April 24, 2022 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.
John sets the stage for this morning’s gospel by letting us know that it is still Easter; it’s later that evening and Mary and the other women have returned from the empty tomb and told the disciples that Jesus had risen. Some of them had run to see the rolled-away stone and empty cave from themselves. This should have been cause for great rejoicing and celebration; yet here they are, hiding in fear behind locked doors. But, before we go any further, perhaps we should take a look at the rather unfortunate way in which John describes what the disciples were afraid of. He writes that they were in fear of the “Jews”, and this has been the cause for great misunderstanding throughout the centuries. While it is true that it was Jewish people the disciples hid from, in fact the ones they feared should have been noted as the “other” Jews. For the record, Mary and the women at the tomb were Jews, as were Peter and all the disciples, and unless we forget, so was Jesus!
The others, the ones the disciples were in fear of were the Pharisees, the temple police, Roman sympathizers, and the crowds who called for Jesus’ execution. You remember them, the ones who cried, “give us Barabbas!” and “crucify him!”; these were the “other” Jews the disciples feared, thinking that perhaps Jesus’ fate would await them also. It’s a shame that this short verse, as well as some others have served as the basis for antisemitism throughout history. All the characters in this story are one people, they share a common faith. They’re just on different sides of the issue; either Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the risen Son of God or he isn’t. The hiding disciples are simply in fear of those of their own who disagree with them on this question.
Back to why they concealed themselves behind locked doors; what’s happened so far? Their teacher, the One whom they expected to be the one to lead them to freedom from Roman oppression has been cruelly executed by the very government that subjugates them. They simply cannot bring themselves to imagine this happening; yet there is some evidence that Jesus’ proclamation that he will rise again was true after all. You know, Mary meeting angels, stone rolled away, empty tomb, and folded burial linens. Peter has denied Jesus three times, and he is struggling with that regrettable action. One of their own, Judas, has done the unthinkable; he has betrayed their Lord for silver coins.
And the odds are that the authorities may be looking for anyone who has been part of Jesus’ entourage, just in case they too might start more trouble in the city. And the Pharisees and Roman authorities have made it perfectly clear that no disruption of public order will be tolerated. There is no shortage of crosses set up in Jerusalem.
And, as they are cowering there in the house with the doors securely barred, Jesus appears in their midst; his prophesy of his resurrection is true after all! Everything has changed! All that Jesus taught them, all of it is true! He bestows upon them his peace, shows them his wounds which remain on his resurrected flesh, and he breathes on them, granting them the Holy Spirit. In short, the disciples find themselves physically in the divine presence of God incarnate. Note that John tells us, “they rejoiced”. We’ll come back to this reaction a bit later.
Which brings us to the often-maligned disciple, Thomas, who for some reason wasn’t with the others late that Easter evening. When they tell him they have seen the risen Jesus, he responds that he will not believe this unless he sees Jesus and his wounds for himself. Now, Thomas has been getting grief over this remark for over two thousand years, but does he really deserve this name of “Doubting” Thomas? I don’t think so; all he was asking for was the same proof that the others had already seen, Jesus standing in his presence, with his crucifixion wounds still visible. Initially, Mary and the women didn’t believe until the angel clued them in, Peter and the others didn’t believe the women, so they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. And, why would they cower behind locked doors if they knew that Jesus had been resurrected? No, to be honest, none of Jesus’ closest followers believed that Christ had risen until they were in his physical presence. So, let’s give poor Thomas a break; he only asked for what the others had seen, Jesus before them in the flesh.
So then, a week later, seven days after that first Easter, which coincidentally corresponds to today for us, Jesus again appears; this time with Thomas in attendance. Note that even though Jesus had appeared to them a week earlier, the disciples were still meeting behind closed doors.
Perhaps their initial “rejoicing” at Jesus’ appearance wasn’t enough to give them confidence to proclaim the resurrection just yet. I suppose the situation in the city was still a bit too unstable for them to press their luck with the “others” from before.
But here is where Thomas’ reaction is different from the other disciples; upon finding himself in Jesus’ presence, he exclaimed, “my Lord and my God!” Again, what he received was just what he asked for, to be in the presence of the risen Christ, just as the others had been. But while they “rejoiced”, he “praised”, he “proclaimed” Jesus as Lord and God! So, in something of a defense of my namesake disciple, I propose that we refer to Thomas in a different way going forward. Perhaps “Doubting” Thomas should be now known as “Confessing” Thomas or “Proclaiming” Thomas; perhaps we might even go so far as to name him” Affirming” Thomas. For, it seems that, of all of those closest to Jesus, he was the one who first declared him as the Christ, he was the disciple who had all the proof he needed to proclaim that the Son of God had in fact been resurrected. Alleluia, Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, Alleluia!).
We find ourselves living in a time when amazing advances have been made in the sciences, and more is known about the universe we inhabit than ever before. And, we’ve become people who have come to depend more and more on seeing the proof of anything before we will believe it. And, yet some tend to doubt the obvious, when it’s right in front of them. A small, but measurable percentage of Americans believe the earth is flat, a good portion of the population believes the moon landing was faked, and many are certain that space aliens built the Egyptian pyramids. All this, in spite of the photos and videos we’ve all seen, taken from the space station as it orbits the planet; the fact that there are hundreds of pounds of moon rock samples on display in museums; and knowing that the ancient Egyptians had the mathematical and construction knowledge, not to mention nearly unlimited slave labor to build just about anything they chose.
Some need proof to believe in something, and others will deny the proof that’s directly in front of them; I suppose it depends on what it is we choose to believe.
Mary, the disciples, and especially Thomas were blessed to stand in the presence of the risen Christ; this caused them to believe in Jesus as God’s resurrected Son, the Savior of the world. Yet, Jesus questioned their initial weakness of faith; “Have you believed because you have seen me?”, he asked Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”, he then said. Since they had all seen him, Jesus was referring to the rest of us, we who have not seen, but have been granted the faith that blesses us to believe. And, all we have to do to continue in this faith in the promises of God, is to look at the creation around us. God made this world for us to inhabit. Jesus said he would rise again and he did! God promises to bestow grace, love, and mercy on God’s children, and He does! God gave his own Son for the salvation of the world; what further proof do we need?
We have been granted a faith that allows us to believe without having seen Jesus in the flesh. It’s up to us how we react to this belief. We can be like the disciples in the locked room and “rejoice”. Or, we can act the way “Affirming” Thomas did; we can shout out loud, “my Lord and my God!” And, by doing so others may come to acknowledge that Christ has come again to abide with us. We, the ones who believe not because of what we have not seen, but because of what we have. The signs are all around us.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, Alleluia!).