Apr. 19, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Apr 19, 2020 in Easter, Sermons

The Second Sunday of Easter

April 19, 2020

You can believe it! Alleluia!

When we were last gathered around our collective screens, you and I were intent upon the closing days of Jesus’ life, his death, and his astounding resurrection.  Through the entire week from Palm Sunday through Easter, our readings were peopled by ruthless kings, haughty governors, and shouting mobs.  The earth shook, the sun darkened, and angels miraculously appeared.

That was then, and this is now. It’s been an eerily quiet week for Jesus’ friends since Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene stumbled upon him in the garden; and then that evening, when Jesus passed through the locked chamber where they hid.  How can such a momentous thing have happened for them, while all the world seems unchanged? Even their absent colleague Thomas doesn’t believe them when he returns.

Before we judge Thomas too harshly, there are some things about him we need to recall.  Thomas has stuck with Jesus from the very beginning.  Years earlier when Jesus teaches, “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate their bread and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever,”—when Jesus teaches these truths to a crowd, they realize that life with Jesus is going to be very different from what they’re used to. This isn’t the experience they are looking for.  The crowd turns back, and drift away.  But Thomas stays.

Later when Jesus’ friend Lazarus lies dying on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the other disciples urge Jesus to stay away because he has so many enemies there. Jesus counters, “Let’s go to him,” and sets his face toward Jerusalem.  At once Thomas falls into step behind Jesus, shouting over his shoulder to the rest, “Let’s go to Jerusalem too, and die with him.”

At the Last Supper when Jesus assures the disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I am going to prepare a place for you, (and already) you know the way,” Thomas’ eyes widen and dart around the silent room. How can the other disciples just sit there and pretend they know? Thomas blurts out, “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

On this Sunday following Easter, Thomas rejoins the group huddled in their chamber.  We meet again the Thomas who is 100% committed to Jesus, even when crowds turn their backs on him; the Thomas who fearlessly accompanies Jesus, without counting the cost; the Thomas who presses the hard questions that nobody else is willing to ask.  True to form, Thomas does not now settle for second-hand accounts about Jesus, because belief is not something he takes lightly. Belief for Thomas is a sacred trust, and he entrusts that faith only in Truth itself.  “I’ve got to see for myself,” Thomas vows.  “I need to see the same wounded Jesus I last saw through my own tears on Good Friday.  He’s the one I believe in!”

At Thomas’ impassioned cry Jesus appears among them, and turns to stand face to face with him. “Thomas,” he reaches out, “here, lay your hand in my pierced hands, and here, touch my wounded side.  You can believe!”  Thomas needs no more.  He doesn’t even pause to actually touch Jesus, before he gasps, “My Lord, and my God!”

Each year the Church, in its wisdom, offers this encounter with Thomas at the first opportunity after Easter.  You and I can count on Thomas showing up and standing here among us, earnestly offering to be our guide to post-Resurrection living. “Head in my direction,” Thomas gestures.  Start with commitment.  You will only discover what life with the Risen Lord is like when you go all in.  When you start speaking and acting like the redeemed believers you already are.  That’s when you start seeing life in a whole new light.  You can believe it! Alleluia!

“Next,” urges Thomas, “set aside your resistance to going along with whatever comes next.  If you dwell on all the reasons that serving an out-of-this-world Lord can be risky, you will never serve him.  To follow Jesus is a ready-fire-aim kind of living: you take a leap of faith first, and then sort out the details.  You can believe it! Alleluia!”

“Finally,” presses Thomas, “dare to ask Jesus all the hard questions that show how serious you are about faith. Questions like, ‘I’m not sure I’ve got the courage to follow wherever you go, Lord. Do you think I do?’  Or, ‘Lord, I’m worried about what other people will think of me if I make any big changes.  Is that okay?’  Or, ‘I’ve read a dozen self-help books on how to get control of my life.  Are your asking me to give all that up?’ Jesus takes all our questions for what they really are—our good faith efforts to make a fresh start in following him.  You can believe it! Alleluia!”

And so it is today, in the afterglow of the Resurrection, that we take our spiritual cue from Thomas, and make a fresh start in our relationship with the Risen Lord.  And this much we already know: even though we have not personally stood by the empty tomb, we deeply welcome hearing the words that Thomas hears: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.”  Alleluia, Amen!

© 2020 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved.

View lectionary readings: