Posted on Sun, Apr 12, 2015
April 12, 2015
2nd Sunday of Easter
Gospel Text: John 20:19-31
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
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.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Jesus and Thomas
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.’
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.’ 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.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 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.’
The Purpose of This Book
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.
I hope this is good news, but “Easter” is a season, not a day. But it’s hard to deny the letdown that comes on the Sunday after the Big Event. The worship leaders are exhausted and probably fell asleep Sunday afternoon, but when we go to Longs, you can still smell the chocolates, peeps, and the tacky plastic decorations wrapped around the register stand numbers… What are remaining of the lilies and chocolate eggs have found their way to the discount rack, and as of today, they are all 50% off. We go from life-filled colors like pink, blues and yellows to… normal, routine… Back to Hershey’s… in a black wrapper. And suddenly, there’s plenty of good parking at church again.
And on this Sunday, at thousands of churches, the ordinary faithful gather on what some people call, “Low Sunday” to listen again to the story of Thomas, called ‘the doubter, who wouldn’t believe without proof and needed to “touch Jesus.”
It’s the perfect text for the Sunday after Easter. For one thing, the main action of the story takes place exactly one week after that first Easter Sunday (John 20:26) just like today! But what truly suits the story to the occasion is the subject matter: on the Sunday after Easter, as countless, colorful unfound eggs lie moldering in their hiding places (mine were often found behind the sofa weeks after Easter Sunday), even the faithful must come to terms with hidden doubts, and maybe the story itself. The story speaks to us, because I think the honesty that Thomas demonstrated, are feelings many of us have always lurking deep in our hearts and mind.
Our point man on the Sunday after Easter is a guy named Thomas. History has unfortunately given him the title, “Doubting Thomas.” As far as I am concerned this is bad rap, but the truth is that on the Sunday after Easter he represents the majority of all humans who hear this story of resurrection from the dead, and wonder, “Come on, really? Truly a resurrection from the dead?” ‘Rising from the dead’ is a very difficult concept for us to understand… but that is the point, it isn’t a concept to “understand,” it is a concept to believe.
Some people look down their noses at Thomas and wonder how he could have been considered an “apostle” for not believing in the words of the women and even Peter ‘after an entire week!’ So, here comes Thomas on days like this. For such occasions we call in the hard-nosed skeptic -- somebody brash enough to poke around a bit and see if this thing will really hold water.
I think deep in our minds, we are all like Thomas, regarding this “resurrection thing.” Look at people today; We humans demand physical proof, miracles by the pope, writings on old stone relics, or pictures of Jesus on toast before we believe. We may put on a righteous face on again and wag a judgmental finger at Thomas saying, “Shame on you! And you call yourself an apostle!” But another part of us may be afraid to openly show to people, the thrill at reading his words because he becomes the champion of the doubts that stubbornly remain in our hearts and mind: Who among us in that situation, still filled with fear the disciples still “hiding” in a room wouldn’t utter the words, “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” (John 20:25). Why not? If it’s true that Jesus has risen from the dead -- and we’re not saying it’s not true -- but if it is true, why can’t we have proof? We want to see the risen Christ. We want to touch a LIVIND Jesus we saw carried off to the tomb in a very dead state. We want to feel Jesus’ body to really feel that his risen body IS THE SAME AN MINE/OURS! We need to ‘stand before Jesus’ feeling his presence in order to put our last doubts to bed.
Rather than having this bit of doubt constantly eating away at our faith, sadly many people would rather be Saul, writhing blind in the dust – again sadly, because we are afraid of how the promise of forgiveness and resurrection would move us from our comfortable and controlled lives to a potentially challenging life walking only by faith with a resurrected Jesus. We are afraid to touch Jesus, or allow Jesus to touch us.
But because we would have had the experience of knowing that we had heard the very voice of Jesus, our faith would be restored thinking of all the possibilities born of a new faith once secure in Damascus. We would gladly endure even the experience of Saul, because then, at long last, we would be sure. Or even if we could just be a face in the crowd – just one of the anonymous onlookers when our Lord appeared to more than 500 believers who had gathered in one place, as 1 Corinthians 15 tells us. In short, we understand Thomas perfectly. We, too, want to be there. We want proof. A deep part of our heart and mind cheers him on when he sets his terms for belief: “Not unless I see ... not unless I touch.” Not a Doubting Thomas, but frankly an Honest and Human Thomas.
Indeed, this desire for experiential proof is completely normal for “proof seeking broken humans.” The longing for evidence is not the special burden of believers living in an age of science. Thomas was not the only disciple who wouldn’t take someone else’s word for it. Earlier in this very chapter, Mary announced the good news of resurrection to the disciples (John 20:18), and yet when Jesus came to them that evening A WEEK LATER, Jesus found the doors locked in fear… Mary and the women’s proclamation still wasn’t enough, and in truth, they all wanted proof. Jesus offered to each of those present the same signs that Thomas would later demand (v. 20).
Proof is what everyone prefers. But we must come to terms with our place in history. God, in God’s manifold wisdom, in order to believe, it has not ordained that we should have “to be there” no matter how sincerely and audaciously we wish it could be. We live in an age of wonders, and even doubt, but when it comes to resurrection faith, ours is not the indulgence of sight. We live in a “Post-Easter” world of faith that proclaims the Good News that God’s Grace is much stronger then the power of doubt.
Instead, God has given us the chance to be blessed according to the last of the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor,” said Jesus, and yet the least well off among us are wealthy by any realistic historical or global standard. “Blessed are you who hunger,” and yet we are only hungry when we are dieting. “Blessed are the meek,” and yet we can scarcely avoid pride at all that we have achieved. No, this last beatitude may be our best shot at the designation “blessed of God.” Blessed are they who can’t be absolutely sure. Blessed are they are the ones who believe the hearsay of resurrection. Blessed are the eyes of faith that continue in hope despite the frustrations and ambiguities. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
Much credit for this day’s message belongs to: Lance Pape
Granville and Erline Walker Assistant Professor of Homiletics
Brite Divinity School
Fort Worth, Texas
April 12, 2015
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