Scripture for the second Sunday of Easter:
Acts 2.14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; John 20.19-31
“Now the doors of the house where the disciples—all of whom were Jews!—had met were locked…for fear of…the Jews. The Jews were hiding, for fear of the Jews. Let us all ponder that statement for a moment.”
It’s a jarringly simple statement that reminds us of the absurdity of the way in which the Passion-Resurrection plays out. Jews hiding in fear of Jews.
The Gospel of John uses the term ‘the Jews’ in less-than-flattering ways and has been seen to be the source of much antisemitism over the centuries. In reality, the disciples were Jews, too (as was Jesus, of course). The conflict between the followers of Jesus and the Jewish leaders was between people who were not only racially and ethnically the same, but who were trying to accomplish the same thing (or so they thought).
The only difference is that on the one hand were people who had acquired – and wanted to keep – power; on the other hand were the followers of a prophetic movement that wanted to – that needed to – understand the messages of their faith in terms of how it required a change in attitude towards power.
The conflict turned ugly; Jesus was crucified; the disciples were huddled in isolation. God had the last word, of course, but the disciples were still huddled in fear. In fact, they were still huddled in the upper room a week after ten of them had encountered the risen Jesus – so they had not gone very far.
Perhaps the reasons for Thomas’ unbelief is that they were not very convincing witnesses. It took repeated, intermittent encounters with the risen Christ for them to come to terms with just what the resurrection of Jesus meant to them.
In many churches nowadays it is possible to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter without having to deal with the gory details in between. But the in-between is important.
Similarly, it would be tempting to wander through the season of Easter without really paying attention to the details until we arrive at Pentecost and rejoice in the empowerment of the ones sent out to proclaim the word. That would be a pity. Maybe one of the ways in which we can apply our isolation to our own spiritual development is to take some time to recall that the first disciples had to take a journey with intermittent exposure to the risen Jesus before they were ready to go on with their calling.
Peter, for example, was in no way ready to proclaim his provocative, confident and courageous statement of faith until some serious reorientation had taken place. And, by the way, he reminds the people he addresses that he is one of them – a Jew, but at that point, no longer a Jew in fear of other Jews.
We, too, might spend our time in the season of Easter, especially while subjected to our own form of isolation, to learn, to grow, to develop in faith, and to find ways to be in community together that reinforce what we have in common. We might remember that even though we cannot see one another very often – at least, not in church – we are companions in isolation, and can always find ways for the companionship to be compassionate and creative.
And we might ask ourselves how we have participated in the kind of culture of fear that is symbolised by Jews hiding from other Jews – scraping for differences when we have much more in common.
In the end, all we can do is to settle into belief, encouraged by the witness of Thomas, and then get on with patiently looking for inspiration that we can put into action.