A sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2022
What can be said about Thomas that hasn’t been said before?
Thomas is a contentious sticking point for many in their understanding of faith, their personal journey of faith, even how they view their own personal relationship with Christ.
Many relate to Thomas as “the doubter,” having experienced their own doubts of faith, struggling with the stories as we’ve received them, struggling with how the church as an institution has, or perhaps more accurately has not, lived into the model of faith that Jesus Christ has left for us.
Many are surprised with Christ’s seemingly out of character reaction recorded by John, questioning Thomas’ faith even though just a few verses prior Jesus was willingly offering the wounds for the other gathered disciples to see and know that it was truly Christ before.
We get so wrapped up in this story of Thomas, that we perhaps miss the larger purpose of what is being offered here, we forget to consider this within the context of the larger story, within the context of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.
Each of the initial post-resurrection stories carries with it a sense of bewilderment, chaos, confusion, all within the context of the deep grief being experienced by the collective whole.
From Mark: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.[Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.”
As we heard last week from Luke, the disciples did not believe the idle tale that was shared by the women who had gone to the tomb, and then Luke continues in telling the story of the two disciples walking the road to Emmaus who do not recognize Christ until he breaks bread with them, and even still, when Jesus appears with the disciples, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”
In John’s immediate lead up to today’s lesson, we get the story of Mary Magdalene weeping in the garden where Jesus’ empty tomb stands, and being confronted by Jesus, mistakes him for the gardener until his true identity is realized, and “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.”
So, as we approach today’s Gospel, we have a number of stories shared by the gospel writers about the fear, grief, shock, and inability to recognize the resurrected Christ.
There was no expectation that Christ’s words would lead to this reality-altering event of the physical resurrection of Christ.
And yet, here it is playing out right before their very eyes.
It’s no wonder that the disciples didn’t know how to handle the appearance of Jesus in their midst, didn’t know how to accept the resurrection of Christ without seeing the wounds upon his body.
Would any of us be able to handle these few days?
“‘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.
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.’”
I think Thomas is standing in proxy here in a way, but not just for us today, but for the original audience of this gospel. Writing the furthest removed from the story, John’s gospel still holds a deep significance to our understanding of Christ, the understanding of the divinity of Christ as seen through the resurrection of Christ. And, it is only in John’s gospel that we have this particularly fully fleshed story of post-resurrection appearance and conversation, of call to belief without seeing the wounds, of breathing upon the disciples, marking them for the ministry that will be theirs to come.
For John’s audience then, there is perhaps the sense that we are at a pivotal moment in the trajectory of the followers of Jesus that make up the earliest iterations of our church. John is reaching out to his audience to assure them that even though they have not seen Jesus themselves, that even though they haven’t even likely met anyone that saw Jesus or at least knew someone who knew someone, that their faith is valid, and not only that their faith is valid, but that they are blessed in their faith for they have not physically seen the risen Christ, nor do they know anyone who has come anywhere close to that reality, and yet still have come to believe.
There is a reality we can imagine wherein this movement does not survive because it isn’t accessible to those who were not part of it from the beginning.
However, this movement does survive, because the followers of Jesus feel compelled in their experience to share this new message, this new way of love, this new call of life in faith, a new relationship between God and creation.
As the movement grows, the access to Jesus never changes.
The access to Jesus is belief, is faith.
You did not need to be a part of the inner circle, you did not need to be with the gathered disciples as the Holy Spirit alights on them on Pentecost, you did not need to hear Paul teach and preach firsthand, to hear his letters read for the first time to the gathered body of followers in a given place.
Our access to Jesus has always been available in our faith of Jesus, our belief that Jesus Christ was betrayed, died, and resurrected on the third day, sacrificing himself for our sins, sacrificing himself for the disconnect between creation and creator, and in that sacrifice establishing a new covenant, one that we remember each week in our celebration of the Eucharist.
A new covenant bargained through flesh and blood.
A new covenant that forever alters our relationships with one another and with God.
A new covenant that calls us into belief without seeing, that calls us into faith
because we put our trust in God, that calls us to walk in the way of love, giving up the ways of this world in favor of a different path.
It is into this new covenant that we live into the call of our faith, to practice forgiveness of sins, to seek reconciliation for the harms we have caused, to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It is the missional task set before us today as Jesus breathes upon the disciples, knowing that through the giving of this ministry, they will continue to spread it throughout the followers of the way.
It is the missional task that we take on the mantle of to this day, standing with our advocate in the Holy Spirit, tackling the systemic sins of our creation: racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, toxic masculinity, and all things that act to divide us from one another, that act to pit us against one another, that encourage us to harm one another.
This is the missional task we access on this day through the appearance of Christ in this locked room, declaring peace to be with and among us.
Thomas comes into this room the following week deep in his grief, not believing what his friends have told, perhaps out of disbelief, perhaps simply out of the grief of potentially missing the chance to see his friend once more, and Jesus comes to Thomas and invites him in while also inviting us who are here in the pews today into our belief, into our trust, into our faith that through that belief, that trust, that faith, we can do all things through the strength of our faith, that we can change this world be walking this way of love that has been laid out before us by Christ.