Alive, but...


John 20:19-29

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"

After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."



"The inner sanctum" - "the inner circle" - "the Jesus crew" - well whatever they were last week, this week it felt more like the inside of a dried up prune. Every last little bit of hope had been sqeezed out, and even liberal doses of antidepressants had failed to break the morose atmosphere pervading everything and everyone. One of their number had even been driven to suicide, although there had been rumours that Jude had been unstable for quite some time. No-one, no-one at all had been prepared for the catastrophe of the last few days, even less prepared for the speed at which it happened. Grief counsellors were on the way, but it would be a while before they would find them and in the mean time the ?inner sanctum? just closed ranks and mourned their loss together.

They knew Jesus had enemies, particular in the ruling elite, but they knew he could handle them. How many times had they seen Jesus attacked by them and he either just walked away or turned the whole situation back on his accusers? He was the hero and they were the rag tag bunch of unknowns that he was going to lead to glory. Now, with the High Court finding Jesus guilty of treason and insurrection and then ordering an immediate execution, all their dreams of glory were shattered. Not just shattered, but ground up into fine dust and scattered to the wind.

Most of them were together now. They had located a small unused factory where they could hide from the hierarchy. With Jesus' conviction and subsequent execution had come only slightly veiled threats from the authorities that they intended to charge his supporters with complicity in those same treason and insurrection charges. The public interest in this situation was huge and that would make the High Court tread very carefully, but Jesus' supporters had no doubts in which direction they would be treading and were taking this opportunity to get out of public view while they came to grips with the situation. There were even suspicions that the grief counsellors were only coming to collect evidence against them.

The doors and windows were securely locked - they didn't want to be surprised by anyone, particularly the authorities or the media - and a close watch was kept through the window near the main door. Thomas was out of the building at the moment attending to jobs that couldn't be ignored and picking up pizzas for evening meal. In it's own strange way, the fact that there was no argument over the pizza toppings showed just how depressed this little group was. Simon the Zealot was the one keeping watch at the window, waiting for Thomas and warning the others of suspicious activities. Being a political activist with the Zealots had generated many jibes from the other supporters, particularly about being paranoid, but they were all more than happy that he was keeping watch at the moment.

Peter, James and John were sitting around a table discussing recent events and plans. The impetuous Peter and the Sons of Thunder had hatched some pretty wild plans in the past, but even they were subdued in the current climate. The rest were just sitting or lying around. The disbelief and despair choking off any life they had. It was a very sombre mood everywhere.

Quietly a voice echoed through the building, "Peace". No-one stirred, and then it came again "Peace to everyone here." Flickers of recognition flashed across people's eyes. "No, it couldn't be.", they all thought each to themself. Then the stirrings around the building became obvious and they realised that whatever it was, they had all heard it. Suddenly Simon yelled out, "It?s a trick! Get down where you can't be seen from the windows!? Chaos erupted with people, tables and chairs all moving in unchoreographed confusion, but only for the briefest of moments until they realised that the voice had a body, and that body was standing right there in the middle of the room.

Everyone was thinking exactly the same thing, but only Peter was game enough to actually say it.

"But you're dead!"

"Not any more, I'm not." Jesus replied.

"But, but, but?", and even Peter was stuck for words.

Gradually the stunned silence was replaced with an excited buzz. Yes, Jesus really did die, but just like Lazarus and the others, he had come back to life. Those really were the wounds from his execution in his hands. No he couldn't stay with them. Yes he did have to go through all of that. Where was he for the last three days? - paying the penalty for everyone's sin. Where was he going now? The questions rattled off like machine gun fire and the answers came back just as quickly. Just when they were starting to feel comfortable with the situation, Jesus held up his hand and motioned for them to all be quiet.

"As I said before," Jesus spoke to the whole group, "peace to every one of you. As my Father has sent me, I am now sending you."

Breathing on them all, he continued, "Receive the Holy Spirit. . If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

While they were trying to figure out exactly what he meant by these comments, Jesus just disappeared as quickly as he had first appeared in their midst. Well the despair and depression from an hour earlier was now replaced by excitement and a certain amount of confusion. They had no doubt at all that it really was Jesus, particularly when those who had seen him executed saw again the wounds from that execution, but what did he mean when he said he was sending them, and where was he sending them to? Who, or what, was this "Holy Spirit"? Peter reckoned he knew who the Holy Spirit was, but Peter always had an opinion on things like that. The discussion was lively. So lively that they nearly missed Thomas knocking at the door.

