By

Easter 2A 2017 Sermon

John 20:19-31 from the New Revised Standard

Version (NRSV)

19  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.”  20  After he said this, he

showed them his hands and his side. Then the

disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21  Jesus

said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the

Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22  When he

had said this, he breathed on them and said to

them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23  If you forgive the

sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain

the sins of any, they are retained.”

24  But Thomas (who was called the Twin [a] ), one of

the twelve, was not with them when Jesus

came.  25  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.”

26  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.”  27  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.”  28  Thomas answered

him, “My Lord and my God!”  29  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.”

30  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence

of his disciples, which are not written in this

book.  31  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.

The door was locked. They feared

for their lives. The Jewish Temple

leaders had spies. And, besides that,

those leaders had proven their capability

in bringing demise upon anyone they

choose. So, behind a locked door, Jesus’

disciples huddled, fearing the worst.

Before we go on with the story, we

must remember that at the time John’s

Gospel was written, most likely in the last

decade of the first century AD, the Jewish

Temple located in Jerusalem, was nothing

but rubble. The heart of Judaism, had

been forever destroyed by the occupying

Roman army.

Also, toleration of the Christian sect

as a branch of Judaism ceased to exist.

Toleration had been replaced with great

tension between many religious Jews and

Christians, even though they shared a

common heritage and some Christians

were culturally and ethnically Jewish, just

like Jesus, his twelve disciples, and most

of his earliest followers.

John’s Gospel reflects this Jewish –

Christian tension. And, it does us well to

acknowledge that the term ‘Jews’ used in

this gospel, signifies Jewish authorities

opposing Christianity and actively

attempting to scandalize its message. The

term is not referencing an entire group of

people based on ethnicity.

Behind those locked doors

somewhere in Jerusalem, Mary

Magdalene announced her encounter with

the risen Jesus earlier that day. But there

was no physical evidence. There was

only an empty tomb and the story of one

grieving woman. And, even if Mary’s

vision was true, Jewish authorities still

had the power to eliminate Jesus’

followers and any controversial evidence.

When Jesus enters the scene, he

walks into a room clouded with fear.

Peace is what the disciples need, but are

they ready for it? They’d have to let go of

their worst-case scenario dread and just be

present with the crucified, risen Jesus.

After he shows them his wounds, then the

disciples believe and celebrate. They

were ready to welcome Jesus’ peace.

When Jesus breathes on them, he

empowers his disciples to be witnesses of

his life, death and resurrection. And, he

says the strangest words: “If you forgive

the sins of any, they are forgiven them”…

Emory Assoc. Prof. Susan Hylen writes:

“The image is not a narrow one of a priest

assigning penance but a broader

recognition that the church becomes the

arbiter of acceptance or rejection of

Jesus.”

As members of the Christian

community we are go-betweens,

peacemakers, for the sake of bringing

people into relationship with Christ Jesus.

And as go-betweens, we sadly realize that

some people will choose to reject Jesus,

declining the peace and life he offers.

After these events, we learn that one

disciple has missed all of it. Thomas is

absent. When he shows up, he can’t

believe his ears. He knew Jesus was

dead. He couldn’t be alive; he was

crucified. Thomas thought his colleagues

delusional.

Now, Thomas is not a bad person or

fallen disciple for doubting his brothers’

seemingly bizarre story of seeing

crucified Jesus alive. Thomas was really

no different from his brothers. They were

once terrified, huddled behind a locked

door doubting Mary Magdalene’s story –

doubting before having their own

encounter with the risen Jesus.

Notice that when Jesus once again

appears to his disciples, he honors

Thomas’ request. He didn’t chastise

Thomas; he welcomes Thomas to see and

touch his wounds. Jesus meets Thomas

right where he is, in the midst of his

doubts. And Jesus meets us wherever we

are as well.

One of the most valuable gifts the

Episcopal Church offers is the gift of

allowing people to think. Thinking

includes space to ask questions, ponder

possibilities, and even doubt. Doubting

can be disbelieving or simply uncertainty.

It’s OK to be uncertain; it’s OK to

question; it’s OK to doubt.

I believe God honors wherever we

are in our personal faith. God encourages

each of us to deepen our relationship with

God through the gift of thinking

(mediating and pondering) with the hope

of finding God’s peace.

At the same time, I believe God

longs for us to risk taking leaps of faith

into what is unfamiliar or appears

illogical, with the purpose of discovering

God’s infinite possibilities within the

mystery of God’s love.

You and I cannot experience Jesus’

resurrection in the same way as those first

disciples. And, just because they saw the

risen Jesus doesn’t mean that they

understood the depth of who Jesus truly

is. It does us well to note that “the

disciples embody a belief that reaches

toward but never quite achieves complete

understanding of Jesus” (Susan Hylen).

A more comprehensive awareness

empowered Jesus’ followers after

experiencing God’s Holy Spirit given at

Pentecost. Yet, comprehending Jesus is

never a done deal, and includes

experiencing Jesus just as much as

thinking about Jesus.

For certain, we can’t experience

Jesus’ resurrection in the same manner as

the earliest of his disciples, but we can

experience the presence of the risen Jesus.

I experience Jesus in the Blessed

Sacrament of the Eucharist and I

experience Jesus living in people like you.

On Easter Sunday, at the 10:30

Eucharist, as the children were sharing the

Peace around the Flowering Easter Cross

they had decorated, a couple of the kids

reached out their arms and hugged me

tight. Through their innocence, joy and

purest love, I felt the arms of the living

Jesus wrapped around me.

Sometimes, I travel north on Far

Hills as far as the McDonalds. Every now

and then I get a craving for an

inexpensive iced vanilla coffee or a

caramel frappe. I usually choose the

drive-through because of wanting to save

on time. But every now and then, it

doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes

the drive-through just stops. It’s a good

lesson in patience for those of us always

trying to beat the clock.

Invariably, after the cars trapped in

the drive-through finally resume moving,

I hear pronounced voices coming from the

cars ahead of me venting frustration

toward the workers at the window.

When it’s my turn at the window, my

usual response is to share an empathic

smile and some laughter. But one day,

after spending at least 20 minutes stuck in

the drive-through, I was greeted – not by

a cowering worker – but by a presence I

recognized.

The stranger’s smiling eyes, her

welcoming face and focused attention,

offered me much more than my beverage.

Her presence invited me into a place of

hospitality where I felt valued and

blessed.

And, is often my custom, she said to

me upon my departure, “I hope you enjoy

a blessed day.” I drove back to the church

office knowing, within that encounter, I

had witnessed the presence of the living

Jesus.

In simple, yet poignant moments like

that one, I’m reminded that Christ Jesus is

very much alive and actively working

through his followers. In those moments,

I feel love – love just as God intends for

each of us to feel and share.

As I said last Sunday, those special

moments result from more than acts of

kindness. There’s something revealed

within the experiences, sparking our

hearts with blessings of encouragement,

welcome and undying love. I urge you to

look for those moments in everyday life.

I also urge you to be conduits of those

blessed moments.

Whether you actively experience the

presence of Christ Jesus or, like Thomas,

you have doubts, you are welcome here.

Whether you are at a place of

pondering questions or taking leaps of

faith, or a little of both, God’s love

embraces you, right where you are along

your journey.

All God asks of us is to be open to

being loved.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is

risen indeed. Alleluia.

 
St. Paul's is located at 33 W. Dixon Ave, Dayton, OH 45419; phone: 937-293-1154; fax: 937-293-3723 Office hours are Monday - Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.