preached at Westbury United Methodist Church on Sunday, April 27, 2014.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark 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.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. – John 20.19-31
Jesus Christ appears to his brokenhearted and grieving and confused disciples. Those who had learned from him, who served alongside him, who came to know God through Christ the Messiah among them. Who then watched the One who said I am the way, the truth, and the life die. Imagine the room— door barred, bolts drawn, locks set where the disciples were hiding as the Gospel of John says, for fear of the Jews—can you feel the heaviness, the sadness, the anxiety of the unanswered question of: what now?
Then—here is Christ. Jesus steps through a locked room and stands with his friends. And he says—Peace be with you. He offers himself—the crucified and risen Lord—so that they may know peace and be with peace and be at peace.
Brothers and Sisters—this peace for the disciples does not mean the absence of questions or the absence of struggle. What it means is the presence of a God who surprises disciples. Defeats death. Makes all things new. Offers eternal life yet again.
John Wesley points out that when Jesus appears to Thomas, “Thomas not only acknowledges him to be the Lord, as he had done before, and to be risen, as his fellow disciples had affirmed, but also confesses his Godhead, and that more explicitly than any other had yet done. And all this he did without putting his hand upon his side.” That is, that Thomas who struggled to believe and questioned his friends’ testimony of the presence of a risen Christ ends up being the one who explicitly exclaims in scripture, My Lord and My God.
Brothers and sisters, in our Christian tradition we’ve come to name and know this disciple as doubting Thomas. As the one who was absent when Christ appeared to the disciples and then was a doubter till he saw with his own eyes. But friends, Thomas makes plain the deep struggle of our faith journey. Of life with Christ. Of having seen before, of knowing Christ, of witnessing Jesus feed thousands with a couple fish and few rolls, of God walking among them raising the dead to life, of healing blind and crippled people who begged for coins on the road and at city gates, of setting free those stuck in deep patterns of sin and oppression. After all this witnessing and life with Christ, then witnessing the grotesque crucifixion of this One who preached and showed and lived and offered eternal life. So here is the struggle Thomas shows us: tasting and partaking of the One who is eternal life and then for Eternal Life to seemingly shatter before one’s eyes.
So yeah. Of course Thomas says—I won’t believe eternal life exists until I can feel it—him once again. I won’t believe my Lord is alive until I can put my finger in his side.
Yet then when Jesus appears in the locked room once again and encounters Thomas, our brother doesn’t have to touch his side. Perhaps his comments about needing to put his hands inside Jesus’ wounds is less about a crisis of faith and more of his deep love for Christ his Lord, his deep sadness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. His deep longing for Easter.
Elie Wiesel, a Jewish-American brother from Romania was deported at age 15 to Auschwitz with his family. He survived horrors as a teenager and lives now to write and speak and teach and work for peace and reconciliation. Today he’s 85 years old, a man who’s still going strong, has been given the Nobel Peace Prize, a man whose writings are read by our high school students. Elie says—I belong to a generation that is often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind.
Yet listen to his words:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
Thomas was not indifferent about life and death. The disciples were not indifferent about life and death. The disciples and namely Thomas WITNESSED the worst death possible—the death of their Lord—and ACHED for life. Their witnessing, their honesty, their suffering, their aching, and longing and pining for life invite us today to embrace our identity as Easter People.
Easter People who know the pain of denial, rejection, and failure. People who remember wounds and hurts and the sting of sin. Yet people who are not overcome by fear of death. People who are not swept away by indifference. For we are people who hear and smell and taste and touch and see Eternal Life in everything. We encounter Christ, and we encounter Christ again and again. For in this world that’s longing for the fullness of Easter to happen on earth—for the kingdom of God to come and everything to be made right and new again and again and again—we HAVE to encounter Christ again and again day by day.
See, in this world we annually retell and relive the story of death and life through the rhythm of Lent and Holy Week including the horror of Good Friday, the silence of Holy Saturday, and the Joy and inbreaking of the risen Christ on Easter Sunday. We have to encounter again and again for our journey with Christ is a struggle—not of indifference but tension, as Brother Thomas honestly shows us. We are in Christ so we’re learning and relearning through disappointment of sin and joy of God’s faithful goodness to perceive a new creation. We are given a new birth through our baptism into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading—that’s full and perfected work of peace within ourselves as individuals, with each other as community, with all peoples and creation, with God our Maker. We are Easter People—those who know the peace of Christ through life and death, faith and doubt, light and darkness, whose senses are being tuned by the Holy Spirit to recognize glimpses of Easter everywhere.
Friends, if you get a chance to come spend time with us at Los Arcos Apartment Complex, you may get a taste of this tension I’m speaking of. Los Arcos is a microcosm of the kingdom of God here in southwest Houston. Of people from all corners of the earth learning to live in peace with each other. Coming from places of incredible war, pain, loss, destruction—seeking refuge as refugees, seeking home as immigrants, seeking life together as even persons born and raised in Houston Texas live at Los Arcos. As my friend and brother, one of our FAM young adult refugees testified recently in telling his story, It is Good to be together. Yet, y’all there’s an intense struggle. When war and trauma and domestic violence and addiction and depression and lack of jobs and lack of food and lack of space and quiet shape the lives of us as creatures, Easter peace can feel distant. Foggy. Fuzzy. We’re really struggling right now with how to be together when violence is being learned by five years olds—and it’s really hard to reason with these little ones. We’re really struggling with what to do with being Easter People—people who celebrate Christ together on Sunday but ache on Monday when it’s hard to choose life when death seems heavily present.
If I could just see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, then I can believe again. Believe that Jesus understands and knows suffering. And death. And resurrection.
This need for daily Encounter with the Crucified and Risen Christ, my brothers and sisters, is why we Easter Persons are Easter People. We need each other. We need community. We need one another to experience Peace of Jesus Christ. Thomas encountered Jesus and experienced peace with Christ in the presence of fellow disciples. Friends who listened to his questions. To his struggle. To his pain. Friends who stayed with him to figure out how to choose life when death hung in the air. Friends who sought God together in the struggle and encountered Eternal Life through Jesus yet again.
Easter People, nada te turbe, nada te espante. Quien a Dios tiene, nada le falta. Nada te turbe, nada te espante, Solo Dios basta. Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. Those who seek God shall never go wanting. God alone fills us.
Christ alone fills Us with peace. May we continue living this season of Easter, dear ones, by encountering Christ day by day with each other with space for questions, space for sitting together, space for Christ to enter our locked rooms and surprise us with joy and peace beyond explanation.