Yom HaShoah 2009
Acts: 4:32-25/John 20:19-31
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.” John 20:19
The first and most important thing one might observe about this account of Jesus appearing to the disciples twice (once without and once with Thomas in the room) is that these disciples of Jesus are living on the wrong side of the Resurrection. Although Mary Magdalene, Peter and the disciple Jesus loved have all been to the tomb, and Mary has seen the risen Lord, they are all still living out of fear.
Upon reflection, that is not so odd, since they no doubt fear that what happened to Jesus on Good Friday could easily happen to anyone who professes to be a follower of his.
The anonymous author(s) of John, however, write from a much later date when both Jews and Christians are under persecution by Rome. It was an atmosphere of fear in which this gospel was written. As such, Jews and Christians in first century Israel were in hiding for their lives. We had a shared history at the point in time. Our memory of that, however, is lacking. This has caused problems.
The second thing we might notice is that the text is usually translated “for fear of the Jews.” Now on the surface of it this should cause us to wonder. For all the followers in that room were Jews. What the Greek text of the New Testament says is “for fear of the Judeans.”
It is up to the reader to remember that all the Jews in the room behind locked doors were Galileans, not Judeans. Galileans were considered somewhat like country bumpkins – not sophisticated, socially inferior, from the wrong side of the tracks. Way back in chapter 1 of John, Nathaniel asks Philip who is telling him about Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” which is in Galilee?
It was just as true back in the first century as it is today, not all Jews are alike, come from the same background, or think the same things.
The third thing, and the most tragic thing, is that it is all too easy to see how a text like this could be used to support anti-Semitism. “Well, if the disciples feared the Jews, how much more should we fear the Jews?” the argument might go. Whereas if you are talking about Judeans, a pluralistic culture even way back in the time of Jesus, one would be strained to make a similar argument.
Thus the importance of Thomas, and Jesus’ words to Thomas. Thomas, far from doubting, wants desperately to live on this side of the Resurrection, without fear, and with the kind of love for others we see reflected in the description of the early Christian community we hear about in the Acts of the Apostles: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul…there was not a needy person among them.”
Once given the opportunity, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. For they live with out fear, but accept the gift of Jesus peace – that is in the text and in the original Aramaic, Shalom.
God’s Shalom was to shape the lives of Christians eternally. Evidence of God’s Shalom would be striving for justice and peace for all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.
The Church has throughout time forgotten this elemental gift of Shalom imparted by Jesus that night behind closed doors. We have the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Semitism and the Shoah, the Holocaust, repeated episodes when we have lost our way – which is meant to be His Way, the way of God’s Shalom. The Church has spent too much time on the wrong side of the Resurrection.
All because we cannot remember who we are and whose we are. We forget that we share a history, Christians and Jews. We forget that from the beginning of Christianity and the beginning of modern Rabbinic Judaism, we were both persecuted by the same oppressor: Rome.
Memory can be the beginning of healing. Healing is what is needed, and why we stop to remember today. We need to remember because should we forget, we can allow terrible things to happen again. And to forget – to forget the Holocaust, to forget our shared history – is the second worst thing that can happen to us- the worst being indifference. More powerful than hate, indifference allows evil to continue unchecked, unchallenged.
It is tragic that it took until the 1960’s for the Church, beginning with the Catholic Church and Vatican II, to begin to acknowledge our part in fanning the flames of anti-Semitism, thus allowing indifferent attitudes to allow millions of people to be carried off to the camps and near certain annihilation. Fortunately, individuals like Mr. Morris Rosen survived to tell us their story. We have been privileged here at St. Peter’s to welcome eleven survivors, one son-of-a-Survivor, and one liberator to share their stories with us.
Our prayer must be that we accept the gift of God’s Shalom Jesus means to give us so that we might become brothers and sisters with all those with whom we have a shared history. Our prayer must be that we remember that at the outset, Christians were a pariah people in the Empire. We of all people should know how wrong it is to scapegoat others for whatever is wrong with the world. Our prayer must be that we will be those people who accept responsibility never to be indifferent to evil in this world. We must remember it was the Shalom of two Jews in the first century who invited us into a covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Jesus and Paul.
Most of all we must accept the blessing and gift of God’s Shalom Jesus desires to bestow upon us – those of us who have not seen but have come to believe. It is our greatest privilege and joy to live into His blessing. It is our calling to live on this side of Easter with doors open, with no fear of those who differ from us, so that through believing we may have life in His name. The God and Father of us all desires that we choose life in all that that entails. Blessed be God’s Holy name, forever and ever. Amen.