Easter Sunday 2015

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The sanctuary prepared for Easter with brass bells and plenty of flowers!

 

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

Easter Sunday 2015

John 20:19-29

 

 

What a contrast today is to that first Easter.  We worship in an open building with signs drawing attention and encouraging others to visit.  We’re told in John’s gospel that the disciples, on the first Easter, were hiding.  We’re told the doors were locked out of a fear of the authorities.  I doubt too many of us are afraid today, at least not here in America, even though we know it can be dangerous to be a Christian in some parts of the world as we’ve witnessed this week with the atrocities in Kenya.  Our prayers need to be with our brothers and sisters there and wherever people live in fear due to their beliefs.

Our passage this morning is from the 20th Chapter of John’s gospel.  At sunrise, we looked at the opening verses.  Now we’ll explore the events later that day and what happens on the next Sunday when Thomas encounters the risen Lord.   Read John 20:19-29.

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It is evening of the first Easter…  The disciples gather in secret, behind locked doors.  Fright and fatigue show on their faces.  The past week has taken its toll… They’d been at the top of their game, marching triumphantly into Jerusalem.  But after the palm branches dropped onto the street, things went sour fast.  Jesus, their leader, their friend, there reason for being, was arrested, executed, and buried…  Out of fear, the disciples scattered.  Saturday, the Sabbath, was spent in fear.  As business resumes on the first day of the week, rumors begin to spread about Jesus being alive.  As impossible as it may seem, some claim to have seen Jesus.  So the disciples begin seeking out each other.  This motley collection of fishermen, tax collectors and such from Galilee don’t know what to do.  What should they make of the stories? “Can the women who were there at the tomb be right?  Can Jesus be alive, or is this just an idle tale?”[1]

And then suddenly, as the sun sinks in the West, Jesus appears.  We’re not told how he gets through the locked doors, but there he is in the middle of the gathered disciples, holding up his hands, greeting his friends, saying: “Peace be with you.”  What a sight!  The nail holes are evident.  His side is ripped where the Roman spear pierced.  The fatigue on their faces disappear, but the fright remains, as they gaze upon their Lord, their Master, their friend.

Again Jesus says: “Peace be with you,” only this time he continues, telling them that just as he was sent by the Father, he’s sending them out into the world.  Then, reminiscence of God blowing breath into the nostrils of the clay figure there in the Garden, giving life to Adam, Jesus blows upon the disciples.[2]  And they receive the Holy Spirit and become a new living community—a community with the power to offer forgiveness.

A week later, the disciples are again in the house… again, it’s the first day of the week, Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath, the day that will in time become the primary day that most Christians worship.  Again the doors are locked.  The shades are probably still pulled…  On the roof a disciple may be on lookout; they fear of the authorities.  So much for Jesus’ command to go out into the world…  It’s been a week since they’ve seen the resurrected Christ, with his wounds still visible, yet they’re still hiding, still afraid for their lives, still afraid to go out into the world…  Then Jesus reappears.

Thomas, who has not yet seen Jesus, is also present.  Thomas is an empiricist.  He wants to see, to sense, to touch, before he commits himself to something.  Knowing this, Jesus invites Thomas to place his finger in his wounds…  “Don’t doubt, believe!” Jesus says.  In awe Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas’ cry, “My Lord and my God,” represents the climax of John’s Gospel.  Thomas’ acknowledgment is more than Jesus just being the Messiah.  Thomas realizes Jesus is also God.  By confessing Jesus to be God, Thomas goes beyond all other confessions of the disciples up to this point.[3]  Though a doubter at first, Thomas becomes the first disciple to recognize Jesus as more than a teacher or a leader sent by God.  Jesus is God.  Furthermore, Thomas’ proclamation is a political statement.  Roman emperors were addressed as “Our lord and god.”  Here, Thomas confesses who truly is Lord and God, and it ain’t Caesar or any one else to whom we might be lured into professing allegiance.[4]   By calling Jesus Lord, Thomas asserts Jesus is worthy to obey.  By calling Jesus God, Thomas declares that Jesus should be worshipped, as we’re doing today.

What can we make out of these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus?  I would like to offer a few suggestions by observing Jesus, the disciples and Thomas and ending with some implications for us as disciples and the church today.  Let’s start with Jesus…  Having overcome the grave, he appears to the disciples.  He’s alive, yet John makes it clear that his wounds still fresh.  In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that he’s not a ghost.[5]  John, by recalling Jesus’ wounds, makes the same point.  Here is Jesus, in the flesh.

