Easter 2 C 2019

Easter 2 C 2019

Tests: Acts 5:27-32

          Psalm 150

         Revelation 1:4-8

         John 20:19-31

“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.”  Vs. 25

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

I have always felt a kinship to Thomas.  Maybe it is because I am a twin and Thomas is known as “the twin.”  Maybe it is because I live in a state whose motto is “Show Me” and where, if indeed there was ever such a thing as a State Disciple or State Saint, I have no doubt that in Missouri it would be Thomas.  


Or maybe, I feel a kinship to Thomas because he represents every believer at some point in his or her life.  Whatever the reason, when I read about Thomas, I am truly reading about myself.

 

Three days after the exhausting experiences of Good Friday, the women go to the tomb only to fine the stone rolled away and Jesus gone.  They run and tell the disciples who don’t believe them and think it is “an idle tale.” Peter, however, runs to the tomb and finds it exactly as the women have described.


The disciples are gathered later that same day, Easter Day, in an upper room with the door shut and locked.  They reside in fear of the religious leaders. They are in lockdown mode. They are doing what we call today “sheltering in place.”  They are staying put because of a very real threat. Can you imagine getting a text or a cell phone call telling you to stay put, that there were suspicious individuals in your area, an “active shooter” situation perhaps?  Just thinking about those situations is enough to get our pulses quickening.


So here are the disciples, in lockdown, sheltering in place because of fear, and then, amazingly, as they are discussing the events of the last three days they find Jesus in their midst.


Just as amazing as Jesus being there with them in a locked room is what Jesus says to them.  He doesn’t yell at them for betraying and denying him. He doesn’t scold them for being afraid.  His first words are words of love and blessing. “Peace be with you,” he says. And after he said this he showed the disciples the marks of the crucifixion.  


They didn’t ask to see them, Jesus offered them to the disciples.  And then he breathes on them, he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit and tells them that as the Father sent him, so Jesus is now sending them out into the world.  He tells them to go out in the midst of their fear; he tells them to go out in all their trepidation, when they were feeling anything but peaceful.


The disciple Thomas wasn’t there for this display.  We aren’t told where he was or what he was doing just that he was absent from the group, absent when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and commissioned them to go out in his name.   But when Thomas does rejoin the disciples, they tell him what they saw. And now the disciples are faced with unbelief, just as the women in telling their story were faced with the unbelief of the disciples earlier in the day.  


Thomas may want to believe, but he wants to believe on his own terms.  I, for one, can certainly understand that. He has followed Jesus, given up everything.  He was even ready to die for Jesus earlier in John’s Gospel. He was not a man without belief or without courage.  But after losing someone he loved and was willing to give his life for, he is cautious, not wanting to open himself up to the hope and then the crushing grief again.  Things were still too raw; Thomas’ own emotional wounds were still open and bleeding.


Eight days later, Jesus appears and greets them again with the words “Peace be with you.” And then Jesus makes Thomas the same offer he made the other disciples, he shows Thomas his nail wounds and offers Thomas to touch his hands and side.  Jesus knows of Thomas’ doubt without Thomas having to say anything. And it is with Jesus’ offer of himself that Thomas can make the most powerful claim of faith in all of John’s Gospel, “My Lord and my God!”


Jesus does not castigate Thomas for having doubts.  He met Thomas where Thomas was and offers himself to him.  Thomas’ coming to belief was more important to Jesus than how that was to occur.  Jesus then offers himself to those in the future-“Blessed are those who do not see, yet have come to believe.”


The early followers had Jesus among them, we do not. At least not in physical form. They did not know how the story was to end.  We do.


Jesus in this narrative, offers himself not only to the disciples and early followers, but also offers himself to future followers and future doubters.  Through the last 2000 years and for the next 2000 years, the Holy Spirit will move in and through people who can and will testify that they have had encounters with the Risen Lord.  Jesus is as available now as he was then, even if we do not see him.


Thomas, known throughout Christendom as “doubting Thomas” has gotten a bad rap.  Thomas shows us, however, that to doubt is not the same as to be FAITH-LESS. That point is so important that I will say it again.  To doubt is not the same as to be faithless! To honestly doubt is to question, to search, to be open to God’s revelation in our lives.


Bass Mitchell, a pastor in Virginia has written, “Doubt is faith seeking to grow! Doubt is faith seeking understanding.  You see, doubt is not a sign of a lack of faith. To the contrary, it is evidence of how seriously you take your faith-so seriously that you are willing to ask questions, raise doubts and follow them up! Seek to answer and resolve them.  Faith will use doubt to nourish and strengthen itself.”


Doubt is not the enemy of faith and doubt is not faith’s opposite; certainty is, and certainty is very overrated.  Certainty often masquerades as fear of where the questioning may lead us-fear that God cannot withstand our questions, fear that God is not big enough to handle our understanding, our misunderstanding, our lack of understanding or our mistakes.  If God can overcome Pharaoh, if God can overcome the Roman Empire, if God can overcome death, certainly God can deal with our questions and our doubts.


Mother Teresa, one of the people most respected for her abiding faith, doubted.  She continued in her work for over 50 years feeling as if God was absent, wondering if God really did hear her cries of feeling abandoned.


Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, admitted to having doubts and was castigated in the press for such an admission.  But which one of us could say with certainty after losing our first-born child at seven months of age because of a car accident as he and his wife did, that we would not have some doubts?  


It has been said that courage is not the absence of fear but perseverance in the face of it.  I think the same can be said of faith. Faith is not the absence of doubt, it is persistence in the midst of it.  


The 19th century poet Tennyson wrote, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”  In our questioning and in our doubts, Jesus will deal with us in the same merciful way he dealt with Thomas, offering his hands and side, offering his whole self to us, where we are, so that we can come to believe.  How does that happen? The same way as occurred 2000 years ago in Palestine.


We come to belief by hearing The Story-The Story shared by another human being, by another disciple, who has had an experience with Jesus Christ.  We may wonder if it is true. We may want to see Jesus in the same way as that person or we may want to see Jesus our way-to know Jesus on our terms-but however our experience comes, once we see the Risen Lord, once we have the experience of Christ being alive, living on in our lives or other people’s lives we know we will never be the same again.  And that may be where the fear comes in for us.


To know Jesus Christ is to be changed, it is to see the world through different eyes.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I’ve seen it, but because by it I see everything else.”  Jesus Christ becomes the lens through which we see and experience life. The early followers of Jesus were a changed people, a transformed people. They were able to do things and be the people that were able to change the world, through experiencing Jesus.  We are not only promised, we are assured of that same transforming power.


The disciples first knew Jesus and then knew his transforming power in their own lives.  They lived the story first, and then they went out to share their lives and their stories and how Jesus changed them.  If we are to be disciples, if we are to be sent out into the world to share our story, we too must be open to being changed.  


To know Christ in our time is to offer his hands and side to others.  To know Christ is to become Christ’s hands and pierced side for others so that they can hear of his love, see his love in action through us so that they may come to believe too.  


To know Christ is to have the courage to admit our doubts and questions and then in faith move through them so that we can proclaim like Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”  


Amen.










Robin Whittington