Sermon Easter 2 2017
John 20 19-31
Today’s Gospel lesson we often refer to as the story of doubting Thomas. Often Thomas is held up for ridicule because he doubts the other disciples. We call someone who doesn’t believe what seems obvious to us a “Doubting Thomas.” I like Thomas and think he actually represents most of us who want to see to believe, to be convinced something is true before we will go along with it. Let us look more carefully at the story.
The Gospel opens with the disciples hiding behind closed doors out of fear of what might happen to them now that Jesus has been crucified. Early in the morning that day, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene had found the tomb empty and gone to tell Peter and John. They returned with Mary to the tomb to see for themselves that indeed the tomb was empty and then returned to their homes. Mary stayed until Jesus appeared to her and was made known to her and then she went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and what he had said to her.
The disciples are afraid, despite what Mary has said. They doubt what she says can be true. As they are in the house, with the doors locked, Jesus comes to them and says “Peace be with you.” He shows them his hands with the nail holes in them, and his side with the wound from the spear. Now they can believe for they have seen him themselves. Thomas was not with them when Jesus came, so he does not believe them when they tell him they have seen the risen Lord. He says “Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” While he may be more dramatic or assertive, Thomas does not ask for any more proof than they needed to believe.
A week later Jesus appears at the house again, and Thomas is there this time. When Thomas sees him and his hands and side, he says “My Lord and my God!” Not only does Thomas believe Jesus is risen, he proclaims him as his Lord and God. He is ready to go out and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. He becomes a committed and faith filled apostle who goes out to make more disciples. Thomas goes to India and preaches the Gospel there, bringing faith to many.
We all have doubts, questions, about our faith at times. Without the freedom to doubt, question and wonder, our faith remains flat and thin. It is as we face our doubts, state them and what we need to believe fully again, that our faith grows, becoming more alive and vibrant. When we can talk with one another about our doubts, we will find Jesus appears in unexpected places.
It might be helpful to now look at the ways Jesus appears to his followers after his crucifixion and how they recognize him. In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first one to whom Jesus appears. She does not recognize him, however, until he calls her name. When Jesus appears in the house of the disciples, it is only when he shows them his hands and side that they rejoice. It is the same for Thomas. In Luke’s gospel we have two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus. Jesus joins them and they converse for quite a while. The disciples do not recognize him, thinking him a stranger. It is only when they invite him in to eat, and he blesses the bread, breaks it and gives it to them, that they recognize him. And once recognized, Jesus vanishes.
I cite these recognitions of Jesus because I want you to think about how Jesus might appear to you, when you have doubts. Might Jesus appear to you as a stranger who talks with you, telling you something which strengthens your faith? Do you find Jesus in the breaking of bread and sharing a meal, at the Eucharist or with your family or friends? Can you see Jesus in the person who carries the scars of addiction or abuse? When might Jesus call your name?
When you have doubts about your faith, you need to work to have them answered, resolved at least for the time being. If you seek and are open and receptive to seeing Jesus; you will be found by him. I think I have talked with you about how I use a guided meditation, visualizing seeing Jesus in a favorite place, most often by the ocean. One day, after doing this for years, I heard Jesus say my name. That was one of the most meaningful things which has happened to me in my journey of faith, as I felt recognized and loved. I share this so that you might believe that Jesus can come to you when you make time and space for him.
Last week at Common Art one of the community shared his story with me. I do not want to tell it to you, as it is so horrific to know what he suffered as a young child. The reason he told me was so I would understand why he wants to be there to serve others. I saw Jesus and his wounds in this man. It is not easy to look on the wounded Christ, but seeing the resurrection which occurs, is a blessing.
When doubts next arise in you about what you believe, welcome them and figure out what needs to happen for you to believe. Open yourself to the appearance of Jesus, our risen Lord, in a way, which you might not expect. Be ready to be blessed, for your faith to grow and deepen, and to want to share what you have experienced with others. It is all part of our journey of faith, leading to the peace which comes from God. And remember, you have companions on the way.