Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter
Thomas knew Jesus was dead. And a large chunk of Thomas had died with him. Jesus had inspired Thomas. Jesus had set Thomas’ heart on fire. But that fire was extinguished on the cross. And his heart is left cold as ashes.
Jesus was dead. No wonder he was reluctant to believe the others. Wouldn’t you be? No wonder he wanted to see for himself. Not just see, but feel. “I want to poke my finger in the holes in his hands before I’ll believe.” Thomas has been known ever since as “Doubting Thomas”. But, while it is important to recognize the reality of doubt (see Little Floaty Things That Say "No"), I am not sure it is fair to say that that the guy whose commitment to Jesus was so strong he was prepared to die with him (see John11:16). Thomas had put all his faith and hope in Jesus. Now, Jesus was dead. Thomas had hoped much and that hope had died. It was not going to be resurrected by hearsay.
Then it happened. Jesus appeared to Thomas. He offered to let him feel the wounds. It doesn’t say whether Thomas actually did, but it doesn’t matter. His faith and hope were rekindled and he was changed forever – “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus, whose absence he had felt so keenly, was present. Thomas and the others had sensed and believed that Jesus was special before. But you get the feeling in the resurrection stories that they were encountering something new, something so awesome, they could barely speak of it. In some versions, they don’t. Encountering the Risen Lord changed them and changed them and how they understood God and the world
But Thomas and the others got to see it for themselves. What about us? We weren’t there to witness the resurrection appearances. We can’t touch the wounds. We have the records of the appearances in the Bible, exciting and somewhat confused, as you’d expect under the circumstances. We can be grateful for them. We can read them and allow the Holy Spirit to nourish our spirits through them. We can study them and try to figure out if it happened this way or that. But sometimes it feels long ago and far away.
Still, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Why? Why are we blessed. We who believe in the Resurrection though we have not seen like Thomas and the others?
Because, the Resurrection is not, primarily, about something that happened 2,000 years and half a world away. It is about the presence of the Risen One in our lives and in our world here and now. It is about the promise of resurrection in our lives here and now. And it is about the promise of that final Resurrection of which Easter is but the foretaste.
The Risen Christ is present here and now. Christ has become present to us in a new way through the Holy Spirit and we can know that Presence. Jesus is risen and is now present in every area of our lives; in our work and our play as well as our worship and our prayer. His presence means that the division of life into the sacred and the secular is a false division. Everything everywhere is filled with the presence of the Risen Christ.
“Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.” It is the promise of the presence of resurrection in our lives here and now. Because we believe he rose, we dare to hope for resurrection. To believe in resurrection is to believe no situation is hopeless, no relationship is beyond redemption, no just cause is ultimately lost. It is to believe that our lost hopes and dreams are never really lost. Because they are now filled with the presence of the Risen Christ, every disappointment, every discouragement, every loss can become a reminder of the promise of resurrection by which we can start again. Each is a sort of death from which we can rise to new life through Christ. And the ashes in our hearts become fire again.
“Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.” Christ’s resurrection is the promise and foretaste of the final resurrection. That promise is the foundation of our hope for the future. We have a glimpse of how the story is going to end and that opens the future to us. We have the assurance that, all evidence to the contrary, the world will not end in doom and gloom. On Easter, Jesus Christ defeated doom and gloom. The story of creation ends in resurrection, the kingdom of God when there will be love, peace, and joy, healing, harmony and wholeness.
When I was a child, I remember sometimes at family gatherings after things had settled down but people were not ready to leave, we would watch television. We often watched “Lassie.” Remember Lassie, the show about a clever dog that regularly saved the day? I remember there would always come a point in the story where lassie was in such a fix you could see how she was going to get out of this one. Then there would be a commercial break. At that point, my Uncle LaVonne, who like most uncles enjoyed teasing his nieces and nephews would say, I don’t know, but it doesn’t look good for Lassie. I don’t think she’s going to get out of this one. I think Lassie is done for this time. This is probably the last episode of Lassie.” We youngsters would then be distraught as we contemplated the doom of Lassie. As we got older we began to catch on; no matter how bad things looked or how dire my uncle’s predictions, we knew that after the commercial break Lassie would find a way to save the day and all would be well. Once we knew that, it did not matter how bad things got for Lassie, we always knew how the story would end.
The resurrection of Jesus is the foretaste of the final restoration of all things when all will be well. The story is not over yet. The story of the world and our stories will take many turns and involve some close calls, some too close. Indeed, each of our stories will lead to our own deaths. But, death is like a commercial break – we die trusting that the story will resume and in the end all will be well.
Through it all, the Risen One is present with us. And because we believe God raised Jesus from the dead, we anticipate the consummation of that work in the final Resurrection of all creation. As theologian Helmut Thielicke said,
This means a completely new attitude toward the future; no longer is the future a befogged landscape into which I peer anxiously because all kinds of obscure perils are brewing there for me. No, everything has changed: we do not know what is coming, but we know who is coming. And the one who possesses the last hour no longer needs to fear the next minute.
The one who possesses the last hour no longer needs to fear the next minute. That is the promise of resurrection. In the end, we who have not seen yet have come to believe will stand in the presence of the Risen Christ and be able to join Thomas without any doubt and say, “My Lord and my God!”