Sermon Text: John 20: 19-31
Today’s Gospel is broken down into two scenes, both set in the same space, occurring one week apart.
In the first scene 10 men sit huddled in a house in Jerusalem. It is evening on Sunday night, on Easter Sunday, and they are locked into the house because the city is a scary place for the grief-stricken disciples of Jesus. Three days ago their teacher, friend, and Messiah was put to death by the people of that city, and by the state, and now they are afraid that a target is painted on their backs as well. Their lives are in danger, guilty by association. But now, in the midst of their fear, and in the midst of the shock and grief of this traumatic experience, these men have heard that the body of Jesus is missing. It is rumored that he is alive.
When you add it all up, the confusion of the rumors, the threat of persecution and death, and the raw emotions of seeing your friend tortured and murdered in front of your eyes, the world becomes a frightening place. It’s no wonder that they are hiding behind locked doors, keeping to themselves, not inviting attention or trouble.
But this is Easter Day and Jesus is not done making his appearances. In the morning, in the garden of the tomb, Jesus appeared and talked with Mary Magdalene. She brought the witness of that encounter back to the disciples. Now they will have the life-changing encounter with the Jesus, the Risen Lord.
Jesus walks into this scene wrought with fear, loss, and panic and he does not come empty handed. First, he extends the gift of peace. Then he extends the gift of companionship and Godly guidance through the Holy Spirit. Jesus then finishes with the life sustaining gift and responsibility of forgiveness.
With those gifts of peace, companionship, and forgiveness Jesus equips his disciples to be transformed from people cowering in fear behind a locked door into witnesses who will share those very gifts throughout the world in Jesus’ name.
In the second scene 11 men sit in the same house, seven days later. The extra addition is the disciple Thomas, who was predictably disagreeable to his friends’ account of encountering Jesus. Once again, the dead stay dead. Thomas wasn’t there on that Easter night, he was out buying groceries or taking in the sights of Jerusalem or something, and missed Jesus’ appearance. His reaction to the story is one of disbelief.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
One scholar, her name is Cameron Howard, went so far as to call Thomas’ reaction a lament. Normally this story is referred to as Doubting Thomas, but in reality, Thomas demands. Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared, and now he is demanding that Jesus show up for him just as he did for everyone else. Thomas wants to experience the sensation of resurrection hope that the others received. He is honest that if he is to believe this outlandish news of resurrection and new life, he needs Jesus to show up in the flesh. He wants to experience the Risen Christ with all of his senses, not just with the knowledge of what others have seen.
When we are honest about our disappointment and demand that God shows up, we are lamenting. Lament is a sacred tradition, a holy complaint to God, demanding God’s intervention for healing, deliverance, and accompaniment. Thomas wants Jesus to show up for him in the midst of his turmoil and grief just as God showed up for the people of Israel and delivered them again and again in their history. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. He shows up.
Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.
In both encounters with Jesus I see ways for us to enter into this story. Right now, we are spending most of our time behind closed and locked doors. As we augment our lives to take on the coronavirus there’s a gamut of emotions that we experience. Many folks feel like the disciples on that first Easter evening. There is fear. There is grief. There is a genuine effort to stay behind locked doors to keep the dangers of the world at bay.
Others feel like Thomas. There is lament. There is complaint about the current situation. There is the demand for God to show up and do something, to be present and represent us in this time of need.
In each case Jesus steps in and ministers. To the afraid he brings peace, comfort, accompaniment, and forgiveness. To the lamenter he brings the promised presence of God in a way that can be grabbed onto with both hands.
We still have these emotions, we are living right now with these feelings, and Jesus continues to deliver these gifts of resurrected life as we experience the uncertainties of our day to day existence.
Come Jesus. Stand us with us now and deliver us. AMEN