Our Gospel lesson from John this week is a well known story. The first appearance of Jesus to the disciples after his resurrection. It is a story which has become synonymous with ‘Doubting Thomas’. However, to focus on Thomas is to pick an easy target and ignore the many other issues that this text asks of us.
My Lord and My God – Audio Sermon
I enjoy taking my dog out for a walk. It is a pleasant way to get some exercise, enjoy some fresh air and allow my mind to relax. During our walks I take in the sights whether it is admiring the gardens I walk past or the lush forest we are walking through. It is a relaxing time for me.
However, what I have come to realize on my walks is that my dog Lady is seeing less and less each day. We have always known that her vision was poor and it has now gotten to the point where she can see very little. As I walk with her I need to be aware of things that might be different from a previous walk. A car parked on the road is enough of a change to frighten her and cause her to jump. Walking with her has caused me to be more aware of my own surroundings and the things I see.
It is a reminder of just how much I rely on my sense of sight.
The ability to see things as they are takes center stage in our gospel reading this morning. The story is well known. Jesus has been raised from the dead. He has appeared to all the disciples except Thomas. Poor Thomas we think. The story is famous enough that the expression ‘Doubting Thomas’ is used in society at large. An expression used to identify someone who is unable to believe something they have not seen with their own eyes.
Poor, poor Thomas. He wasn’t with the disciples that day. When they were afraid for their lives and had locked themselves into the upper room. Thomas was absent. John does not tell us what he was doing or why he was not present. Only that he was not there.
Jesus appears to the other disciples and says to them simply, “Peace be with you.”
This is not the first time that Jesus has said these words to his disciples. However it is the first time that Jesus has spoken these words to the disciples after his resurrection. That changes them. That charges these words with power. Infuses them with the power of the resurrection. The peace that comes in knowing that Christ died, and did indeed come back from the dead. It gives the disciples a sense of purpose that they may not have had previously.
You have to imagine their state of mind. We reading the Bible today know the story well. We reread it every year, we know the ending. We know the ending that has not happened yet so for us the time of Easter is perhaps too easy.
However, for the disciples this was not the case. Jesus had died. Not an ordinary death. Jesus was killed by an occupying Empire. He was executed by that Empire for being a common criminal, a political rabble rouser. Many of the established Jewish leaders did not like him. He upset the status quo, he made people uncomfortable. As a result he was killed. In dying he took our sin, our wrong doings both as individuals and as a community, granting us forgiveness and restoring our relationship with God at the same time.
So Jesus was dead. Their leader was dead. The disciples were hiding because they were afraid for their lives. They were afraid of being associated with Jesus and suffering the same death as him. This is why they were hiding. Of course they have heard the news from the women that the tomb was empty and they did not believe them. This is important, the disciples doubted the testimony provided by the women.
So Jesus appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.” It is at this moment that the disciples believe that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. And at that moment they receive this blessing from Jesus a blessing of peace that transcends death. A blessing that is followed by Jesus telling the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of their sins.
It is a singularly powerful moment. It assures the disciples that their faith in Christ was not ill-founded. That Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. Their fear dissipates and they know the joy that it is to live in the knowledge that Christ has conquered the grace.
However, Thomas was not there with the others. We don’t know where he was, only that he was absent. You can imagine the excitement of the others when he returns. The Master lives! Jesus is alive! He has risen form the dead!
We all know Thomas’ response.
“I don’t believe it. Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and in his side. I will not believe it.”
His reaction is understandable. We would say the exact same thing if we were in his place. Think about. People do not come back from the dead. At least they didn’t until Jesus did. We too would ask for empirical proof. We would demand the same thing that Thomas demands, proof. To Thomas’ credit he is not asking for anything the other disciples did not already witness. The other disciples saw Jesus in the flesh, Thomas is only asking for the same thing. It is completely understandable.
I honestly think we are too hard on Thomas. Thomas represents us, we too need proof at times. We doubt at times. How can this happen, how can Jesus come back from the grave. Did he really forgive my sins? We want a sign.
Have you heard the expression: “If you don’t have faith, then there will never be evidence enough to convince you and if you do have faith, no evidence is needed. Without faith, no evidence is sufficient; with faith, no evidence is necessary.”
That is where we are today. We have the witness that is scripture. We rely on our faith because we, like Thomas, aren’t able to see the wounds of Christ in the flesh.
Stories like this remind us of the humility we need to accept God’s word in scripture. Of the humility that is required to accept God’s plan for us. We need to drop the doubting Thomas bit and realize that at times we are just as big doubters as Thomas was.
Humility and faith are required of us if we are to utter with sincerity the words that Thomas later utters.
Later Thomas sees Jesus with his own eyes. Instead of chastising him for his lack of faith, Jesus allows Thomas to touch his wounds. Thomas responds with one of the most heartfelt confessions of faith in scripture, “My Lord and my God.”
My Lord and my God. This is who Jesus is. Our Lord and our God.
We are called to believe that days after dying a public execution he came back from the dead. That he broke down the barrier of death for our sake.
John ends this section of his gospel by writing that Jesus did many more things that are not written down. But that the things he did write down were done so that we can believe. So that we can believe that Jesus is our Lord and our God.
That in all we do in life it is to the glory of God. That it is done in thanksgiving for what Jesus has first done for us. That it is done in recognition that Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace.
The story of Jesus appearing to the disciples, of Thomas’ doubt and subsequent belief are provided to us to point us towards Jesus. To point us towards Jesus after the grave.
This is where we live. We are an Easter people. True, there is no Easter without the birth, without Christmas. But it is Easter, the resurrection that defines us as Christians. We are resurrection people. That night upstairs when Jesus appears the disciples were living in a post Easter time. It was the first Easter.
We too live in a post-Easter world. Some 2000 years later after that first night. As followers of Christ, we are defined by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are called to proclaim as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!”
Christmas is the big holiday, the big celebration. However, as Easter people we need to understand the season of Lent and Easter and what it means for us today. Easter is our season, Easter is where the promise of God as revealed in Jesus Christ becomes reality. Where we are forgiven and brought back into right relationship with God.
We need to understand Good Friday and our role in Christ’s death.
We need to understand Easter and what it means to have life. Not this life of flesh and bones. But life eternal, rested in the promise of Jesus Christ.
If we can understand these events then we can move closer to proclaiming My Lord and My God!
Friends, we can only make that proclamation if we contend with our own doubt. If we wrestle with our questions about Jesus, about what his life meant. About what his death means to us. And finally what is found in the promise of his resurrection.
Friends Jesus did die for us. He did rise from the dead for us.
The question asked of Thomas is the same one that we must deal with. Either Jesus has risen or he has not. It is that simple.
One week removed from Easter that is the question that is before us.
Do we need to see with our eyes or can we rely on the testimony of John?
Friends, let us be guided by our faith. Faith that is grounded in the promise that Jesus Christ did overcome the grave. That Jesus Christ lives for us today. That in Jesus we know true life and are called into relationship with one another and with God. Amen.
Text: John 20: 19-31