2nd Sunday of Easter
April 3, 2016
“The Man Who Missed Easter”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from John 20 as read previously.
My dear friends, Christ is Risen!
As a congregation and as a church, we have some pretty neat traditions: waving palm branches on Palm Sunday, the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, stripping the chancel on Maundy Thursday, candlelight services on Christmas Eve, singing the powerful hymns “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” on Easter morning and “A Mighty Fortress is our God” on Reformation. Well, another tradition is the placement of today’s Gospel lesson. In all 3 lectionary cycles – A, B, and C – this lesson from John 20 is read every year on the 2nd Sunday of Easter – the appearance of our resurrected Lord and the doubt of Thomas the disciple.
Now…before anyone boos or hisses, instead of vilifying Thomas we can actually learn a thing or two from him. Consider this…could you benefit from strength, assurance, hope, and confidence? In a word…Yup! For lurking in our hearts are troubling questions: questions about life, about death, about the future. “Can a person who has lived like me have any hope before God and His judgment? How can my overwhelming fear of death be brought under control? Will I go to heaven?”Sure, now and then you have doubts and misgivings – everyone does; I get that. But, how can those fears and doubts be transformed to living faith? The key is found in Thomas.
Thomas? Really? Wasn’t Thomas absent on Easter when the Lord appeared to the other disciples (19:24)? Where was this man who missed Easter? C’mon…even the most backsliding Christian shows up on Easter. Thanks to this narrative the church assigned him the dubious title, “Doubting Thomas.” Is that fair? We never call him “denying Peter” or “confused Peter,” do we? But Thomas is the doubter, the skeptic. But as I just pointed out, you have your questions and uncertainties and doubts; talk about the pot calling the kettle black. We can learn from Thomas, not label him; we can pick something up from him instead of putting him down.
Let’s recall how all this went down. The other disciples exclaimed, “We have seen the Lord” (20:25). But Thomas had not been with them when Jesus came. And when he arrived, he was a broken man. Why? Consider another Good Friday tradition: “Were You There when they crucified my Lord”? No…but Thomas was. Thomas, more than likely, had seen at least some of the brutal death and hasty burial of his Lord and it had chilled him to the bone. Dead with Jesus were Thomas’ hopes and plans. Sure, Thomas doubted.
But surely he doubted as one still loyal to Jesus. Thomas shows that there is a difference between doubt and complete skepticism that rejects God. Remember, it was Thomas urged his fellow disciples to remain loyal and accompany Jesus to Bethany in the face on imminent danger: “Let us also go that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). That’s not skepticism. That’s courage! That’s loyalty! Elsewhere, Jesus spoke of His departure saying, “I go and prepare a place for you…and you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:2 and 4). While the others sat confused and bewildered, Thomas broke the silence. “Lord, we do not know where You are going; how can we know the way? (John 14:4). Thomas was eager to learn. He was eager to seek and to know the truth about Jesus. Thomas, a doubter? Okay…yes. A skeptic? No…no way.
Then what happened? “Eight days later, (Jesus’) disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, 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 believed” (20:26-29).
Friends, that same liberating faith and hope of believing Thomas can be yours! Our eyes may not see Jesus, but our hearts do believe the risen Lord! The risen Lord* is the source of our faithful conviction of salvation by grace through faith alone is not based on one Sunday every Spring, but in a risen Savior – a Savior who comes to YOU and says “Peace be with you.” He invites you to touch His body and place your hand onto the vessel allowing you to drink His blood in the everlasting covenant of Holy Communion. That’s as close as you’re going to get for now, and that is certainly more than anyone could ask for! “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!” That’s you, my friends! That’s you!
What are your questions today? What are your doubts today? What worries you or makes you afraid? How can you be assured? At first, Thomas demanded evidence that the Lord had risen before he would believe. Seeing the nail prints in the Lord’s hands and feet, seeing His wounded side, seeing the scars. That was more than enough for Thomas regarding the Crucified One now risen and victorious: “My Lord and my God!”
The transformation of Thomas from doubter to bold confessor is written and recorded in John’s Gospel that you should not for any reason of doubt or misgiving “miss Easter,” but rather believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that believing, you might have life in His name (20:30-31). The risen Lord stands before YOU this second Sunday of Easter. He says, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (20:27b). Do you? That just might be the most important question in your life. Do you believe even though you haven’t seen? For your eternal sake, I pray that you do.