4/28/2019 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.
The story of Thomas is probably familiar to us all. Thomas is one of the original disciples of Jesus, a member of the chosen 12 who saw and touched and listened and walked with Jesus. Thomas’ starring role in the story of Jesus and his band of faithful followers is played out, not in a scene of great service to others and overflowing faith, but in this scene of doubt and despair which is part of today’s gospel reading.
So, what can we say about poor old Thomas? This man has been beleaguered through the centuries. Yet he was a follower of Jesus. A brave soul, he was. He was a man who was not afraid to die with his teacher. He had proven that when he suggested that the disciples go to Bethany with Jesus, to Lazarus’ grave, even though he was sure that this trip would lead to the demise of not only Jesus, but the whole group of followers as well.
So, what can we say about poor old Thomas? He wasn’t very different from you and I. He was a realist, who dared not to dream that which seemed to be impossible. He was a private man, the type of man who needed space to think things through. So after Jesus’ death, he did not stay with the other disciples. He went off on his own to mourn privately. And, why not? Many of us seek solitude when the worst happens. And the worst had happened indeed! Jesus had died. He had been nailed to the cross until the breath of life had left him, and his body was placed in a guarded tomb. This was reality, and the idea that Jesus could rise again from the dead was just too optimistic, too unrealistic for this Thomas to believe.
It isn’t that Thomas lacked courage. It isn’t that Thomas lacked fortitude. It isn’t that Thomas was a weak link in a strong group of faith-filled disciples who had some great insight which enabled them to believe and trust in the words…“he must rise from the dead.” None of the disciples fully understood these words, even after the women had returned from the tomb with the good news of resurrection.
Thomas was just honest. He knew reality and could not see beyond the grave. Jesus was dead and was buried. There was no doubt! And reality says that the dead do not rise from their graves. That is, unless God makes the impossible a possibility beyond our wildest dreams.
This is where John picks up the story for us today. He picks it up with Jesus coming to the cloistered disciples and bestowing on them his peace. Now, Thomas, of course, was not with them when Jesus came. And when the others told Thomas what had happened, the news that Jesus had risen seemed to be far too good to be true. Unable to believe this turn of events on the word of his compatriots, Thomas cried out, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger in those scars, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” We call his reaction doubt. But then, how many of us who live in the real world, and who look at cups as half-empty and at lives as falling short of goals, can say that we would believe the type of good news given to Thomas on the word of our friends? How many can believe the reality – Christ is risen – without some sort of proof? And yet, truth is found in the impossible – Christ is risen…He is risen indeed. He, who died, lives to die no more.
But Thomas didn’t have the insight that we have which comes from the passage of time. For him, another week passed, and he remained unable to believe solely on the word of his friends. But as he was no longer sequestered from the others, he was with them when Jesus came back. As Jesus stood among the group, Jesus invited Thomas to see and touch…see and touch the hands and side scarred by nail and spear. And with this invitation, in the midst of the community of fellow believers, Thomas’ doubt melted away. His pessimism turned into hope and his sorrow into joy.
Of course, this could have taken place earlier if poor old Thomas had not made one serious mistake on Easter evening. If Thomas had not withdrawn from the others, he would have been there when Jesus stood among them the first time. But Thomas had sought loneliness rather than togetherness. And in his solitude, he missed out on the peace and joy of knowing the risen Lord.
Like Thomas, we miss out on so very much when we separate ourselves from others who have known Christ. Not even some good old Bible preaching on TV can replace the one-on-one connection we have as a community of saints. Things can happen to us here, when we’re together, that can’t when we’re alone. Being together calms fears and grief, strengthens our faith, gives us peace. Being together rids us of our misgivings and doubts. Yet, we, like Thomas, can get side-tracked and separate ourselves from the fellowship we need for peace and comfort, for joy and faith:
A person loses a child and so leaves the church;
Another finds out something about the pastor and leaves;
Still another goes to college and has those lovely Bible stories blasted to bits
and withdraws from the community of faith.
When sorrow, grief, disillusionment, pessimism and doubt come into our lives, many of us tend to shut ourselves up and withdraw from others. We push ourselves away at the wrong time – at the time when we need to be connected to others the most. For it is in the community of believers that we are most likely to meet Jesus face-to-face. And it is within a group of people who have the words of Peter, James, and John, and who are connected to the witness of Thomas, that we can shout with certainty – Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.
We are an Easter people, who do not mourn a dead Jesus, but who proclaim a risen Lord. We find our hope in this reality made possible by the God who makes the grave a gateway to new life. As Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we look forward to sharing in the life that is to come. This is what Easter is all about – an empty tomb, a risen Lord, a promise and hope, a blessing, a peace beyond all understanding.
So, amidst all doubts and fear, tears and grief, may we gather together as disciples of Jesus and proclaim what we have heard and what we believe: Christ is risen! He is 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.