+ A sermon for The Second Sunday of Easter (Year B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on April 8, 2018 +
Texts: John 20:19-31
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
My friends, welcome to the Second Sunday of Easter.
It’s been a week and things are starting to go back to normal – the lilies have started to droop, the candy from the baskets have been mostly eaten, and although we will continue to proclaim “Christ is risen indeed” for the whole 50 days of Easter, the alleluias are already starting to sound a little stale in our mouths.
We’re a week into the Easter season, but we can already tell that last maybe week wasn’t the seismic event we were hoping for.
The world didn’t change overnight.
The realities of this world still surround us and we might wonder where the resurrection has a place.
Whether it really can subvert the fear and death that surround us.
We talked last week about the fear that is prevalent in Mark’s version of Easter and how that is the prelude to the new life of the resurrection.
Interestingly, John’s version almost sees an inverse.
Peter and the other disciple, John, run to the garden tomb and find it empty and they leave in amazement.
There is a joyous and wonderful scene with Mary Magdalene and Jesus who calls her by name and commissions her to spread the good news to the disciples.
John’s Easter story is full of new life, joy, and celebration.
But then the fear creeps in.
Today we see the disciples on the evening of that first Easter day – but they’re not feasting, they’re not rejoicing, they’re not living into the new reality of the resurrection – they’re huddled behind locked doors, paralyzed by fear.
And truly, it’s hard to blame them – they’ve had a pretty rough few days.
They saw the arrest of their friend and teacher, they witnessed the brutal death of the man they called their Lord, and now they are worried that the same authorities that executed Jesus will soon be after them – seeking to stamp out the last remnants of these Jesus-followers.
But this scene also shows us that the new creation we seek in the light of the resurrection is not as immediate as we might hope – that Easter Sunday doesn’t automatically change the world – that even these first witnesses to the resurrection, Mary, Peter, and John, are having a hard time grappling with what it all means.
Peter and John saw the empty tomb – they know something has changed.
Mary spoke with Christ just that morning and came to spread the good news to the disciples that Jesus was alive – and yet just a few hours later, here they are.
They give into the fear of the previous few days, the uncertainty of the loss of their teacher and guide, and are still held captive in a world ruled by death rather than the promise of new life.
And then suddenly, in the middle of this assembly of fear and uncertainty, there appears Jesus.
He doesn’t come to chastise them, to ridicule them for their unbelief or their fear, he comes to bring them his peace – to alleviate the fears that have captivated them.
He comes to breathe his Spirit upon them as he commissions them to be his agents of resurrection in the world.
He comes among them to send them out to live into the new life that he brings and spread that life to all they meet.
All except for Thomas – poor Thomas.
John’s gospel calls him The Twin, but for centuries Christians have called him by another name: Doubting Thomas.
And I really think poor Thomas gets a bad wrap here.
For one, he’s the only one of the Twelve who isn’t hiding in fear when Jesus shows up.
We don’t know where he was or what he was doing, but he was out in the world and I like to assume that he was trying to live into the new life and promise that comes through Christ’s resurrection – ok maybe that’s a little optimistic.
Or maybe he was just trying to move on with his life – trying to figure out how to live out Jesus’ teachings in the world now that he was gone.
Either way, Thomas was not paralyzed by the same fear that held the other disciples captive – and I think that’s something to be celebrated.
And secondly, can we really blame Thomas for wanting to experience what the other disciples did?
To see Jesus and to see the wounds in his hands and side?
To see a resurrected Christ?
It’s the same thing that Mary and Peter and all the others got. It’s like a divine FOMO – a fear of missing out – missing out on seeing Jesus again, to experience first-hand the new life that God has brought forth in the shadow of the cross, to witness the power of the resurrection.
And to be honest, I would love to experience that too.
But I think John is showing us that the resurrection is not a one-time event but an ongoing process – the gradual in-breaking of God’s perfect reign into our world.
