Second Sunday of Easter: April 28, 2019
Year C, Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
At the time of this posting, there was no recording of this sermon. The text is below.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega”, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come.”
This the Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord of Easter Day who speaks to the disciples. The Lord who is and who was and who is to come. The Lord whom we worship on Easter and whom we worship on this second Sunday of Easter.
On the Sunday after every Easter Sunday, no matter what year of the lectionary cycle we are reading, the Gospel of John makes us reflect upon one of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas. People who have never attended church, never opened a Bible or even know that Thomas was one of Jesus disciples, very often use the phrase, “Doubting Thomas”, to denote a person who doubts about almost anything. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Thomas gets somewhat of a bum rap. He isn’t asking to see anything that the other disciples haven’t already seen.
Truly, I think, that as people of faith, Thomas’ story is an encouragement to us.
There’s something that often is overlooked in this gospel story. I will talk about Thomas today, but I will talk about Thomas in the context
Easter is not only a day but a season that lasts for forty days, from Jesus’ resurrection until his ascension into heaven. During this time Jesus appeared to many people, teaching, blessing and taking away their fear by bestowing his peace. In today’s passage from John’s Gospel, we read a description of the events that occurred during two of the visits that the Risen Christ made to his disciples.
On the Sunday evening a week after Jesus’ Resurrection, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” The disciples’ fears were justified. Many times, Jesus had warned them that those who believed in him would be persecuted as he was. And now, Jesus had been arrested and put to death. Surely the disciples feared the same.
We heard on Easter Sunday that Mary Magdalene had seen the Lord and he had risen from the dead. She would have shared that news with the other disciples by now. It is not inconceivable that the disciples could have been afraid of seeing Jesus. After all, they had abandoned him during his arrest, suffering, and death.
All of a sudden, Jesus came and stood among them. After his resurrection, Jesus was somehow changed. Remember that when Mary Magdalene first saw the Risen Christ in the garden, she did not recognize him. Now, in his new body, Jesus was able to enter into a locked house.
Suddenly, Jesus stood among his disciples.
But he was not there to berate them, but to greet them with, “Peace be with you.” Jesus was blessing his disciples with the gift of the peace that only he could grant. This enabled them to let go of their fear. This is the peace that removed the disciples’ worldly distractions. With Christ’s peace, they had the strength to encounter all challenges by remaining healthy in mind, body, and spirit.
Then, Jesus demonstrated that he was not a ghost or a disembodied spirit when he showed them his wounded hands and side. The disciples saw that their beloved Jesus was now the Risen Christ, fulfilling his promise to them. Jesus said again, now that his disciples’ shock was wearing off allowing them to be in a state of mind where they could better understand, “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus added, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then, in order to enable his disciples to carry on their ministries without him, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Now that the disciples were filled with Holy Spirit, they were ready to lead the church which would be borne by that same Holy Spirit a few weeks later at Pentecost. The disciples would be ready, ready to preach God’s word to bring people to rejoice in Jesus Christ’s love forgiveness and peace.
On that evening, however, the disciple Thomas was missing. John, the Gospel writer, is silent as to why. Perhaps, in his sorrow over Jesus’ death, Thomas wanted to be alone in his grief or maybe he felt safe wherever he was and was afraid to travel in order to join the others. In any case, a few days later Thomas came back to them. The other disciples excitingly told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” It is clear that Thomas already knew the details of Jesus’ crucifixion when he said: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Ever since the gospel has been written, People like to focus on Thomas’s doubts. But he is also remembered for his powerful profession of faith. It is Thomas who shows he understands Jesus’ identity when he declares, “my Lord and understands who Jesus is in a way that the other disciples may not have yet grasped. So, what is it that takes Thomas from his doubt to his belief? What happens between his insistence to touch the wounds himself and his exclamation of faith?
Jesus sensed his need to touch in order to believe. I imagine Jesus gently holding Thomas’s hand and guiding it to his wounds. I imagine Thomas’s horror at physically touching those wounds and understanding that Jesus did literally die. Actually, putting his hand in Jesus’ open side where he was pierced with the sword. Here was this gaping hole, yet Jesus is alive!
I imagine touching the hole in Jesus’ side changed everything for Thomas. It changed everything he thought about who Jesus was and what he had taught. He remembered the time he and the other disciples had spent with Jesus during his ministry, and then, it was all over, or so he thought.
But it wasn’t over at all. By touching his wound, Thomas allows himself to believe that he is touching the living Christ, not some dead body that was somehow standing in front of him. He also allows himself to disbelieve that Jesus’ death had been final and that hope was gone.
He and the other disciples no longer had to live in fear. For fear is the opposite of faith. You may think that doubt id the opposite of faith and belief, but it is actually fear. For fear kept the disciples trapped in their house. Our fears can keep us trapped, too.
Fears of sharing the good news limit our faith and our witness to others. Our own fears of death can trap us and keep us from believing in the resurrection.
Fear takes away hope. Thomas overcame his fear and reached out to touch Jesus’ wounds. Death still exists. We lose people we love. We all suffer wounds of one type or another. We suffer pain both physical and emotional. But Thomas’s actions remind us how complicated life is. When he insisted on touching Jesus’ wounds, we realize there can be no new life without there first being a death. Thomas invites us to look back at the places in our lives where we have lost hope. Thomas invites us to look again at these places and see them in the light of the good news that God is redeeming all things, especially the painful times of our lives.
This is how we live the resurrection. We have to be willing to look at places where we believed despair had won, or that forgiveness was impossible, or places where we were sure no good would ever come out of it. Places where we, like the disciples, were locked up. Places where faith is screaming to come out in us.
Thomas gives us the courage to look at the places we have been wounded and let Jesus heal us.
And when this healing takes place, we exclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” then we can leave the locked-up house and go out into the world to do the work God has given us to do – to bind up the brokenhearted, and to comfort those who mourn.
This reading from John teaches us a great deal about how our doubt can lead us to belief. When we experience doubt, we can learn from Thomas. When Jesus reached out to him, as Jesus is constantly reaching out to all of us, Thomas did not stay in his doubt. Instead, he allowed Jesus to bring him to belief.
Countless Christians struggle with doubt. Some people need to doubt before they are able to believe. If doubt leads to questions, questions lead to answers and the answers are accepted, then doubt becomes constructive. It is when doubt becomes stubbornness and stubbornness becomes a negative lifestyle that doubt blocks a person’s path to faith.
In his gift of faith to Thomas, Jesus transferred the peace that he had been granted by his father to the disciples. This is the peace that enables people to live together in tranquility and contentment bathed in the love of God.
The opposite of this peace is chaos, fear, violence, hatred, prejudice, envy apathy and all other sorts of sin. It is the sin we saw in San Diego yesterday, and the sin we see in every hate crime.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul writes regarding divine peace, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.” Truly I pray for that peace.
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