EASTER 2, April 23, 2006
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors 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 side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (NIV)
MY HANDS, MY FEET
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It must have been something to have been there on that first day, that first day when Jesus rose from the dead. For some time on that first day, there was confusion. The women went to the tomb and found it empty. The mighty Roman soldiers who were to be on guard, were dazed, lying on the ground. The stone was rolled away. An angel was present in the tomb to greet whomever came searching for Jesus. His message didn't make sense.
As the day unfolded, the events started to piece themselves together, but in a strange, difficult and unbelievable way. People started to report that they had seen Jesus, giving great weight to the reports of the empty tomb and Jesus' resurrection.
Yet, the disciples were afraid. They locked the doors and met in secrecy. The authorities were furious to hear the news that the tomb was empty. There was no telling what they might do next. They killed Jesus, the popular prophet, right during the Passover feast. It seemed they would stop at nothing in order to eliminate Jesus, his teachings and maybe even his followers.
The disciples were gathered together with the doors locked. They were so frightened, that the only security and comfort they could find was in locking themselves up, away from the world. Jesus stood among them. He gave them his peace, the peace given by God to frightened people, a peace that locked doors, stayed the might of armies, and which the world cannot give.
Jesus then showed them his hands, feet and side. Why? These carried the marks that took his life, the marks, which verified that he was crucified, that he had died. But there he was, moving, talking, inviting them to touch him even as they had many times before. The tomb was empty because he had left it that way. And now by his being alive, he had left the threats and power of sin, death and the devil just as empty as he had left the tomb.
Thomas, though, was not there. When the disciples later told Thomas of the events of the day, about the empty tomb and Jesus' appearance to them, he did not believe. Because of this we often refer to him as doubting Thomas. It is true that he doubted, but which one of us hasn't doubted God and his promises and his Word in our own lives? It occurred to me that we may call Thomas a doubter, but not a coward. Earlier, as they were headed toward Jerusalem, some of the disciples told Jesus he shouldn't go there because death was threatening him. Jesus said he was going for that very reason. Thomas, in John 11:16, then said, "Let's go with him and die with him."
Thomas was not locked up behind doors for fear of the Jews, as were the other disciples. Thomas doubted. Thomas was not sure if he could trust or believe his friends. How did they know this wasn't just a vision, or a ghost? That which makes a human different from a ghost or spirit, or vision, is that a human has a body, flesh and blood. It was this that was destroyed and which separated Jesus from them, and it would have to be this which would convince Thomas.
Jesus came to them, and especially, Thomas, to chase away doubt and to restore faith. Jesus showed them his hands. He showed them his hands, which had the nail marks. He showed them his hands, which for many years had held an ax, a saw and hammer. He showed them his hands, which had done hard work and endured much toil. In spite of all the work his hands had done, they were clean hands, clean from sin and every evil. These loving hands of Jesus did not deserve to be treated, as those of a robber or thief, with nails and punishment. Jesus was more than happy to show them his hands, for those hands had not only been pierced by nails and had been laid in the tomb lifeless-- those hands had also held their sins, and yours. Those hands had wrestled with the devil and won. Those hands had been held in death's strong grasp. But the hands of Jesus were ultimately stronger and broke death's clenching hold on him and all believers. Those hands reached out to Thomas to dispel his doubts and despair. Those hands spoke wordlessly, saying: He is alive!
Upon being invited to touch his hands or put a hand in his spear-pierced side, Thomas said, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:28-29)
What did Jesus mean by these words? Certainly one's mind goes to the thousands, no millions, even us, who have not actually seen Jesus. Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. Any who now come to know Jesus after the ascension are included in the throng who have not seen, yet have believed. Still, there could be a greater meaning to his words.
Have you ever considered why the Apostle John included a whole chapter in his Gospel to the giving of sight to a blind man? In chapter nine of John's Gospel, Jesus points out that in God's sight, the one who is blind is the one who does not believe or trust in him: These were the Pharisees. The one who sees, in God's view, is the one who professes faith in Jesus and who, because of his faith, is thrown out of the synagogue: This was the man who was physically blind, later given physical sight. Things are not always as they first appear.
There should be no doubt that physical blindness can present many challenges and obstacles. The challenges however are not the ones about which people first think. If you speak to a person who has been blind for many years, he or she will note that it is not the steps, the throw rugs or the canned goods in the kitchen that are a problem. Steps and rugs are landmarks, felt by the feet. Canned goods can be labeled with Braille or other markings. A person blind for many years will rather find that it is the demeaning, belittling, or patronizing attitudes and opinions of people that present the greatest difficulties. People can stand in the way.
Therefore, when Christians act as a stumbling block rather than as a stepping stone, why and how should a physically blind person trust and believe the words of a sighted Christian? Thomas did not believe the other disciples. "If Jesus were alive, why are you all hiding behind locked doors?" I think that this is what Thomas might have thought. The “true believers” seemed to have no faith at all!
Jesus dispelled the doubt of Thomas and the fears of the others by showing and giving them his hands, his nail-scarred hands. It showed them that he was alive and real, and, therefore, that sins are forgiven: "Bessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." May we become the living hands and feet of Jesus so that His Word and Spirit may pierce the locked doors of blind hearts. Living out our faith, may we show that Jesus is alive, real, and therefore sins are forgiven. Touching others as Jesus seeks to touch us, may we share a living Christ in a dying world.
The Rev. David Andrus
(Andrus, himself blind since the age of 11, directs the society that serves over 5,000 blind and visually impaired people in the United States. One thousand volunteers help produce Braille, large type and audio cassette materials, designed to evangelize, equip and nurture faith in the crucified and resurrect ed Savior--Jesus.)