If Easter Sunday was a sudden change then the disciples would not be captivated by fear but instead would be out living into the resurrection life.
If Easter Sunday was a magic fix-all, then the brokenness in our own world would be fixed by now.
And maybe that week after Jesus’ appearance, that’s what the disciples did – maybe they started going outside and trying to continue Jesus’ ministry.
But as we heard this morning, a that next Sunday, the disciples are all huddled inside again behind locked doors – scared of the outside world – this time Thomas is there too.
And Jesus appears again – again not to chastise them, but to bring them peace.
Christ comes again to reassure them, to comfort them, and to nudge them out the door.
Christ comes to them despite their doubts of the power of the resurrection, despite their fears that keep them from living out the new life in Christ, despite their failings to continue Jesus’ ministry, and he comes to love them, to empower them, and to get them moving.
Resurrection is a process, a constant invitation to join God in the world.
And even though we have not seen Christ in the flesh, Jesus comes to bless all of us too.
All of us who have not touched his hands or his side but still believe in him through the gospel we have been told – the same gospel that went out from these disciples who started huddled in a locked room and eventually traveled out to cross the globe reaching billions of people across two millennia.
And through this story we are also empowered by Jesus to go and spread this message – this new life and new reality as resurrection people.
Because the gospel is not meant to be locked up by fear, but to be spread to all the ends of the earth.
The good news cannot be held captive by death and doubt but will burst into the broken places in the world – and we get to be the messengers that bear it.
The gospel compels us to go out from this place to proclaim God’s love for all creation because it cannot stay in the church but most go forth to all that live in captivity to fear and doubt.
And although we do not see Christ in the flesh here in this place, we know that he has come among us, like he did with these disciples, to bring us peace, to reassure us despite our failings and our doubts, and to nudge us out this door to continue his ministry.
And his presence here today is just as real as it was with Thomas and the disciples – we may not see his face, but we can touch him through the sacraments and feel him in the love and peace we share.
He comes to us in the waters of our baptism when he breathes the same Spirit upon us as we are commissioned as part of Jesus’ ministry.
He comes to us in bread and cup as we receive tangible pieces of Christ’s body given for us and for the world.
We experience him in the sharing of peace, the embrace of loved ones, and the welcome for all people.
And when we fail to be the ministers we are called to be, when we fall back into the old ways of fear and death that seek to captivate us, when we doubt the power of the resurrection or the new life that we are called to, we come into this place where Christ comes to us again and again to bring us peace, to breath his Spirit on us and reassure us of our calling, and to nudge us back into the world.
And some days, like Thomas, we need to see Jesus ourselves.
The disciples show us that some days, the fear and death of this broken world can overwhelm us – that some days even getting up and out the door can be a challenge.
Whether it’s a sick loved one or a rough day at work or our own self-doubt, this world can be too much some times.
But God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, God doesn’t wait for our faith to be ironclad, but keeps coming to revive us, to love us, to inspire us, and to empower us to keep going.
Christ comes to us here in the Church but also in our personal lives reminding us that we are loved and chosen and beautiful.
Christ raises us again and again into the new life of the resurrection so we can bring that new life to those around us.
It’s true that it takes Thomas and the other disciples a little while to fully comprehend the new reality of the resurrection and leave the locked room.
But I think that’s because resurrection takes a while – it’s ongoing action.
Last week did not solve all our problems. I’m guessing this week won’t get it done either.
But we continue to gather, continue to see Christ come among us, and continue to go out from this place to be bearers of God’s love for the world.
That’s why I love the season of Easter – it’s a reminder that resurrection is not a one time thing – it’s not a 50 day thing either – but a continual process, a new life in Christ that we are invited to live.
A new way of looking at the world so we can be ministers with Jesus and bearers of his love.
Easter Sunday was just the beginning.
The Easter season reminds us that we get to live into this new life together with Christ.
Thanks be to God!