Scriptures: Acts 2:14, 22-32 Psalm 16
I Peter 1:3-9 John 20:19-31
We’re once again in one of those seasons in which society’s calendar and the church calendar are a little out of sync. For society, last Sunday was Easter…..and for the stores, the Easter season happened in the weeks leading up to Easter, providing opportunities to sell flowers and chocolate bunnies and peeps and such. But for us in the church, Easter as a season will continue for several more weeks, until Pentecost, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, which this year is on June 4. For the stores, Easter is a season to make money, because every season is a season to make money. But for the church, Easter is a season because the resurrection is just too big to try to squash into one Sunday. Even on Easter day, the lectionary provides two options for Gospel readings – John, and one of the other gospels – and so last week, I preached on the reading from John’s gospel at the sunrise service and on the reading from Matthew’s gospel at the 10 a.m. And then this week and in coming weeks, our readings will give us additional appearances of Jesus, and teachings of Jesus that help us get our minds around the resurrection.
Today’s Gospel reading picks up where last week’s reading left off. Last week we heard about Mary seeing an empty tomb, a vision of angels, and finally the Risen Christ himself, who told her not to linger with him, but to go and tell the disciples that Jesus was risen and is alive.
Meanwhile, those disciples were huddling behind locked doors – we’re told, “for fear of the Jews”; we should understand this as for fear of the religious authorities, those who had arrested Jesus and might very well be looking to arrest his disciples as well. And these disciples were not only fearful, but discouraged, depressed, devastated. They had put all their hopes in Jesus, left behind all they had known, had followed him around over who knows how many miles of dusty roads. They had seen him heal and heard him teach, and wherever Jesus went, lives were changed for the better. And as they’d gotten closer to Jerusalem, Jesus had kept saying that he would be arrested and killed….but likely they just thought he was being dramatic. And the stuff he’d kept saying about rising in on the third day….who knew what that meant. All they knew was that everything they’d experienced with Jesus – all their hopes and dreams of driving out the Romans and leading Judea to independence, all their dreams of glory - had come crashing down around them. The mood in that locked room must have been like a funeral – telling one another about their memories, a particular teaching or healing of Jesus that stuck with them. And all with the question in the background, “Where do we go from here?” Mary had come with some strange story about having seen Jesus in the garden, alive, but they didn’t know what to make of what she was saying. Maybe Mary was having a case of the vapors……
They would have been dealing, not only with the death of Jesus, but with their own feelings of failure and guilt. After all Jesus had done for them, where had they been when Jesus needed them? Peter, James and John had fallen asleep when Jesus had asked them to stay awake with him in the garden. After Jesus was arrested, the disciples scattered, and Peter denied even having known him. Fine friends they were.
And suddenly Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus was alive! And Jesus showed them his hands and side to let them know it really was him. As he was doing this, for just a moment, though, even amid their joy, they must have been worried about what Jesus would have to say to them. “Hey there, Peter, James, and John, I hope I’m not keeping you awake now? Hey there Peter, do you know me now? You’re all crowding around me now, but where were you guys when the Romans were putting nails through my hands and a spear in my side?” But instead, Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” In that moment, peace was a word they really needed to hear. Jesus repeated it a second time, “Peace be with you.”, just to be sure they knew that he came in peace, that for all their failures he wasn’t angry with them.
Jesus went on to say, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” “Send them where?”, they might have thought. Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.“ And really, this is John’s account of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Several weeks from now, we’ll read Luke’s story of Pentecost, Luke’s story of the coming of the Holy Spirit as record in the 2nd chapter of Acts – a rush of wind, tongues of fire – but in John’s gospel, Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit on them by breathing it into them. Jesus goes on to tell them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” At that moment they were just grateful that Jesus had forgiven them.
But Thomas wasn’t with them. When they other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he didn’t believe them any more than the other disciples had believed Mary earlier. “Unless I see him with my own eyes, nail holes and wound in his side and all, I will not believe.”
We’re told that a week later, they were back in the same house, behind the same locked doors, and this time Thomas was with them. And they same thing happened; despite the locked doors, Jesus showed up and said, “Peace be with you.” And then, just as he had shown the disciples his hands and side a week ago, Jesus did so for Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And, just as the other disciples had believed a week earlier, Thomas answered Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus told Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.”
Thomas always gets a bit of a bad rap – “doubting Thomas” and all that. But really, Thomas just wanted what the other disciples experienced. Mary had told the disciples that she had seen Jesus, but they didn’t believe until they saw Jesus themselves, nail holes and spear hole and all. Thomas just wanted the same thing – and Jesus was gracious enough to come a second time, so that Thomas was not left behind. But in those words, Jesus gave a blessing to all of those who would come to believe in Jesus, not by having Jesus pop up in their bedroom, but through the words of the disciples. It’s a blessing for all who would come to read John’s gospel and the other gospels, and come to believe – a blessing for us here at Emanuel. For the first disciples, seeing was believing; for us, hearing is believing, and reading is believing.
For Thomas and the other disciples, seeing was believing. But I’d also say that, for us, believing is seeing. Let me say it again: believing is seeing. Consider that before Jesus appeared to them, the disciples were huddling behind locked doors, as we read, for fear of the Jews – again, that is to say, the Jewish religious leaders. Huddled behind locked doors, because of fear. In that moment after Jesus had been crucified, they were looking for safety, nothing more. But Jesus, with this message of truth and love, was not stopped by their closed doors. And after their encounter with the Risen Christ, they were able to leave those locked doors, even though nothing had changed in terms of being threatened by the religious leaders. And after Pentecost, they were able not only to leave their locked room, but to go out into all the world to preach good news.
Believing is seeing. What we see is often determined by what our beliefs allow us to see. Our beliefs, our prejudices – we all have them, me too - our life experience, all form lenses through which we see the world. If our beliefs are based on fear, we will see a scary world. Our minds will interpret everything we see in ways that reinforce our fears. And we will be stuck, just as stuck as those disciples huddling behind locked doors. If, however, Jesus is the lens through whom we see the world – Jesus, who healed and taught, who cared for the poor and those on the margins, Jesus who, in Paul’s words, emptied himself, gave his life for us – we will see the world differently. We will see needs and resources and opportunities to connect with others, opportunities to serve, to which others are oblivious. What others see as “just the way the world is” we will see as brokenness and sin in need of transformation through Jesus. Especially as we see Jesus’ death and resurrection, not just as a one-time event, but as the way life happens, as a pattern for our lives, we will see the world differently. What others see as a dead-end – a death – we will see as an opportunity for God to act and to bring about new life, resurrection life. What others see as defeat, we will see as an opportunity for God to bring about victory.
“Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” May we continually come to believe in the power of the Risen Christ, and may that believe lead us to share that good news with a world desperate for good news. Amen.