Every year, on the Sunday after Easter, Episcopalians hear the same Gospel lesson. The story is affectionately referred to as the story of “Doubting Thomas,” and while he plays a prominent role in the story, Thomas is not the focus of my attention today. Instead, for whatever reason, I’ve found myself chewing on the 10 other disciples on that first night.
John tells us that it was evening. It was getting dark outside and the day was over, but nobody was getting ready for bed. Instead, the disciples had made their way back to the upper room and locked the doors “for fear of the Jews.” When we read this story in isolation, it is easy to forget that Jesus has already made a post-resurrection appearance in John’s Gospel. Earlier that morning, very early indeed, Mary Magdalene had made her way to the tomb and found it open. After telling Peter and another disciple about it, she made her way back to the garden where the profound weight of the last 3 days came sweeping in upon her. She sat down outside the empty tomb and began to weep, when Jesus came and called her by name. Off she went again, running to find the disciples to tell them, “I have seen the Lord!”
It is about 12 hours later when the scene in the upper room opens up, and the disciples are locked up tight. Their fear doesn’t stem from what happened on Thursday night and Friday anymore. Instead, they are afraid because of what happened this morning. Jesus is alive and on the loose, and there are a lot of people who are going to be awfully ticked off about the empty tomb. Those who put Jesus to death will no doubt assume that someone has stolen his body, and the first suspects will be his closest companions. The disciples are locked in the upper room because they know that the case of Jesus’ missing body means that their death warrants have already been signed, and they are terrified.
Nine of the ten disciples who were in the upper room that night will eventually die for their faith. All of them will be persecuted in one way or another. Once they experience the risen Jesus, they’ll have the strength to stand up for his Kingdom, but as the story from John 20 opens, they aren’t there yet. They’re yet to be transformed by the power of the resurrection. I wonder, as I sit in the comfort of my office, in a country where there is a 0% chance of my being persecuted for my faith, let alone killed because of it, have I had that transforming experience?
A week later, the disciples are back in the upper room and the door is still locked. It takes time, even once we’ve seen the risen Christ face-to-face, to step out in faith. I wonder, if I’ve had my transforming experience, what is still holding me back? What is holding you back? What are you afraid of? What makes you keep the door locked?