(Originally preached at Alger First UMC)
Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
“It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas,“Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.” (John 20:19-31)
So that story began on Easter evening. Last week, Easter Sunday, we celebrated the Resurrection, when the women found Jesus’ tomb empty that morning. Now this story starts in the evening on the same day. Now that should make this story seem strange to our ears. Because for us, Easter is a big celebration, right? It’s a happy day, the most important, special, and holiest day for Christ followers everywhere. But in this story, in the evening of the day Christ’s tomb was found empty, the disciples are huddled together behind closed and locked doors, scared of those authorities who crucified Jesus. The deadbolt is thrown, the chain drawn out, maybe even a chair pushed under the knob. They’re not rejoicing, they’re not singing, they’re probably not even smiling. They’re scared, they’re worried, they’re confused, even after the resurrection.
Last week, I said the Resurrection changed everything, right? But now, on the evening of that same day, it doesn’t look like the resurrection has changed much. The disciples are still scared of the authorities who crucified Jesus, hunkered down in hiding. Now that makes sense, because the authorities executed the leader of a revolutionary movement. Of course they’re going to look for his followers so that they can completely quash the movement before it does any more damage. The disciples have plenty of reason to be scared.
But maybe…maybe the disciples are also scared of seeing Jesus. Maybe they heard the women tell them the tomb was empty and that the angels proclaimed that Jesus had risen, maybe they heard Mary’s story of mistaking Jesus for the gardener, and maybe they realized what Jesus might do if he saw them again. These disciples deserted Jesus at his hour of greatest need. They just ran away. Peter verbally denied him three times. The disciples could’ve stopped the guards from taking their Teacher, Jesus could’ve not been crucified if the disciples hadn’t run away and deserted their beloved teacher. So now, maybe they’re wracked with guilt. And they worry about Jesus seeing them again. Is he going to be mad? What will he do to us, the unfaithful disciples?
I picture it kind of like how you feel when you say something nasty behind someone’s back. I’ve done it, I’m sure you’ve done it, we’ve all talked behind someone’s back, said something nasty about a coworker, a friend, a family member when that person wasn’t around. But then you find out that they know what you said about them. Whatever nasty thing you said, they heard about it. How eager are you to see that person again?
I don’t know about you, but if I talk smack about someone behind their back and I find out they know what I said, I go out of my way to avoid them.
Maybe that’s where the disciples are-not only trapped by their fear of the authorities, but trapped by their guilt and shame of what they’ve done, the harm they did to their teacher by running away and denying and betraying.
Now, we heard the story, we know Jesus does come to them, and the interaction isn’t anywhere close to the wrath the disciples might have predicted. But Thomas wasn’t with them. Who knows where he was, but he wasn’t there. And he refuses to believe that they saw Christ, that Chris has indeed risen from the dead, until he sees and touches Jesus’ scars from the crucifixion.
Now, Thomas has historically gotten a bad rap. “Doubting Thomas,” right? But realize that Thomas wants nothing more than what the other disciples have already seen and received. And if the other disciples really saw the resurrected Jesus Christ, why are they still hiding behind locked doors? You would expect some kind of change, but there’s nothing. The disciples are still scared and worried and hiding. This is supposed to be a big deal, but nothing seen by Thomas supports the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. Thomas sees that nothing has really changed in the disciples’ lives, so of course he wants proof!
Maybe Thomas wasn’t the only one who still had fears and doubts.
Can you understand what I’m saying? It doesn’t seem like anything has changed, even though some have seen the empty tomb, the angels have told some that Jesus has risen from the dead. Just a few verses before this story, in the same chapter of John, Mary Magdalene sees Jesus for herself in the garden, outside the tomb, and has told the disciples. The disciples have seen Jesus himself too. Yet they’re still huddled behind closed and locked doors, fearful and doubting. If I was around back then, I’d be with Thomas. If Jesus our Teacher and Master has really risen from the dead, why are you acting so afraid? Why aren’t you doing anything about it? I’ve got to see proof!
A blogger I read quite a bit had a great question on one of his blog posts. (Found here) He asked “What really changed after the resurrection?” Did anything really change? So Jesus, the Son of God, rose from the dead. So what? What changed? Why does that matter now? It’s a good question for us to ask.
Now, we might know the theological answers to this.
Death has been defeated!
New life has come to the world!
The light of the world has come back in full force, chasing away the shadows of evil!
Those are nice, exciting answers. I could camp out on those answers all day. But really…what in this world changed as a result of the resurrection?
The resurrection happened. But there’s still war.