If the other supporters were confused, then Thomas was doubly confused when he got inside the factory. Not only did they complain that all the pizzas were Hawaiian, (that made ordering them easier, so Thomas thought, and nobody seemed to care about that an hour ago) but they kept prattling on about Jesus having been there with them.

"Come on," Thomas said, "we all know that he died. It was only a few days ago! You haven't lost your memory already, have you?"

Thomas opened up as many windows as he dared thinking this change in attitude might be something in the air they were breathing. He stayed close to a window with a breeze just in case it was.

"Hey look, if you're trying to get back at me for ordering the pizzas all the same, I'm sorry. Next time I'll order half and half."

Thomas cast his eyes around the room looking for hidden speakers or trapdoors, or something that the authorities may have used to trick the rest of them.

"No Thomas, we're not trying to get even with you, although you could have used a bit more imagination when you ordered the pizzas.", Bart interrupted.

"Imagination!! You lot have overworked your imagination."

"Don't get upset, Thomas", Matthew added.

"I'm not upset,." Thomas continued, "it's just time for a reality check here - a major reality check. Matthew, you're a tax man - you're used to dealing with numbers and facts."

"WAS a tax man."

"Well WAS a tax man then, but you know facts don't change. One and one will always make two. Two and two will always make four. Jesus is dead, and dead men just don't walk through the door! ? Hey that rhymes! One and one makes..."

They all groaned together at that last comment, and then tried to convince him, all at the same time, that Jesus really did come and visit them. Thomas just got more and more confused and even started wondering if the pizzas had been spiked and were effecting their judgement. Finally Thomas stood up and shouted,

"I know what you are all telling me, but excuse me if I find it just a little bit hard to believe. I don't know what it was that you did hear and see, but Jesus has been dead for days  so it can't be him. I know you said that Jesus was able to raise people from the dead, but have you seen any one else do that? Have you James? Peter? Thaddeus? No! No-one has! The "dead-raiser" himself is dead. Face the facts!"

"No Thomas, if you were actually here you would have understood too.", Matthew responded.

"Maybe, just maybe, if I see him myself, AND I see the wounds in his hands, AND his back, AND touch them to make sure they aren't illusions, just maybe I might believe you." With that Thomas turned and went outside for some fresh air.

A week passed but not much changed. They were still using the old factory as a meeting area and they were still quite as worried about security. Thomas still didn't believe that it was Jesus the others saw and they were just as adamant it was. The mood fluctuated between excited and depressed depending on what the latest news happened to be, but they all stayed together. They hadn't spent three years of their lives together working as a team just to run away from each other when trouble came. Their best chance of surviving was to stay together, but in any case nobody actually wanted to leave the group. Besides that, the lessons they had learnt over those three years were starting to become understood.

It was during one of those discussions that Thomas heard a voice just behind him - "Peace be with you." He froze, and the conversation came to a sudden halt as everyone waited for Thomas's reaction.

"Touch me here; look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side where the wounds are. Stop doubting and believe." Jesus said. The words came gently, but very firmly.

Thomas slowly turned around, his head and his heart contradicting each other. In his heart he knew whose voice it was, but his intellect kept telling him that there was no way that Jesus was alive. As he turned around and could see Jesus with his own eyes, see the wounds with his own eyes, his intellect finally gave way. He no longer needed to actually touch the wounds to understand that his view of reality needed adjustments to be correct.

All Thomas was capable of doing at that point was dropping to his knees and  repeating, "My Lord and my God. My Lord and my God."

Gently Jesus put his hand on Thomas's shoulder.

"You've seen me," Jesus said to him, "and that has helped you believe that I really am who I am, and I everything I taught you really is true. There will be many others who will not have the benefit of actually seeing me like you have, and there is a blessing for those who have not seen me, but still believe."

And the load lifted off Thomas's shoulders, never to return.

Copyright 2000 Darryl Severn