Sunday, April 15, 2012

A 'Low Sunday' sermon: John 20:19-31

Sermon Second Sunday in Easter                                                                                              4/15/2012
It has been seven days now , since we have had our Easter celebration,  and yet the gospel story this morning picks up just a few hours after Mary Magdalene tells the disciples what she experienced at Jesus’ tomb.  And while we have proclaimed Christ’s resurrection, said our Alleluias and eaten our Easter candy, the disciples have yet to join in the celebration.  In today’s Gospel we are pulled back, back to Easter Day, back into the story where we are reminded that the events at the tomb are by no means the end of the Easter story.  The disciples do not seem to believe what Mary has told them, if they had believed surely they would be out looking for Jesus, but instead they have locked themselves inside, afraid of the persecution that may be waiting for them out there.  I can only imagine how they must have felt. The disciples have had their lives turned upside down.  They had given up everything in order to follow Jesus and follow him they did, for three years.  And quite suddenly they find themselves without him, without his leadership, without his strength and wisdom to guide them, and without him they are lost.  Then all of a sudden, in the midst of their grief and despair, Jesus appears among them.  Only then, after they saw him, after they saw the wounds in his hands and his side did they finally rejoice. 

And Jesus wastes no time, in the Gospel according to John, it is on Easter day that Jesus gives the disciples his Great Commission, telling them “As the Father has sent me, even so I have sent you,” this Gospel story makes it quite clear that the mission of the church is inextricably linked to Christ’s resurrection.  The lives we live as Christians cannot be separated from Christ’s saving action on the cross.

 But what Jesus gives the disciples to do is no easy task, the disciples are sent into the world, just as Jesus had been sent, and they are given the unique responsibility of forgiving or retaining the sins of others.  At first glance this looks as if Christ has given the disciples the ability to be the judge and jury over all those that they meet, and certainly it has been interpreted that way, but it is not the privilege of judgment that Christ bestows on the disciples.  It is the responsibility of evangelism.  Jesus gives the disciples the responsibility of bearing witness to the work of God in the world. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had given them the commandments to love God and to love their neighbor, and through his own life and death he has shown them what it means to live out those commandments.  Now it is the disciples turn, by living as Christ has taught them to live, they can demonstrate God’s Grace to the whole world, They are called to offer forgiveness to people by letting them know that through Christ they are freed from sin and death. 

 Jesus breathes on all the disciples, giving them the Holy Spirit and commissioning them to continue his work in the world.  All the disciples that is, except for Thomas.  Poor maligned Thomas.  His name forever marred by the “doubting” epithet.  Where had Thomas gone off to during this oh so crucial moment in the life of the church?  If the eleven of them were all so scared of being persecuted, then where was Thomas?  I like to think that Thomas was the only one brave enough to go out, and in the hour of Jesus’ appearance Thomas was out buying everyone dinner.  Of course we can never know for sure where Thomas was, all we know is that he was not there.  What must it have been like to be Thomas, to return to your friends only to discover that they had had this incredible experience in your absence, not only did Jesus appear amongst them, but he breathed the Holy Spirit onto them and gave them a new mission in life.  It is not an enviable place to be in, the odd man out.  No one wants to be the outsider, the one who doesn’t quite get the joke, or understand the reference, No one wants to be the only person who wasn’t there. So I don’t blame Thomas for not believing.   For Thomas to believe what the other disciples shared with him would make him the only disciple NOT given the Holy Spirit, the only disciple NOT made into an apostle, the only disciple NOT given the opportunity to see Jesus once again.  Who, thinking that their loved one is dead, wouldn’t immediately demand to see him upon hearing that he was, in fact, alive?  Who wouldn’t want to touch that person, to embrace him?

Poor Thomas, he would have to wait a whole other week before Easter would come for him.  But eventually Jesus does return to the closed up house, and he presents himself to Thomas who immediately upon seeing Jesus declares quite powerfully “My Lord and My God!” Not only does Thomas believe when sees Jesus, he sees Jesus for who he truly is, Thomas understands and declares it loudly “My Lord and My God!” 
And Christ’s response, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” is not meant to shame Thomas, or to set him up as a foil against the other disciples.  None of the disciples believed before they saw, and that is okay.  Christ understands who we are, he knows that doubt is part of human nature.  Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Christ is not meant to make us despair over our own doubt, rather it is a story of promise, and it is meant to give us hope.   Thomas was not physically present at the Great Commissioning, but he is still blessed by the Holy Spirit and counted among the apostles, and in his interaction with Thomas, Christ assures us that we too, are blessed and called to represent Christ’s love in the world.  

This calling starts for us at baptism where we are marked as Christ’s own forever.  At baptism we are made part of the body of Christ and as a part of that body we are supported by our fellow pilgrims, and together we are sent out as representatives of Christ to the world.

It is hard to believe that only a week ago we were celebrating Easter.  If it weren’t for the dwindling shelves of half-priced Easter candy, one would hardly know that the Easter holiday had ever happened.  I find it a little frustrating at times, while we are in the midst of the somber season of lent the world around us is  decorating with colorful eggs, bunnies, and pastel colored flowers.  And when we finally get to the Easter season and it is time to rejoice and celebrate the world has already moved on.  But you know I think that is right, the Easter we are celebrating is something entirely different, something far greater that cannot be contained to just one day of the year.  Christ has overthrown death, not just for himself, but for all of us. Christ is the light in the darkness and there is nothing left for us to fear, wherever we are, Christ will meet us there, there is no locked door, no amount of despair or resentment or doubt that can stand in his way.  The Easter story continues with all of us, like the disciples we are called out of our locked rooms and asked to take the joy we experienced on Easter Day, the joy of a life renewed by Christ and we are to share that joy with a suffering world in need of some good news.  

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