Thomas: “I Have Seen the Lord!”
(Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 3, 2005, based on John 20;19-31, presented at Resurrection by Pastor Jim Kniseley)
Dear Friends in Christ,
How different is the mood today from one week ago. Last Sunday we had lots of people, the choirs were grand, and the flowers were abundant. Today Jesus is still risen, but it is the stouthearted faithful who are still here to celebrate.
The Gospel writer John tells us that that there was also a mood change in the week following the first Easter. The joy and excitement at the empty tomb had given way to fear as the disciples hide behind locked doors.
They are confused and wonder if maybe they had a mass hallucination about Jesus coming back to life. They are anxious about their safety, about what the heck they are supposed to do now. They had a leader in Jesus and now he was not there to give them any kind of direction.
It is into this void of confusion and anxiousness and fear that Jesus appears in the flesh. No coming through the door for him, he just appears and says, “Peace be with you.” And then he gives them their direction. He breathed on them the Holy Spirit (which is the power of God) and he said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” We in the church ever since have taken Jesus’ actions and words as the formation of the church to go out and share the good news of Jesus to the world.
One of the disciples, Thomas, was not present in that house when Jesus appeared to other disciples. Because Thomas said he would not believe unless he saw for himself, he has been labeled with the reputation “Doubting Thomas.” I think Thomas does not deserve that reputation. I can’t see that he doubted more than the other disciples of Jesus did.
When the two Marys first returned from the empty tomb with the good news, what was the response of the disciples? Did they immediately start singing alleluias? No, but rather the women’s “words seemed like idle tales, and they did not believe” (according to Luke 24:11).
Mark reports that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the Emmaus Road, but when they returned to tell the rest of the group, the others would not believe (6:13). Mark further tells us that when Jesus did appear to all the disciples together, that “Jesus upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (16:14).
Thomas does not deserve to be singled out for his lack of faith. He is singled out in history only because he happened to be the one not there when all the others were. Let’s not call him “doubting Thomas,” just “absent Thomas” or “bad-timing Thomas.”
What do we know about Thomas apart from this experience after days after Jesus’ resurrection? John tells us that at the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid because they knew where he was going. It was Thomas who spoke up when no one else would and said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
It gives Jesus the occasion to say the words which I find so comforting at funerals, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Where did Thomas’ doubt lead him? Jesus appeared to the disciples a second time in that house, and this time he particularly wanted Thomas to see him. Caravaggio the great artist of the 16th century portrays the moment when Thomas reaches out to touch the place in Jesus’ side where the sword was thrust by the Roman soldier to make sure he was dead…
Then it is in the gospel of John that the words come forth from Thomas, which just happen to be the strongest statement of faith from any of the disciples of Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”
You and I are 2,000 years removed from that appearance by Jesus to the disciples. There is no possible way for us to experience what was granted to Thomas. But Jesus includes you and me in his words to Thomas. He says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29)
It is the plan of Jesus that those disciples who were first-hand witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were to tell this good news to everyone they met. They weren’t to worry whether the people hearing believed them or not. Their mission was simply to share what they saw and experienced.
Jesus promised that his Holy Spirit would open the hearts and minds of people to believe this wonderful good news. Further, the Holy Spirit is the one responsible for bringing the faith to these people that Jesus did it for them.
Today you and I are inheritors of this good news, that has been shared from one person of faith to another for the past 2,000 years. It is in the telling and retelling of the stories that Jesus again and again comes to people through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some of you wonder why we make such a big deal out of getting you to invite people to worship here at Easter and Christmas. Why we make those prayer chains and provide invitations for you to give to family and friends. We believe that this is one way of getting us at Resurrection to follow the direction of Jesus to go and tell the good news. Pastor Carol and I are just thrilled with the number of folks who approached us last week to say that they were here because someone in this congregation invited them to come and worship. We say “thanks be to God” for your act of faithful witness!
Let me conclude with words written by Martin Luther for his small catechism. They seem especially appropriate for today when we are thinking about the role of the Holy Spirit in our telling the good news of Jesus and the formation of Christ’s Church here on earth:
I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.
In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian church day after day he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen!