4/23/2017 Second Sunday of Easter The text is John 20:19-31.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia and amen! Last week, those words were spoken over and over again as we celebrated the most festive day of the year – Easter Sunday. Today is another story. For most, Easter has come and gone for another year. Even though the Easter season has barely begun it seems that the joy of last week has faded. And those who came out to celebrate seem to have gone the way of the disciples of old – back into hiding and hibernation, waiting for something. Yet this is the season of our risen Lord, with arms outstretched to embrace the whole world. This is the season that empowers all of God’s people and gives us hope and peace. For Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia and amen!
Like the withering seed that springs forth into new life, our Lord who was dead is alive again. Our Lord miraculously escaped from the prison of the grave. He defeated the power of death and rose from his tomb. And this is great news for all of us who follow him. But this isn’t the end of the good news for us this Easter season. Yes, through Jesus’ resurrection there will be life, death and then life again for those connected to him through faith. But the quality of the life we live now has also been inescapably changed by the events of Easter. For, you see, while Christ escaped from the tomb, he did not escape from humanity. The miracle of Easter is not so much that Christ rose from death – as the Son of God, that is what could be expected. No, the miracle of all miracles is that Jesus has remained bound by love to his followers of every generation.
Jesus has remained bound by love to the very people who deny him and who hide in disbelief or apathy. For, you see, even though the women told the disciples of old of Jesus’ resurrection; even though they gave an eye witness account of their encounter with the risen Lord; the very people who followed Jesus from the beginning of his ministry did not believe. There is no faithful group of disciples to be found on the eve of the Lord’s rising. Instead of shouting God’s redemption at the top of their lungs, they quietly contemplate their future behind locked doors. They hide, not wanting to show their faces for fear that those in authority would do the same to them as they did to Jesus. They did not shout – Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
So often on this second Sunday of Easter we focus our attention on Thomas, the one who is not in the upper room on Easter night. We look at Thomas and proclaim him, and him alone, to be the doubter. And yet, it is Thomas who is not in hiding. It is Thomas who is out among the people after hearing the news of the resurrection delivered by the women who went to Jesus’ tomb in the morning. Thomas is not behind the closed and locked doors, trembling in fear of being caught and crucified like Jesus. Thomas, the courageous one, is not there when Jesus appears and offers his peace, a peace that touches the hearts and souls of the other 10, dispelling doubt and enabling them to proclaim the truth that Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed.
Where Thomas is, we do not know. What we do know is that Thomas is not there. He does not receive the gifts that the others receive on Easter evening. And when he is told by the others about their experience with the risen Jesus, he does not believe them. He cannot, on the basis of what they say, proclaim – Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! He needs more than the word of his colleagues who are still behind locked doors, afraid to venture out into the world. For if they had received what they said they had received and encountered the risen Jesus, it should have made a difference in their lives. And yet, they remain as he left them. They remain behind locked doors.
A week later, Thomas is among the disciples when Jesus returns and finds them remaining in place, behind shut doors. Jesus comes among them and once more offers his peace. And then, he turns his attention to Thomas. He invites Thomas to touch and to see. What Thomas did, we do not know. What we do know is that Thomas responds to Jesus by proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas goes beyond saying, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Through faith in the risen one, Thomas proclaims Jesus as Lord and God, and not some generic lord and god, but the Lord and God of his life. This, my friends, is faith. This is the faith of Thomas and the faith of all who have come to believe that not only has Christ risen, but also that Jesus is my Lord and God.
Faith enables us to move beyond doubt and fear. Faith enables us to move beyond the obvious, beyond what we can see and touch, beyond what we can hear and feel, and believe the impossible. Faith gives us peace as we trust that Jesus is my Lord and God. This peace enables us to believe that Jesus will be with us in trials, hardships and fears. He comes to us as one who knows pain and death. He comes to us as one who offers us hope for a new tomorrow. He comes to us to calm our troubled hearts and give us courage to face whatever tomorrow brings. He comes to breathe upon us the Holy and life-giving spirit to sustain us. He comes to take away our apathy and to empower us to proclaim him Lord and God of our lives. For, not only has Christ risen. He is risen indeed! He is also Lord and God.
Sometimes, we who speak these words of faith with great joy need to hear the same words proclaimed by Thomas who doubts empty words spoken by those who have seen the risen Jesus and yet who act as though they have not seen. And we who leave this place and behave like the other 10 who have seen the risen Lord and yet remain behind locked doors, need to hear the words of faith proclaimed by Thomas who sees the disciples as they are and yet comes to faith through Christ. For, we, like the disciples before us, may want to lock ourselves behind the closed doors of doubt, fear and apathy. We may not want to be changed by the risen Lord and we may not have the courage to proclaim, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!” out there in the world. And yet, Jesus doesn’t give up on us any more than he gave up on Thomas and the other 10. Jesus comes to us to transform our lives with faith and to give us his peace.
For we have more than the eye witness accounts passed down from generation to generation. We have more than a miraculous story. We have Christ’s real presence with us. When we, like Thomas, ask to see our Lord’s wounds, God makes it possible in the breaking of the bread. The body and blood of Jesus offers transformation as it throws open the curtains and windows and unlocks the doors of our doubt. For, God is with us. God breaks the shackles and chains of our doubt, apathy and fear and replaces them with forgiveness and peace, a forgiveness and peace that enables us to shout out at the top of our lungs – Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! – and he is my Lord and my God.
May this peace of the Christ, which surpasses all human understanding, be with you, my friends, this day and always. And may that peace bring you comfort in times of trouble, strength and courage to endure the challenges of each new day, and true faith and life everlasting with him who broke through the tomb to live again. For, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! And he has chosen to be your Lord and God forever. Alleluia and amen!