The risen Jesus comes to the disciples when the doors of their house are locked (Jn 20.19,26). This echos the first experience of the resurrection by Mary Madgalene, Peter and John who approach the empty tomb when “it was still dark” (John 20.1). The darkness is a symbol of Mary’s inability to see the risen Jesus even though he has been present all along. Just in the same way, not only are the doors of the disciples’ house locked but their hearts are too: they are gripped by fear (Jn 20.19) and like Thomas they are unwilling to believe (Jn 20.25) and so doubt (Jn 20.27).
This should not come as a surprise. The Resurrection is something that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor 2.9). It is an absolute novelty that no previous knowledge or experience prepares us to grasp. John suggests this through the apparently innocent observation that “it was the evening on the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week” (Jn 20.10). The first day of the week is when God started to create the world. Creation and resurrection have something in common. The Resurrection is not just Jesus returning to the life he had lost by dying on the cross, but the beginning of a new life, a new creation: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5-17).
Jesus could have ascended to heaven immediately after his resurrection. Instead, he chose to spend fifty days appearing to his disciples and talking to them because entering into belief in the Resurrection takes time, requires patience, involves a transformation of our way of perceiving reality and above all a change of heart.
We share the struggle to make sense of the resurrection with those who were closest to Jesus, the disciples he himself had chosen. Jesus unlocks our fearful, doubting and unbelieving hearts not by forcing our doors from without, but by flooding us with peace from within. Three times he repeats to his disciples: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20. 19,21,26). It is the peace that comes from knowing how much we have been loved and forgiven.
This is why Jesus shows his hands and his side: they still are open from the wounds he endured because “he loved us to the end” (Jn 13.1). He does not come to reproach us for our sins but to forgive us and make us the ambassadors of his mercy: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20.22f.).
But the resurrection is not just a peaceful feeling. It is the belief that Jesus is alive and present among us, that his love is stronger than death (cf. Song of Songs 8.6), that neither “height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation”, not even our sins “can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8.38). Even if the doors of our hearts are locked by doubts and fears, we are never beyond Jesus’ reach. He is not put off by Thomas’ refusal to believe and by his extravagant conditions for belief: to see the marks of the nails, to put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side (Jn 20.25). He is is risen to be with us always because we need all his loving patience to slowly overcome our disillusions, our disbelief, our resignation, our guilt and finally acknowledge his presence by confessing “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20.28).
Indeed, the resurrection is the belief that the Lord has become “my God”, that he lives for me, with me, in me. This is why this belief brings “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding”: light for our minds and consolation for our hearts (cf. Phil 4.7).