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Easter 2C, 04/15/2007

Sermon on John 20:19-31, by James Mueller

19On 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!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." 24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So 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."

26A 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!" 27Then 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."

28Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

29Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

31But 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.

Easter isn't over.  We have not finished the story.  Like we said last week it's really not even Easter Sunday that convinces most people that Jesus was alive.  Peter, John, James, the best of the best disciples weren't convinced of the Easter reports.  Even the empty tomb itself confused almost everyone who looked inside.  Where's the body, who took it, is this a joke?  They ask the same questions we do.  In reality, it was the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus that turned skeptics into believers.  Easter Resurrection continued for days and to hundreds of people. There's something about death that is so final.  It's not the story that convinces people in the New Testament, it's the encounter with a living Savior that changes hearts.  In our Gospel reading for today, it's exactly that encounter with a living Jesus that turns Thomas' heart from doubt to faith. 

In our reading today Jesus says one word three different times - "peace".  Shalom.  Peace is the "aloha" of Jewish culture.  It means hello, goodbye, I love you, you are my friend.  In the context of Holy Week it certainly means "relax, God is in control."  Jesus is telling His friends to lift up their heads, to smile and believe.  Even the brutality of beatings, the crown of thorns, the naked exhibition of the cross, the slandering of evil leaders have no power to take away the shalom of God.  To bring peace into that room is to bring back their faith.  Jesus did not ask for revenge or war, He stated again His mission to bring the peace of the Father into a world wrecked with sin and evil and violence.  Peace.

Jesus is especially talking about the locked door and the fear of the disciples.  Let us not overlook that fact.  The disciples had locked themselves in because they had forgotten that peace.  For 3 years they were the apprentices of Jesus.  Not in the sense of Donald Trump, but followers of a rabbi.  They followed with courage through the temptations, the healings, the miracles, the debates with those same powerful leaders.  Not only did they follow Him, but they were active participants in that same missionary work.  But with Jesus dead their courage was dead as well.  They locked themselves in with peace replaced by fear.  Jesus has returned and His first desire for them is to restore the shalom.  So He tells them to unlock the door because He is sending them.  No more hiding in that room.  No more hiding in our churches.  No more hiding in gated neighborhoods.  Open the door and bring resurrection peace to a world that so desperately need it.  What's the key to giving that peace?  Forgiveness of sins.  What an amazing task God gives to us.  Forgiveness is the vehicle of Divine Peace. 

Thomas wasn't there.  Thomas didn't see or touch anything yet.  His initial refusal to believe has given him the label of doubting Thomas.  Fair enough, but each of the women and disciples had their moment of doubt.  Each of them asked where the body had been taken.  But Jesus was patient with all of them and He shared the same peace with Thomas.  See the wounds, touch the wounds if you must, but we need to unlock the doors and take the same forgiveness to everyone. 

I for one have always taken comfort in doubting Thomas.  He's my favorite disciple.  Most of us if we're honest with ourselves would have felt the same way.  I take great comfort in knowing that someone demanded to see and touch, because I would have wanted to do the same.  Thomas did for me what I couldn't do for myself simply because I was born in 1975.  I wasn't there in that room, but luckily for me Thomas was there demanding the physical evidence. 

And here's the point, God didn't give religious sounding promises or speeches about morality, He gave the physical evidence.  Resurrection is the evidence that God keeps his promises and that death has lost its power, the grave has lost its sting.  It is that physical evidence that allows Thomas to respond instantly "My Lord and my God."  Perhaps we need to stop calling him doubting Thomas and start calling him confessing Thomas.  Jesus didn't leave his disciples with empty religion standing at the foot of the cross.  Instead He rose from the death penalty. 

Not only did Thomas confess the living Christ, he backed it up with the rest of his life.  Just like Peter and Paul went to Greece and Rome, and Mark went to Egypt and Syria, Thomas made his way perhaps as far as India.  Strange Christian tradition even says that Thomas was the only disciple to see the Assumption of the Mother Mary, risen from the grave, and then ascending to Heaven.  He was even able to prove it to the other disciples when he showed them her empty tomb and the girdle that fell off as she rose.  The doubting disciples now had to listen to doubting Thomas.  Just another strange myth that gets invented later in Christian history.  Hilarious and silly I know, flying girdles and all, but it at least shows the early church no longer viewed him as doubting Thomas but missionary Thomas.

There are still burial remains and churches named after St. Thomas and inscribed with his 52 AD landing and missionary work there before he was later martyred.  The oldest of India's churches ascribe their faith to the very missionary work of doubting Thomas.  No matter which parts of post-Biblical history you accept or reject as factual it is obvious that Thomas becomes a true leader of the early church.  "My Lord and my God".  That same message of peace and hope was spread eastward because Jesus had patience and love for a doubter.  I for one am never worried about people who doubt.  To me it is always more dangerous to not care at all and to be lost in a sea of apathy.  To doubt is to struggle, and wrestle, and to pray for answers.  To doubt is to look to God alone for the answers.  To doubt is to ask for the empirical evidence and that's exactly what the resurrection of Jesus is for Thomas and for us. 

Let us return to the cross and the tomb.  Ultimately we're not celebrating the courage and bold missionary work of Thomas, as amazing as it was.  We are celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit in the form of peace.  It is that peace and faith that excite the lives of the disciples.  It is that power of God that allows the message of the cross and tomb to be taken to sinners like you and me who so desperately need to be delivered from the brokenness of this world.  Jesus makes this clear with his words in verses 29 - 31: 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.

Jesus continued working during His last days before His ascension and He invited His friends to do the same.  As amazing as the Gospels writings are, they could not possibly contain all He did or said to change our world.  But what they center on is the central thing: We have a God who watched a world fall apart and He was willing to chase after His sons and daughters to win them back.  It is a love story.  May we all believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name.  Jesus brings life to Thomas and to our world. 

Let's pray.  Heavenly Father, give us the same courage to reach beyond our fear and doubt.  Send Your Spirit to us daily so that the promise of Easter may be seen in every corner of the world.  May every tongue confess You as "Our Lord and our God" and may all our worship and prayer be centered on the Resurrection of Your Son Jesus Christ.  In His name we pray, Amen.  

Rev. James Mueller

E-Mail: mueller0024@yahoo.com