ISIS continues to terrorize the world.
Mass shootings still happen.
This past Friday, I was helping out with 5th and 6th grade band at Upper Scioto Valley School [the local school district] like I usually do when they had an impromptu lockdown drill, simulating what students should do if there’s a shooter or dangerous intruder in the school. And I noticed how much those lockdown drills have changed even since I was in high school, just 5 or 6 years ago. When I was in high school, lockdown drills meant that you sat huddled against the walls in a dark classroom until they told you it was over. It was basically just 20 minutes of doing nothing. I always hoped it would happen during math class. But this past Friday, the students practiced how and when to exit the school and walked around the block. It was a huge deal. And the really sad thing is that it’s necessary to do it that way. The resurrection happened. But mass shootings are part of the sad, awful reality of our day.
The resurrection happened. But race still divides us, racism still oppresses our black and brown brothers and sisters in this country. Religion is still used to justify hate. The rich continue to get richer while the poor continue to get poorer. Starvation still kills 5 million children around the world, while our supermarkets and restaurants throw away perfectly good food that doesn’t look good enough.
The resurrection happened. But we live in a world that is still broken. Did anything really change after the resurrection? Why in the world do we celebrate this every year? Is this all just a big game of make-believe? Perhaps we can understand what was going on with the disciples.
Let’s return to the Bible story. The disciples are still huddled behind closed doors, even on Easter evening, even a week later, after they’ve seen Jesus in the flesh! But if we fast forward to the reading from Acts you heard earlier [Acts 5:27-32], the disciples are teaching this message of the resurrected Jesus Christ in full view of the same authorities who killed Jesus, from whom they were hiding in the Gospel text, even under threat of imprisonment. Obviously, something happened that transformed the disciples from scared, guilty, and ashamed, hiding behind closed doors to preaching this radical message without fear of imprisonment. What happened?
At the risk of giving the cliche Sunday School answer…Jesus happened.
Jesus returned to them, in all his resurrected glory. In the midst of their unshakeable fear and doubt and guilt, Jesus returned to them. And he said to Thomas, but also to the rest of the disciples, and to us today, “Don’t doubt, but believe.”
A lot of people read that as Jesus scolding Thomas. But I don’t hear scolding in those words. I hear Jesus telling Thomas “I know this is a big deal. I know my resurrection goes against everything happening in front of your eyes. I know this does not make sense. But this is real. I am real. I was dead, but now I am alive. And…you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Death has indeed been defeated. The shadows of evil are indeed being chased away from the world. Resurrection is the new reality. Everything has indeed changed. And I’m counting on you, Thomas, and all the rest of you disciples, and all the rest of you at Alger First to show that to the world.”
So perhaps that is our call today. The question is still before us, “What really changed after the resurrection? Death has supposedly been defeated, but people still die awful deaths.” That’s what Thomas and the disciples were asking-“If Jesus really rose from the dead, why has nothing changed? Why are we still scared, why are we still being hunted down?”
Church, perhaps it is our call to answer that question.
What really changed after the resurrection?
Perhaps it is our call to dwell on that question, to find an answer, and offer our answers out to the world.
What really changed after the resurrection?
The world is thirsting for an answer. And Christ has called us to answer that question. What really changed in the world after the resurrection?
Go further-maybe God is calling you to be the change that the resurrection has brought to the world. What has really changed in you as a result of the resurrection? How are you going to express that change out in the world? How are you going to bring that change to the world? What has really changed as a result of the resurrection? The world is thirsting for an answer church.
Thankfully, we don’t do this alone. Jesus returned to the disciples in the midst of their fear and doubt, and Jesus has continued to return to his followers, day after day, year after year, for 2,000 years, all the way up to today.
The resurrected Jesus Christ-the one who broke all laws of nature, who changed the course of the universe, who conquered death and brought light to all those living in the shadow of evil and death-this resurrected Jesus Christ is with us today, and returns to us over and over again in the midst of our fear and doubt.
We can especially experience this in the table laid before us. In Communion, we meet the resurrected Jesus Christ. In receiving Communion, we testify that something has changed because of the Resurrection-something has changed in me, something has changed in the world. We may not understand it, but at this table, we remember that something has indeed changed.But before we continue with this, let us pray
But before we continue with this, let us pray
O God our bread; O God, our milk; O God our honey; in the resurrection of your Son you have brought us to your table.. Feed us with your plenty, and enlarge our table for all the hungry; through Christ our Lord. Amen. Let the church say Alleluia.
[We continued in celebrating Holy Communion]