I’d like us to ponder why it’s important to have Jesus’ wounds still visible.  “It’s such a comfort to know that Jesus’ wounds remain visible in his risen body,” one woman said.  “Our wounds are not taken away, but become sources of hope to others.”[6]  We’ve all been wounded.  Some of us have had physical wounds, broken bones and the sort, but unless they’re really severe, they generally heal.  It’s the other wounds that seem to linger on.  Broken promises and broken relationships; failure to achieve or obtain adoration; things we’ve done that has disappoint others or ourselves.  We’ve all been wounded in these ways.  And you know, Jesus never says he’ll take all of our problems away or that we’ll be free of such wounds.  Instead he says we’re okay, even with our wounds, because we belong to him.  We don’t have to worry about what other people think, what’s important is that we believe in him.

Let me assure you that you’ll still have failures and setbacks, even after you come to know Christ.  But that’s ok because the mystery of our faith is that in our weaknesses we become strong.  It is in those areas of our lives where we have pain and hurt that we learn to depend on God.  Our wounds become our schooling in applied theology.   If we have no pain, we’ll have a hard time even perceiving our need for God.  Ultimately, Jesus’ wounds remind us that God can take what was painful and make us even stronger.

Now let’s look at the disciples.  On the day of Jesus’ resurrection they are hiding…  They don’t know what to make of the stories about Jesus’ reappearance.  What would we do if in their shoes?  I doubt we’d be any different.  It takes an encounter with the Risen Lord to get them to believe.  But I’m not sure they were ready for Jesus and certainly not for his marching orders, for Jesus tells them he’s sending them into the world to carry on his mission…

A week later the disciples still haven’t gotten out into the world.  They are still hiding in the same house.  They are still afraid they’ll lose their lives; they are still afraid that they, like Jesus, might end up on a cross…

Sometimes we are like the disciples.  We believe.  We know what is right.  We may even know what God wants us to do…  but we need to be prodded.   The disciples were comfortable hiding in that room and sometimes we’re comfortable hiding.  But we have been called to share our faith with others, to offer hope to a broken world, and to share God’s love.  That can only happen when we leave the comfort of our cubbyholes.  As Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, we must let our light shine.[7]  To live as a disciple is to live in the world while pointing to Jesus as the source of our lives…

Now let’s look at Thomas’ reaction.  Thomas has gotten a bad rap over the years…  He’s called Doubting Thomas, as if his doubt is something unique.  It isn’t…  All the disciples have their doubts.[8]   To be honest, I’ve had my share of doubts and, if honest, you’ll admit it’s the same with you.  Doubting doesn’t make Thomas unique; what makes him unique is his confession that Jesus is God.

God is beyond human proof.  When and how God is revealed to us is up to God.  Our doubts force us to depend upon the faith that God grants.  And as we learn to trust that faith, we become even stronger.

What all this means to us, today, two millenniums after the resurrection? Jesus’ last words in this passage are interesting.  It’s a blessing on us, not to the disciples. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” Jesus says.  Did you hear that?  He’s talking about you and me; he’s blessing those of us who have not had an opportunity to stick our fingers into his wounds.  Instead of seeing, we believe due to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of others who have felt Jesus’ presence in their lives.  And because we have faith in Jesus Christ, we’re to listen to his teachings and to live lives that strive to glorify him.  That’s the challenge we have, as individuals, to listen to Jesus and to live faithful.

Furthermore, as a community of believers, we’re empowered to forgive sins.  That’s quite a task.  You know, there are a lot of good things that the church does in the community that other groups can also do, and in some cases these groups can even do it better than the church.  But there is one thing that no other group can do—government can’t do it, civic clubs can’t do it, political parties can’t do it—and that’s forgive sins.  Only God can forgive sins, the Pharisee’s in Jesus’ day charged.[9]  And they were right.  But Jesus is God and thereby has the power to forgive sins, a power he grants to the church.  This unique community in which Jesus calls us needs to be, first and foremost, a place of forgiveness.  That’s the challenge we have, as a church, to be a community of grace, a community of mercy.  If we live up to this challenge, we’ll not only be blessed, we’ll be a blessing to others.  Amen.

 

©2015

[1] Luke 24:11, “and these words seemed to be an idle tale.”  John’s gospel only tells about Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene prior to meeting his disciples later in the day.  See John 20:1-19.

[2] See Genesis 2:7.

[3] As an example, the climax in Mark’s gospel comes with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, but Thomas makes a stronger Christological statement, proclaiming that Jesus is also God. See Mark 8:29.

[4] Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI: The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 1047.

[5] Luke 24:36-43.

    [6]Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak (1988).  As quoted in Sowing the Seeds of Hope, Presbyterian Stewardship emphasis material.

[7] Matthew 5:15-16.

[8] See Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:11, 25, 37, 41; Mark 16:14.  Gerald Sloyan, John: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988), 227.

[9] Mark 2:7, Luke 5:21.  As for God forgiving sin, see Exodus 34:6-7; Isaiah 43:25, 44:22.


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