Easter II 2009
Theme: WE the church
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we are believers who did not see; infuse us with your Holy Spirit so that we may share the good news of Jesus Christ to those around us, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Thomas G. Long suggests that we check out the church ads on the religion page of the Saturday edition of most big city newspapers and you find some impressive sounding places of worship. There, with sleek graphics and Madison Avenue phrases, a few select churches boast of their assets – their choirs, their friendliness, their powerful preaching, their singles ministries, their ample parking, their family life centers, their sensitive child care, and their compassionate spirit. Some churches, it seems, have it all.
Other churches, however, appear by contrast to have nothing, absolutely nothing. Take, for example, the church depicted in our text for today. Here, we get our first glimpse of the disciples gathered together after the resurrection, the first glimpse, in other words, of the church in its earliest days, and, all in all, it is not a very pretty picture.
Near the end of his life, Jesus had carefully prepared his disciples to be a devoted and confident fellowship of faith. They were to be a community of profound love with the gates wide open and the welcome mat always out, but here we find them barricaded in a house with the doors bolted shut. They were to be the kind of people who stride boldly into the world to bear fruit in Jesus' name, a people full of the Holy Spirit performing even greater works than Jesus himself (John 14:12), but here we find them cowering in fear, hoping nobody will find out where they are before they get their alibis straight. In short, we see here the church at its worst – scared, disheartened and defensive.
If this little sealed-off group of Christians were to place one of those cheery church ads in the Saturday newspaper, what could it possibly say? “The friendly church where all are welcome?” Hardly, unless one counts locked doors as a sign of hospitality. “The church with a warm heart and a bold mission?” Actually more like the church with sweaty palms and a timid spirit.
Indeed, John’s gospel gives us a snapshot of a church with nothing – no plan, no promise, no program, no perky youth ministry, no powerful preaching, no parking lot, nothing. In fact, when all is said and done, this terrified little band huddled in the corner of a room with a chair braced against the door has only one thing going for it: the risen Christ. And that seems to be the main point of this story.
In the final analysis, this is a story about how the risen Christ pushed open the bolted door of a church with nothing, how the risen Christ enters the fearful chambers of every church and fills the place with his own life.
So here we are – back to Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she saw Jesus that morning. The response of the disciples was to hunker down. They do not live bold and empowered by a new reality, but like cowards. The doors are locked for fear of the religious leaders. None dare leave, except for some reason, Thomas. We don’t know why Thomas left the others. In any case, he alone is missing.
Jesus, perhaps impatient for some action on the part of the disciples or to have any action at all, appears in the room despite the locked doors. The resurrected body of Jesus can be touched, but Jesus doesn’t follow the normal rules of physics. Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” or probably just “Shalom.”
Perhaps sensing skepticism, Jesus shows them the wounds in his hands and his side. This is no Lyndon Johnson display of operation scars to reporters. (That should date a whole lot of us.) This is for faith, not for bragging. The disciples rejoiced seeing Jesus. Jesus again says, “Shalom,” and now he tells them that they are to take his place on the same mission that God sent Jesus. They, collectively, are to be Jesus. We as heirs of the disciples continue to be heirs of Jesus’ mission. We are to continue Jesus’ ministry in the world and here in El Dorado County.
The act of this commissioning is Jesus giving the disciples the Holy Spirit by breathing on them. Jesus received the Holy Spirit at his baptism. And now the Holy Spirit is passed on to the disciples. They are now Jesus on earth. In Hebrew and Greek, spirit, breath, and wind are the same word.
Jesus then tells them that they have the power to forgive sins. If they don’t forgive the sins of anyone, then those sins remain unforgiven. The power Jesus used of forgiving sins, bringing the criticism of the religious authorities, Jesus now gives to the disciples. These leaders of the church, the church not yet born, the apostles, give the authority to forgive sins, on to the clergy of the church, who are also not yet born.
When Thomas does show up, the others tell him that they saw Jesus. They use the exact same words Mary Magdalene used. Thomas doesn’t believe them. Thomas needs visual proof. He needed to see Jesus’ wounds.
The scene shifts forward one week. The disciples were again gathered in the same house. They were infused with the power of the Holy Spirit. They have received Jesus’ peace. And yet here they are, once again, behind locked doors. All the apostles, including Thomas, were there.
Jesus again appears with a greeting of peace by saying, “Shalom.” Then Jesus went directly to Thomas. Jesus knew that Thomas did not believe that Jesus had resurrected. Jesus challenged Thomas to put his finger in Jesus’ wounds. Jesus then tells Thomas to put an end to his doubts and believe.
What Thomas says next is one of the most important statements in the Bible. Apparently ignoring Jesus’ challenge to put his finger in Jesus’ wounds, Thomas makes a statement that does not appear any where else in the gospels. Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.”
Doubting Thomas is the only one to call Jesus Lord and God. Jesus then asks Thomas if he only believes because he sees Jesus. Jesus adds that those who believe without seeing will be truly blessed.
What follows next is a conclusion to John’s gospel. The conclusion notes that Jesus did many other signs that are not recorded in the gospel. But what is recorded is written so that the reader will put his or her faith in Jesus as the messiah and as the Son of God. True life comes from faith in Jesus. Thomas doubted, but the reader of this gospel should have no doubts.
Jesus comes again and again to these scared and confused disciples. This is the miracle of Easter. Jesus could have given up after the first visit, but he didn’t. Jesus gives them his peace, once again. This time Thomas is also a recipient. We are not told if Thomas ever really touched Jesus. The point is that Jesus offers himself over and over again to those who long to see him. Jesus will always offer us his peace. Even when we get caught up in death and push Easter away, Jesus is always there to bring us back to the resurrection. There is grace for those who have not seen and yet believe. Let’s share that grace.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, continue to give us the gift of gab; so that, we may share with others how special Our Saviour is and through us, we may bring others to you who believe and did not see, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: John 20:19-31 (NRSV)
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 Twinc), 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 believed that Jesus is the Messiah,e the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
c Gk Didymus
d Other ancient authorities read may continue to believe
e Or the Christ
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.