Second Lesson: John 20:19-31
First Lesson Luke 24:36-49
Children’s story John 20:10-18
Sunday, April 3, 2016
Sunday after Easter
So picture this. Eleven men are sitting in a secret room in Jerusalem with the doors locked. Maybe there are also some women in the room with them. Probably there are some women in the room with them.
They have gone into hiding in this locked room because they are afraid. Legitimately afraid. They have seen how the soldiers and the priests and the elders came for Jesus while he was praying in a garden. They watched while they hauled him away in chains. He was herded from one judge and one Governor and one priest to another in the middle of the night, and people had accused him all of all sorts of things that were not true. He was executed. These eleven men are his closest followers and they have been in hiding for three days because they were very sure that what had happened to Jesus could very well happen to them. It was pretty clear who Jesus’ followers had been – they openly walked and talked with him and did miracles in his name in all the cities and small villages throughout the country for three years. They could have rightly expected that the elders and the priests and the soldiers who came for Jesus would be coming for them soon also. And do to them what they had done to Jesus.
The men sat in that locked room remembering their lives with him and thinking about his death and thinking about their futures after his death. Three years of income gone. Three years of normal family life gone while they followed him up and down the countryside. And for what? They could have no idea what their futures will be. Will they go back to their families and back to fishing and tax collecting and whatever else they did? The women were wondering how their lives would change now that they didn’t have Jesus to care for every day. And follow him wherever he went every day. What about that glorious kingdom they were anticipating? What about all those hopes that one of them would sit on Jesus’ right side and one on his left side as he sat on his royal throne? They are thinking back to that Sunday just a week ago when they waved branches beside his donkey and sang songs to him and thought he would be their King in their capital city. In one short week their whole lives had changed and they were bewildered and in shock.
And while they are thinking all of that, here come Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Joanna and some of the other women. They come flying into the room with the news that Jesus is alive. Out of his grave and walking around and alive. That story we had last week. And the story I just told the children. But those men didn’t believe such nonsense. How could they believe such nonsense? A man dead in his grave for three whole days and then alive again???. But then immediately here come Cleopas and his wife running all the way back from Emmaus seven miles in the dead of night and they are breathless and they are telling how Jesus has been in their very house and at their very kitchen table and eating supper with them that very night. And Peter is sitting there quietly. He’s remembering that he went to Jesus’ grave and found it empty. And Peter, who usually has the all the answers to all the questions, doesn’t know what to think.
And just as all this is happening, Jesus comes to them. Past the locked doors into that secret room where they were hunkered down. They thought he was a ghost. They doubted that it could possibly be Jesus. We do not blame them that they doubted. And we do not blame Thomas for doubting when the others told him.
Jesus speaks to them. He says, “Peace” to them.
That’s the picture.
And here’s more of the picture.
We don’t know very much about Thomas from the Scripture – only three very short stories that John tells us, but we call him Doubting Thomas because of this story. But there are other stories. Once Jesus wanted to go to Bethany near Jerusalem to be with his friends Mary and Martha after their brother had died. The other disciples told Jesus that the Jewish priests and elders would stone him to death if he went there and they tried to persuade him not to go. But Thomas said, “Let’s all go with him and die with him.” Which looks to me like a man who was deeply committed to Jesus – even to the point of death. That man is no doubter.
Another time Jesus was talking in riddles about his death and about his going back to heaven to prepare a place for them. Thomas didn’t understand, and rather than pretend that he understood those riddles, he asked Jesus a bunch of questions. Which makes me think that he wanted desperately to understand. More of a believer than a doubter, I would say.
And now this story of Thomas after Jesus’ resurrection. He refuses to believe the amazing story that Jesus has come back to life. He said, “Unless I put my fingers in the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and feet and put my hand in the hole in his side where the soldiers rammed their swords, I will not believe that Jesus is alive.” And for that we call him Doubting Thomas.
But maybe he was more of an honest questioner. Maybe he was the sort of person who doesn’t know things until he can understand them with his head. Or sees the evidence with his own eyes. And who struggles to know because it’s very important for him. Maybe he’s the sort of person who believes deeply – not lightly.
The Bible doesn’t tell us any more about Thomas or about what happened to him after Jesus went back into heaven. Tradition - and we can’t prove it though we have no real reason not to believe it – tradition tells us that he was a missionary in India and died there as a martyr. And there’s a book called the Acts of Thomas, which isn’t in our Bible, but which tells of his travels and missionary work in India. And may I tell you that it takes a man of great faith and courage to be a missionary in India and be martyred. That man was no doubter. That man is a devoted follower of Jesus.
So did you see how Jesus responded to Thomas’ questions? He held out his hands where the nail holes were barely beginning to heal. He offered the gaping wound in his side, and invited Thomas to put his hand there. And when Thomas experienced Jesus, he believed. He saw with his very own eyes and touched with his very own fingers, and he believed and he said, “My Lord and My God.”
So that’s the picture. Now can you put yourselves in that picture?
Maybe you’re like Thomas in our story for today. You have questions about our faith. Honest, legitimate questions about our faith. Maybe the stories of the Bible seem a little fanciful for you. Or maybe you live in the real world and there’s too much going on the real world that is troubling for you. Maybe there are things going on in your life that are difficult and that you don’t understand. Or you wonder what in the world God is doing in the world, or maybe God is off somewhere ignoring the whole mess? And you want to say to God, “Where are you when I need you? Where are you when this messed up world needs you?”
And you have every right to those thoughts and those feelings and you have every right to question when your mind can’t take it all in and when you can’t see a solution in front of your eyes and when you can’t find logical answers that satisfy. Just as Thomas did.
But think about this: maybe it’s not a matter of reasoning things out until we know them. Maybe it’s not a matter of being eye witnesses as Thomas was. Maybe it’s a matter of experiencing, for ourselves, the outrageous love of God for us. It’s a matter of opening ourselves up to be in the right place and in right frame of mind to hear God speaking to us, which is the only way that will happen these days. And then, in that place, we know things that our eyes cannot see and that reason cannot teach us and that our minds cannot comprehend.
Maybe Jesus comes to you when you are wretchedly sad like he did to Mary Magdalene and says your name and gives you his love. Maybe he comes to you when you have a great many questions like he did to Thomas and shows you who he is – in unmistakable ways - and offers you peace.
And this morning Jesus offers us this bread and juice. His beaten, bruised body. His blood running from the holes in his hands and his feet and his side. We come to this table and we eat bread and drink juice and in a way that I can never understand or put into words, we experience the death of Jesus. And then we say, with Thomas. “My Lord and My God.” And we hear Jesus say to us: “Peace be with you.”