Sermon Seeds: Peace Be With You

Sunday, April 7, 2024
Second Sunday of Easter | Year B
(Liturgical Color: White)

Lectionary Citations
Acts 4:32-35 • Psalm 133 • 1 John 1:1-2:2 • John 20:19-31

Focus Scripture: John 20:19-31
Focus Theme: Peace Be With You
Series: Waiting for the Feast (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

They continued to go back to the house. It was the place where they gathered for what seemed to be their final meal with Jesus. After his arrest, they dispersed and then regrouped there. They hid and waited there. They heard the improbable news that Jesus lived from Mary Magdalene while together in that room. Most of them remained there while Peter and the beloved disciple went to the tomb to discover that Jesus was not there. In that room, Jesus appears to them, breaking through the lock barricading them in, safe, and away from the threatening world beyond the door. They’ll come back to that room again and again as their home base, and the Holy One meets them there.

Still, the disciples would leave their base as evidenced by the absence of Thomas when Jesus initially appears to the group on the day of the resurrection. At that appearance, Jesus offers the physical proof of his identity and what he endured before death. The other disciples share the good news with Thomas when he arrives later, but he is not convinced. He demands the same experience as his peers before he believes the report.

In the larger context of John 20, the Thomas pericope is the final account in a series of encounters between disciples and the risen Jesus. First, we find the story of Mary Magdalene surrounding the account of the Beloved Disciple and Peter at the empty tomb. This is a use of the literary device of interchange which calls the reader to look for points of comparison and contrast between these two stories. Mary’s account begins with her seeing the stone taken away from the tomb, and running to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple that the body of Jesus has been stolen. The focus then changes to Peter and the Beloved Disciple running to find the tomb empty. Then the focus shifts back to Mary and her encounter with Jesus. After this, we find Jesus appearing to his disciples behind locked doors (John 20:1923). Finally, then after we learn that Thomas was not present on this occasion, Thomas’ encounter with Jesus is recounted.
Brian D. Johnson

In the gospel narratives, the disciples serve as supportive characters. Jesus is the lead, and the action revolves around his actions, teaching, and ministry. Yet, the gospel writers highlight individual disciples when their actions, words, and attitudes move the story forward in significant ways. In the Johnanne account, the beloved disciple gets special attention, but they are not the only one. Mary Magdalene has an important role…even beyond the empty tomb. Peter and Phillip are also featured. Then, there is Thomas, who has a somewhat misguided and condescending characterization as the doubting one as if having doubts and desiring assurance is an unreasonable position.

What a splendid fellow Saint Thomas is, as we glimpse him in the pages of the fourth gospel! Pessimistic, yet loyal. Quite early in the story, when Jesus is set on going to Jerusalem, it is Thomas who says to the others, “Let US also go, that we may die with him.” He is willing to die for what he thinks is a lost cause—but he is not willing to pretend he does not think it lost. Exactly that same refusal to pretend leads to his reactions after the crucifixion, when the other disciples tell him they have seen the risen Lord. “Except I see the print of the nails and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas will not be led away by rumor or unsubstantiated assertion, however much he would like to believe either. He is, or should be, a model for scholars.
Christopher Bryan

The ending of this passage provides insight into the import of this encounter and Thomas’ role as the featured disciple. John wants to facilitate belief. In this portrayal, Thomas represents all who will hear the report of Jesus’ miraculous and incredulous appearance. Unlike most believers who claim the resurrected Christ as Sovereign Redeemer, Thomas gets to ask for the evidence we cannot. This narrative is his testimony. His companions told him they had seen the Risen Jesus, and he understandably struggled to believe the veracity of that claim. Thomas speaks to believers John addresses at the end of the first century and to believers today: he was skeptical and needed convincing. He did not rush to believe and therefore, we can trust his eyewitness testimony. Jesus, who died and was buried, lived and walked among them.

The traditional picture of Thomas as the doubter is a caricature of the role he plays in this scene. Thomas is in the same position as the other disciples before their encounter with the risen one. He is no more doubtful than are they. Just as we find them cowering behind locked doors after Magdalene’s witness, so Thomas refuses to believe their witness. His misunderstanding is characteristic of the community which has known the pre-Easter Jesus. Thomas’s response displays a typically Johannine interweaving of faith and misunderstanding. On the one hand, his determination to see and touch the Lord has positive value. Thomas’s stress on the incarnate presence of the Lord, and his conviction that the wounds are intrinsic to that reality, are signs of awareness and insight. This makes his desire to see and touch, in Johannine terms, comprehensible. On the other hand, as well as faith and insight, Thomas’s request displays misunderstanding. He does not believe the witness of the other disciples and, in desiring to touch the Lord’s wounds, he misunderstands the nature of Jesus’ presence. Like Magdalene, he assumes it is a tangible reality. In the end, it no longer matters whether or not Thomas touches the Lord (vv. 27-28). He comes to perceive that the Lord’s ongoing presence with his disciples is to be on a different level. Thus understanding and misunderstanding combine in Thomas’s desire to see and touch the Lord. Like Magdalene, he too is determined to experience the risen one for himself.
Dorothy A. Lee

