Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon; Easter 2A; John 20:19-31

“When it was evening of the Day of Resurrection, 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'.”

So begins this gospel story that we hear every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. It begins on the evening of the Day of Resurrection with Jesus appearing in the midst of the disciples, and it ends a week later, today, with yet another appearance and a proclamation of faith. And because we hear this same passage every year on this Sunday, and because Thomas is a key player, this passage developed the unfortunate subtitle of “The Story of Doubting Thomas.” But, like Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, it's time to put that moniker to rest. Because this is not a story of doubt, it's a story of faith.

The passage today begins on the evening of the Day of Resurrection where the disciples had met behind locked doors out of fear. Let's go back to the morning of that first day.

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early in the morning only to find it open and empty. She runs back to tell Peter and John. They run to the tomb where they also see it open and empty. One believes, but, in an odd turn of phrasing, neither understood. Peter and John return to their homes leaving Mary once again alone, where follows her own experience of Jesus. She then goes to tell the disciples that she has seen the risen Lord.

You need to piece together the story at this point by looking at the other three gospels, but what follows is a story of dismissal, doubt, and belief. And nowhere do we have a version of a disciple moving to immediate belief on that momentous day.

Now, here we are, on the evening of the first day and the disciples have locked themselves away out of fear. Many times in scripture are the people of God admonished to be not afraid. Several times in the life of Jesus he has told the disciples to have no fear. Yet here they are, hiding behind locked doors out of fear.

But not all of the disciples are there. Thomas is missing. Why? Where was he? My hypothesis is that at the death of Judas, their treasurer, Thomas offered to take on that role. I'm betting that he was down at the bank updating the signature card. And if you've ever had to do this, you know it always takes longer than planned. But whatever it was, he was otherwise detained.

Back to that locked house. Jesus simply arrives in their midst and says, “Peace be with you,” once again trying to relieve their fears. And in what looks like an attempt to prove that he is not an apparition or someone other than Jesus, he shows them his hands and his side. Then he gives them a mission – As I was sent, so are you sent. He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit and lays upon them the responsibility since entrusted to the Church through today – forgiving and retaining sins.

This event seems to remove their sense of fear because a week later, today, they are once again in the house, but the doors are not locked. This time, though, Thomas is with them. And once again Jesus appears to them inside the house. Jesus turns to Thomas and offers his hands and side with a request to not doubt but to believe. Hundreds of years of artwork aside, the gospel never actually records that Thomas did in fact place his hands in Christ's wounds. Thomas sees and believes.

We then get Jesus' statement, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This statement has often been taken as a condemnation of Thomas' demand to see Jesus before believing. But this isn't a condemnation – it is a future reassurance. It is a recognition that Jesus' work, or I should say, the work of the disciples and of the Church, is not finished. The disciples' work, the church's work, our work, continues on into the future, and Jesus is reassuring those future generations that they will be just as blessed as Thomas was. He is reassuring future generations that belief, faith, and blessings are not predicated on actually seeing the risen Christ.

Except that they are.

Faith doesn't come from evidence. A one-time event, such as the Resurrection or seeing the wounds in Christ's hands and side, or some other “mountain top experience,” may begin the process of faith, but faith and belief don't spring up fully formed at that time. Faith is a journey. Faith is, like Paul attested to, not a sprint but a marathon. And as we move through our life of faith, as we come to believe without seeing, we are able to see where we once couldn't. Like Mary at the tomb, we are able to have our eyes opened. As we journey through faith, we (hopefully) begin to seek and serve Christ in all persons.

Today we are gathered together in one place like the disciples were gathered together in one place. Are we gathered in fear, afraid to tell people on the outside about the Resurrection? Or are we gathered in preparation to be sent out with the power of the Holy Spirit?

If it's the latter, are we ready to both be Christ and see Christ? It is in our being Christ that we reach out our hands in love inviting people to be a part of this faith journey. And it is in the seeing Christ in others that we might look upon those wounded by the world and offer a place of healing.

If anything, today's gospel should remind us that everyone is on a journey, and everyone falls somewhere between Mary Magdalene and Thomas.



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