” We wish to see Jesus.

One of the best parts of this story is that, clearly, Jesus wants to be seen. He comes to meet the disciples where they are, not once, but twice. He shows them what they need to believe. Jesus has not stopped showing up. And, if this story is to be believed, we don’t even have to leave the house to find him!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This reading, of the disciples’ and then Thomas’, encounters with the risen Christ is always the Gospel story for the second Sunday of Easter. This year, I decided to browse through my old sermons on the topic, to see what I had to say for the past five years I’ve preached on it.

In almost every sermon, I talk about how the disciples were locked away in a room together. This is Easter day, when our story starts. Mary Magdalene has come and told them about her encounter with the risen Jesus, and they remain locked away. And a week later, when Jesus comes back to see Thomas, they’re still locked away! Didn’t the news of the resurrection mean anything to them? Why did they continue in their old patterns and old fears?

Well, needless to say, this year I have just a little bit more sympathy with these disciples locked in a room for days on end. As social distancing continues to extend into the future, and schools are closed for physical classes through the end of the year, staying in a locked room for just ten days like the disciples did doesn’t seem so drastic.

Of course, our reasons for staying in are very different than theirs. It says that the disciples were locked away for “fear of the Jews.” Now, all the disciples were themselves Jews, so they were really locked away for fear of the authorities who had put Jesus to death, not all Jewish people everywhere. But fear. Fear was what kept them inside, apart from Thomas.

We are locked away, separated from each other, not out of fear, but out of love. As an act of faith. To help slow the spread of COVID-19, to give our medical professionals a better shot in handling the surge of cases. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to stay inside, because our jobs allow it, because we have the resources of others who put them selves at risk to deliver and shop and tend, we do so not out of fear, but out of compassion and love.

Still, though, we can sympathize with the disciples. Staying put and not wandering out. Wondering what is going on in the city. Wondering when it will be okay to venture forth safely. Perhaps Thomas wasn’t there that first week because he was the one designated to make the shopping trip, to bring back essential supplies for the rest of them.

But here’s the thing: Jesus shows up. Suddenly, miraculously among them, locked door notwithstanding. Twice, in fact! Jesus shows up where the disciples are. You might have thought that after hearing the news of the resurrection, the disciples would race out and find Jesus. But it doesn’t matter that they didn’t. Because when they didn’t, Jesus came to where they were.

Jesus comes to meet us where we are. Whether we gather in a sanctuary, or across the internet in our own homes, Jesus is present with us. Whether we are staying home, working at a hospital or grocery store, or from a delivery truck, Jesus is present with us. There is nowhere we can go that Jesus won’t find a way in. Jesus is present in our interactions with one another, whether those we’re physically with or those we only see on Facetime. Jesus is present in the actions we take to keep one another safe and well. Jesus shows up no matter where we are, because Jesus knows we need the gifts he brings.

The gift of peace. The gift of his Holy Spirit. Gifts that provide us with love and hope, gifts that sustain us through difficult times. And Jesus brings the gift of sharing his wounded hands and side. It never actually says if Thomas takes him up on his offer to touch them or not, but Jesus displays them to Thomas, just as he did to the other eleven disciples.

Jesus is still wounded. Even resurrected, Jesus bears the marks of his suffering and death. Resurrection doesn’t remove all scars. Celebrating the season of Easter doesn’t mean that we can’t still be wounded and hurting. It’s okay to call ourselves resurrection people—to trust and hope and live in God’s new and abundant life—and to still bear the weight of grief and loss and sadness. Even Jesus’ resurrected body, the only resurrected body we get a description of, bears the marks of pain and suffering.

Christians are sometimes described as being an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. That’s true now more than ever. We are an Easter people because we believe that God’s actions in raising Christ ultimately defeated death and evil forever. That we live in this new reality where love is stronger than hatred and life is stronger than death. But we also live in the reality that suffering and death and loss remains a part of our lives.

Both those things can be true, just as the resurrected Christ appeared with his wounds still visible. Jesus comes to us where we are—wherever we are—wounded, scarred, but bringing peace. On this Easter day, let us join Thomas in his demand that Jesus show up for him. We need Christ to show up in our lives, and the good news is that he always does. No matter the locked doors, no matter the separation, no matter the grief or fear or pain. Jesus shows up, and offers us his peace. Thanks be to God. Amen.

One thought on “Finding Jesus in Isolation

  1. The thought that is the most meaningful to me from this sermon is that Jesus comes to us where we are, no matter the circumstances. I like that Thomas demanded to see Jesus; sometimes I feel the need to do that. Even though I know in my head that he is with me, sometimes I don’t feel it in my heart and I plead with him to make his presence known. And it usually works! While I agree that we are isolating ourselves now out of love, I have to admit that for me it is out of fear as well. I just don’t want to get the virus! And I pray daily for your and Tim’s safety and good health, and of course for the baby’s as well.


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