Jesus demonstrates patience and accommodates the request for proof. He does not rebuke Thomas for the ask; rather, he complies with specificity. Even his parting words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” do not serve to chastise Thomas. They commend those who only rely upon the testimony of the early disciples at a time when virtually all of them had been martyred or died of natural causes. John writes to an audience of believers, after all, to encourage them to remain faithful to the truth they have been taught. He crafts the account to assuage their doubts and bolster their faith in the One who was and is Essense of God and Born of Human. Like disciples today, they have received the good news from eyewitness accounts. They must accept the testimony of others.

How we understand Jesus’ response to Thomas’ confession determines a great deal how we understand the nature of this text. Jesus first asks, “Because you have seen me you have believed?” He then makes the beatific pronouncement “Blessed are those not seeing and believing.” The contrast Jesus draws between Thomas and those blessed is between seeing and not seeing. Thomas has come to believe, just as those whom Jesus calls blessed will believe. The question that must be determined is how could Thomas have been expected to come to faith? As I have suggested, Thomas’ belief could have come about through belief in the statements of the other disciples. Throughout the Gospel of John testimony is presented as a valid means for coming to belief. Consider John 4 as an example. The Samaritans of Sychar are said to have come to belief on the basis of the testimony of the woman at the well (John 4:39). To make the point clearer, later (John 4:42) they are said to no longer believe because of her testimony, but because they heard for themselves—first hand experience. But belief had been present before first-hand experience with Jesus was available. Testimony is presented in the Gospel of John as an adequate means to belief….We have seen testimony demonstrated throughout the final section of this Gospel with Mary Magdalene telling what she has seen twice, and then the disciples telling Thomas what they have seen.
Brian D. Johnson

In what seems to be a throwaway line, the writer notes that Thomas was called the Twin. It does not suggest that he was a twin, one half of a multiple birth, but rather, it gives this moniker as a title or characterization. Like Simon who is renamed Peter and known as the Rock. Recent biblical scholarship suggests that Magdalene was also a title so that this particular woman named Mary would be called The Tower. So, what makes Thomas the Twin? Some scholars, like Brian Johnson suggest that Thomas and the Beloved Disciples were twinning in the Johannine narrative. Dorothy Lee makes the case that Mary Magdalene was the more likely companion particularly as the immediate post-resurrection stories unfold. Both arguments have merits, and perhaps, more than one can be true.

But, I wonder if Thomas is our twin. If our story of hearing these accounts with some skepticism coupled with hope binds us together like a joint umbilical cord of faith being born. Thomas did not flatly refuse to believe; he rejects a faith that relies strictly upon the experience of others. His faith waits for an encounter with the Living God. Once he has it, his claim is swift and resolute, “My Lord and my God!” Hope prevailed. Jesus lives. The world had changed. Life had changed.

John notes that everything Jesus did and said was not recorded in this account, but in this passage there was one statement that was repeated. The first words that Jesus utters as he appeared to the disciples in this passage was a greeting, a blessing, and a gift. A form of prayer, it was asked and answered by the One who has it to give….the One who embodied the gift. It serves as a declaration of the Holy One’s continued presence in the world and a commission for those empowered by the Spirit to carry the good news forward.

Peace be with you.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“When Great Trees Fall”

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.”
― Maya Angelou

For Further Reflection
“Peace is more than the absence of war. Peace is accord. Harmony.” ― Laini Taylor
“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.” ― Fred Rogers
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” ― Jimi Hendrix

Works Cited
Bryan, Christopher. “Believing Is Not Necessarily Seeing.” Sewanee Theological Review 41, no. 2 (Easter 1998): 99–102.
Johnson, Brian D. “Thomas and Marturia: John 20:24-31.” Proceedings 25 (2005): 169–78.
Lee, Dorothy A. “Partnership in Easter Faith: The Role of Mary Magdalene and Thomas in John 20.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 17, no. 58 (October 1995): 37–49.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Invite the congregation to share testimony of God’s presence in their lives. (This could also be done in lieu of a traditional sermon.)

Worship Ways Liturgical Resources

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.