Second Sunday of Easter/John 20:19-31
April 19, 2020
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
One of the things that lends authenticity to the Bible is that it has dirty laundry hanging out--all over it.
God’s written Word proclaims good news in the same breath that it poses imponderable questions. When we read or hear the Scriptures we catch glimpses that give us hope—while at the same time leaving us wondering what comes next.
The human writers who pieced God’s Word together could have been tidier—they could have smoothed over the rough spots and rounded off the jagged edges--but they didn’t.
The Bible tells the story of God and God’s people “warts and all”—with no apologies. Nothing gets sanitized or swept under the rug--even episodes that don’t exactly put Jesus’ followers in the kindest light.
Episodes like our familiar gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter.
Taken at face value, this starts out as a story about unbelievers....unbelievers who, because they’d been Jesus’ closest companions for years, should have known better.
This story begins with a bunch of bewildered disciples huddled together in a “safe house” on that first Easter evening.
Even though these guys had put on some mileage with Jesus…they still didn’t get it.
They thought that his crucifixion the preceding Friday had “done in” Jesus for good.
So, fearful that Jesus’ fate might become their own, these disciples pulled the shades, locked the doors, and hid.
But one of them was missing.
For whatever reason Thomas was absent that first Easter evening. Thomas missed all the hoopla when Jesus showed up three days after he’d been buried. Thomas didn’t get to see the risen Christ with his own two eyes.
So when the others later told Thomas they had seen Jesus alive again…Thomas flat out declared he wasn’t going to believe it without receiving at least as much proof as they had gotten.
You’ve got to love Thomas.
He was nobody’s chump.
Every church council needs at least one Thomas on it: someone who doesn’t immediately buy every hair-brained idea that comes along.
We’ve hung a nickname around his neck, calling him Doubting Thomas, as if for Thomas faith was elusive, hard to muster up.
But is that really fair?
What if Thomas was actually like his fellow disciples—only more so? What if Thomas’s motto was “seeing is believing?” What if for Thomas faith and doubt lived, side by side?
At any rate, we see Thomas here in John chapter 20, Thomas in all his skeptical glory--demanding visual, “touchable” evidence that Jesus was really alive again.
And don’t you just love it—that Thomas’s story didn’t get edited out of the Scriptures?
Is that not good news for the skeptics and doubters inside each of us?
Because there’s room in our Bible for Thomas, there’s room in God’s story for you and me, too!
For, truth be told, we all carry around our own bulging bags of questions, fears and even doubts.
Isn’t that particularly true right now, in these endless days of the global coronavirus pandemic?
Every day we’re bombarded by facts and figures and sobering projections about how many people are catching the virus, with a mounting death toll in its wake.
Do we not wonder at times whether God’s really going to pull us through this global mess?
As people plagued by our own questions, wonderings and doubts we find that Thomas fits us like a glove.
Thomas is you and me. And the Bible--miracle of miracles!--does not shrink from telling his story.
The Bible, though, doesn’t simply make us feel at home with all our questions and doubts. God’s Word doesn’t aim simply to make us into more healthy, well-adjusted unbelievers. No….but rather the Bible also tells us what God does with unbelievers, how God deals with doubters, how God turns unbelievers into good news-speakers.
It is God’s specialty to transform doubters into shouters.
That, too, is the story--the real story--of this gospel text.
First Jesus wondrously shows up in that locked room with his followers on that first Easter evening.
The Risen Christ appears to them—not to deliver a stern lecture about the dangers of unbelief—but to proclaim a word of gentle peace.
“Shalom!” is the first word out of Jesus’ mouth.
Shalom! —which means “Peace to the nth degree.”
That’s what Jesus says to his unbelieving followers…and then, so they’ll know him as it dawns on them that Jesus now has death behind him, he shows them the scars of his crucifixion.
How curious—that rather than scientifically proving to them that he’s ALIVE—the Risen and living Lord Jesus proves that he was really dead.
Then, and only then, do the disciples rejoice, in giddy recognition of their risen Lord.
Next, without wasting a second, Jesus gives these unbelievers work to do, along with the power to do it--all in one breath (literally--all in one breath!) when Jesus breathes new life into them and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”(v. 22-23)
What does Jesus do with this tiny band of shivering, knee-knocking unbelievers? He drafts them for his service, makes them his ambassadors, catches them up in his own work of piecing back together the whole creation--one shattered relationship, one jaded unbeliever, one repentant sinner at a time.
And Thomas? What does Jesus do for Thomas?
A week after the first Easter Jesus does for Thomas exactly what Thomas needed him to do. Jesus graciously, lavishly gives Thomas the grounds he needs to become a believer. “Put your finger here, Thomas...Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do whatever you need to with me in order to have faith. Do not doubt but believe.” (v. 27)
What does Jesus do for Thomas? He transforms Thomas the doubter into Thomas the shouter, as he exclaims: “My Lord and my God!”(v. 28)
And so may we also declare that Jesus who was crucified, has been raised to new life—nevermore to die again!
May Thomas’s good confession find its way to our lips, too.
The proof in the pudding, you see, isn’t just that Thomas and the other disciples believed in Jesus….but that you and I believe, through their powerful witness.
It is for us that the Bible lets the dirty laundry hang out all over. Or as John the gospel writer puts it: “These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (v. 31)
There’s the pay off! It is for you and me that the Bible allows the stories of skeptics like Thomas to be told....for only in so telling do we also come to behold what God does with the “show me” guys, the doubters who dot the pages of the Bible.
And what God does with them is to turn unbelievers—like you and me!--into gospel-speakers and gospel-enactors!
God transforms us doubters into shouters who never tire of proclaiming Thomas’s greatest line: “My Lord and My God!”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.