4/8/2018 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 has risen indeed!
Merry Easter, every one! Today is Easter in the orthodox churches and the second Sunday of Easter for us, so I just have to begin today with an Easter story.
It was Saturday, the day before Easter, and Joanne Hinch of Woodland Hills, California, was sitting at the kitchen table coloring eggs with her three-year-old son Dan and her two-year-old daughter Debbie. She told her children about the meaning of Easter and taught them the traditional Easter morning greeting and response – “He is risen…He has risen indeed! The children planned to surprise their dad, a Presbyterian minister, with that greeting as soon as he awoke the next morning. When Easter arrived, little Dan heard his father stirring in the bedroom, so the boy got up quickly, dashed down the hall and shouted the good news: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, God’s back!” (Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger, sermon: “Laugh, Thomas, Laugh”)
Well, my friends, God is back. Christ is alive. He is risen! He has risen indeed!
This greeting was not heard flowing off the lips of the first disciples when Mary Magdalene told them the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. The news was too good, too incredible for the disciples to believe. So, when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, instead of celebrating the good news of the resurrection of their Lord and our Lord, too, and spreading the good news to all who would listen, they huddled in fear behind locked doors. They knew that the Romans and the religious leaders of the Jews were still looking for anyone who was a follower of Jesus. They knew that one of their closest companions for the last three years, Judas Iscariot, had betrayed Jesus for money. They knew what this could mean for them, so they sought a safe house to wait it out until the frenzy passed and they were able to deal with their own personal demons surrounding the events which had taken place.
For, you see, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus in order to save his own skin. The other 10 disciples had fled the scene when Jesus was arrested. This left only the women to grieve and pray. These men, these followers of Jesus, were now left with their guilt, their fear and their doubt, all of which would not allow them to believe in the miracle in the empty tomb. But, Jesus would not allow them to wallow in self-pity, fear and doubt. Jesus re-entered their lives and stood among them, bestowing on them his peace and forgiveness.
Unfortunately, Thomas was not present when the resurrected Christ made that first appearance to the disciples in a home in Jerusalem. Thomas was not present and when he heard about the event he refused to believe it. He was no different from his companions. Maybe he was the forerunner of a modern-day cynic. Maybe the news was simply too good to be true. But whatever the reason, he couldn’t believe it simply because he had been told about it, any more than his companions had believed the word of Mary on Easter morn. He needed to see the risen Jesus himself.
Because of this communal need to see and touch, Thomas will always be remembered as a doubter. Yet, when Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem and the disciples thought that it would be certain death for all of them, it was Thomas who said: “Then let us go so that we may die with him.” This is a courageous statement, but we don’t remember him for that. And we also tend to forget that it is Thomas who made the earth shattering confession of faith upon seeing the risen Lord. While the other disciples are speechless in the presence of the resurrected Lord, it is Thomas who proclaims: “My Lord, and my God.” He doesn’t say teacher, nor does he say messiah. But God!
This is the only place in all of scripture in which Jesus is called God without qualification of any kind. It is uttered with conviction as if Thomas is simply recognizing a fact like 2 + 2 = 4 or the sun rises in the East. You are “my Lord and my God!” These are not the words of a doubter, but a person of faith. And yet, Thomas is remembered forever for his moment of doubt and his need for something more tangible than the words given to him by his companion, as though this makes him unique and most to be pitied. We forget the faith and we fail to remember that doubt and great faith are often flip sides of the same coin.
My friends, it would be nice if we could hold some physical evidence in our hands to prove Christ is risen…he has risen indeed. But, there just aren’t any photographs of Jesus…alive, dead or resurrected. There were no paintings made on Easter morning. Yes, there may always be those times in which we want more proof and documentation of the resurrection, even though in the history of the ancient world the resurrection has been attested to as much as most of the events that we routinely accept and read about in the history books. Yet, concrete, tangible proof does not exist. All we have are the words of witnesses. And, in the end, we can only fall back upon the words that the resurrected Jesus spoke to the disciple Thomas: “Thomas, you have believed because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Blessed are you who have not seen and yet can proclaim with great joy and certainty of faith – Christ is risen! He has risen indeed! This is the most incredible statement of faith ever to be spoken. To believe these words is to believe that God has power over death. It is to believe that Jesus’ life and death has meaning and that through him God can bring peace to your broken life and can forgive your sins. It is to believe that God has not abandoned you, but continues to bless you each day. It is to believe that God can change your life for the better, can give you the courage to speak the truth in love, and will bring you to everlasting life.
For, God is back! Christ is risen! He has risen indeed! If this were not true, then you and countless others throughout the world would not give up Sunday mornings to gather for worship and prayer. If this were not true, families would not bring their precious children to the font to be baptized. If this were not true, there would be no breaking of bread and singing of God’s praise. There would be no peace, no salvation, no joy in Mudville or anywhere else. But the incredible news is true – Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!
Believe it, trust it, proclaim it, and make those words your own. For God is back and will be with us forever! Christ is risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia and Amen. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.