It is Easter morning. Jesus, the hoped for Messiah is dead. It is now the third day since he was crucified and buried in a sealed tomb outside Jerusalem. The Easter message from Pastor Tim spoke to the very real emotions that Jesus' closest followers were experiencing as the dawn broke over that Sunday morning 2,000 years ago. They had all hoped and believed that Jesus would be the Messiah, the deliverer promised by God through the prophets. He would be the one to free Israel from the bondage of Roman oppression and establish God's new age of righteousness. But now, all hope is gone, and no one felt that crushing weight of hopelessness more than Mary Magdalene. Jesus, the one who had delivered her from demon possession, now lay beyond her reach in a closed tomb. Early that morning, she went to his tomb but discovered that the tomb was opened and Jesus body was gone. Confused and saddened beyond measure, she wept bitterly not even able to grieve and mourn for the one who had given her new life. I cannot begin to imagine her sense of hopelessness at that moment. But Jesus at that instant appeared and called her by name. Hope for tomorrow was not beyond her reach because no tomb could hold the Son of God. Jesus appeared in bodily form before her and comforted her. She could now face whatever tomorrow might bring because her redeemer was alive.
The disciples were at that time in a room behind locked doors. As known followers of Jesus, they were in a state of shock and fear that they would be hunted down and sentenced to death. But Jesus then appeared behind the locked doors standing before them. "Peace be with you" (shalom) he says to calm their fear. Jesus shows them by his wounds that he is not a vision or ghostly figure but fully alive and risen from the grave. Fear now turns to joy and Jesus tells them he is sending them out in the power of the Holy Spirit to continue his work on earth.
Last we have Thomas who had yet to see the risen Lord and wanted desperately to believe but needed proof. Before we get on board the bandwagon to disparage old "doubting Thomas" let's think about the prevailing understanding of death in the ancient world. No one comes back from the grave in Greco-Roman and Jewish belief of that time. When you die you are dead, period! Yes, you might have some phantom existence in Sheol or Hades, but dead people do not, can not come to life. The disciples together with Thomas are again behind locked doors when Jesus once more appears before them. Again, he brings "Shalom", "Peace be with you" and has Thomas touch his wounds so he will have no doubt that Jesus is the first to be risen from the dead. Furthermore he tells Thomas that those who have not seen as he has and yet believe will be blessed. That's the church today, you and I. Though we have not seen Jesus, we have the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives and by that great gift, Jesus "lives in us" today.
Hopelessness, fear, and doubt. These are emotions that can paralyze us and lock us behind closed doors. Sometimes we just cannot see a way out. But our savior is not some distant god out in the vast universe beyond our reach. Jesus, who could not be kept by death in a tomb 2,000 years ago is the same risen Savior who can appear beyond our locked doors of hopelessness, fear, and doubt today. If death and the grave could not hold him, he is fully capable of being with us in our most trying moments. No matter what we are going through, that peace which passes all understanding can turn our hopelessness to joy, settle and calm our fears, and overcome our doubts giving us victory and assurance over the trials of this life. As the old hymn states: "Because He lives I can face tomorrow, and life is worth the living just because He lives!"