4/19/2020 Second Sunday of Easter The text is John 20:19-31:
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You will recall that this ‘first day of the week’ was actually the evening of the very first Easter. The disciples were understandably in great fear over what had happened the Friday earlier. Jesus, their teacher, prophet, and Lord had been brutally executed in the preferred Roman style of torturous death; hung upon a cross. And they were naturally terrified that the authorities might be searching to root out any of the followers of this troublesome prophet. The Roman authorities, as well as the Jewish temple leaders and just about everyone else, were anxious for this precarious, dangerous, and uncertain time to be over. They just wanted things to return to normal. It’s not often that we find ourselves in a situation that so closely parallels what we read in Scripture. For instance, allow me rephrase verse 19 from this morning’s reading from John’s gospel. Note that I’ve only changed one word. When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the virus, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
We also, and really the entire world has found itself isolated in fear, worry, and uncertainty. And the great majority of us have been forced to remain with the doors of our houses locked, out of the fear of this current, post-modern affliction. And we too, await with great anticipation, a return to normal; however that new normal might look. The disciples gathered that first Easter were reassured by the appearance of Jesus, the locked doors notwithstanding. He suddenly stood among them, showing them his wounds in a fully fleshed-out, resurrected body. They rejoiced at the fulfillment of the prophesy; their long-awaited Messiah was risen from the grave, just as Mary had reported to them. He breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and bestowed them his ‘peace’, his ‘shalom’. Now, for some reason that isn’t noted, my namesake, Thomas wasn’t with them on that first Easter evening. He is however, among them a week later, which by the way corresponds to this current morning, the Sunday after Easter.
Jesus appears among them this second week and offers the unfortunately named ‘doubting’ Thomas the opportunity to touch his wounded hands and side. With this physical presence Thomas believes and exclaims that Jesus is his Lord and his God.
As an aside, I discovered that the sign in American Sign Language for ‘Jesus’ is the touching of each middle finger to the palm of the opposite hand; I found this to be quite appropriate and deeply meaningful.
I’ve always felt that this apostle, with whom I share a name has gotten something of a ‘bad rap’. This may stem from the fact that the Greek word translated as ‘doubt’, actually refers more to maintaining ‘belief’ than actual doubt. The others had witnessed Jesus in the flesh and had seen his wounds; I find it difficult to disparage poor Thomas. After all, what he was seeking was the same that the other disciples had already witnessed. As we know, the last he knew was that Jesus was taken down from the cross and placed in a burial tomb. It’s kind of unfair to saddle poor Thomas with the label of unbelief. He was simply asking to confirm for himself that a person he saw die was now fully alive.
Yet we believe this happened, and none of us has physically touched Christ’s wounds since that time when the disciples were in the locked room, face to face with him. And this is because God has blessed us with the gift of faith, a faith that we cannot come to on our own, but which is a blessing from the Holy Spirit. The gospel writer John wrote. “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”. We have what Thomas and the other disciples didn’t, we have the Gospels to provide for us the truth of the resurrected Christ. Through John, Jesus assures us that we are rewarded for our faith, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” But even a God-given faith, one blessed by Christ Jesus himself may be vulnerable when the world finds itself beset with a seemingly unending confinement behind closed and locked doors. When a pathogen forces Christ’s people to remain isolated from one another, unable to share in the tangible in-person fellowship that Christians hold so dear.
But, it’s precisely at times such as these when we must cling most strongly to the truth of the risen Christ, through the faith we have been blessed with. And while we are not able to physically touch Christ’s wounds, we are surrounded by the evidence that his work is being done.
And this is where the anchor of our unwavering faith should take hold, in the relative normalcy of serving as Christ’s pierced hands and feet. The people of Emanuel continue to gather in worship, albeit in a manner that’s new to us. People are participating in Wednesday Zoom meetings so they can at least see each other on computer screens, while each remains within their own locked doors. Individuals are ensuring that things are being done at the building, music from our beautiful pipe organ is available on social media. Day-to-day administration continues. Church members are phoning others to ensure they are keeping safe, and reassuring them that Emanuel is here for everyone, and will continue to be so once the viral doors are unlocked. I have heard of food deliveries, toilet paper and books being taken to peoples’ houses, and the occasional waved or spoken greeting from across the street. We haven’t forgotten that along with the faith we are blessed with, and the peace that Jesus bestows upon us, that Maundy Thursday’s new commandment still takes precedent; in spite of the locked doors, we are called to love on another.
And that is what we must continue to do, especially when God’s people are experiencing fear, and many are alone, behind their locked doors. While we are fasting from the Lord’s Supper, when the bread and wine are not available to us, what remains is God’s Word. And this reaffirms our faith every time we read it or hear it pronounced by others. And the most reassuring Word is when John tells us that through our believing we will have life in Christ’s name. And the life that Jesus promises us is one of abundance; a life blessed by faith without sight. A faith that is determined to live into the abundant life promised by Jesus, no matter the fear, worry, or isolation that we face. For, no matter how long we must endure the current situation, no matter how long we are isolated from one another, just as Jesus stood among the disciples in the locked room, he is with us also, now and always.
So, let this be a plea. To all of us, that we remain strong in our faith. Faith that the risen Christ is with us always, and that we are able to withstand any strife, for Christ shares our burdens with us. Thomas missed the disciples’ initial encounter with the risen Christ, but Jesus made sure that he was not left out.
Jesus ensured that the Good News of the resurrection was shared with Thomas in spite of his need for physical proof. He came to believe because he had seen. Let us continue in our faith; because we believe, even though we have not seen.
We haven’t seen Jesus, but we are witnesses to the abundant life he provides and we have taken to heart his command to love one another. The defeat of our current isolation will happen, and in the meantime let us continue to serve as the feet and the nail-scarred hands of Christ Jesus. We don’t have to touch Christ’s wounds to believe; we see Jesus in everyone we encounter. If we persist in following the command to love as Christ loved, our faith is strengthened and Christ’s work on earth continues. We just have to make sure we maintain faith in the unseen, and like the reassured Thomas, proclaim Jesus as, “My Lord and my God”.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, grant us faith to believe in that which we have not seen. And inspire us to act in accordance with the commandment given us by your invisible Son. For, just like Thomas who needed proof, we believe; but in these uncertain times, we plead for your Spirit to come to us. Reassure your people that they will emerge from behind locked doors into the light of the abundant life promised through the wounded side and pierced hands of your Son.
And in the name of the wounded and risen Christ, together we say…