GOSPEL: John 20:19-31
The risen Jesus appears to his disciples, offering them a benediction, a commission, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. But one of their number is missing, and his unbelief prompts another visit from the Lord.
19When 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.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”
26A 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.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who has risen, just like he said. Amen.
Every Easter we hear a different retelling of the Easter story. The greatest story ever told. The old, old story that we love to tell. My favorite part are the details Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John provide, from their point of view. Did you know that Matthew’s retelling of the day of Resurrection is the only Gospel where the women are believed? The rest of the gospels, the male disciples either think they are off their rockers or need to go check it out for themselves.
The way Matthew tells the story, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James go to the tomb, presumably to care for the body, but Matthew’s gospel says they are just going to see the tomb. Just to visit the cemetery where their beloved rabbi’s body had been laid. Just to be close to him. together. It’s a good friend that you can go to the cemetery with.
And then there was another earthquake! The other gospels don’t mention this, but Matthew already told us there was an earthquake at the moment of Jesus death – so it would make sense that there’s another earthquake as the angel descends to give them this earthshaking news. How terrifying! The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. There’s a reason angels always start their message with do not be afraid. I’ll bet the women were terrified – in fact the men assign to guard the tomb has already passed out, fainted dead away. But the women persevere, and lucky for them, the angel gets right to it. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’
They didn’t even see Jesus yet, but they obeyed and went running. And I love this part. This is my very favorite part of Matthew’s Easter story. They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and RAN to tell his disciples. Running with fear and great joy. Can you imagine what that looked like? Maybe they’re trying to act like ladies, they aren’t wearing sneakers. So they’re walking fast, holding their skirts up a bit to keep from tripping, looking at each other… walking faster… looking at each other… breaking into a loping gallop…
I don’t imagine these women talking – but I imagine them starting to make eye contact. And these women, who know each other well, must have been able to hold whole conversations without saying a word. To be smiling and looking like their hearts are on fire – but a glint of fear is caught in the other’s eyes as you look. That what-if, that part that holds back, that obstacle to running full out with your hands in the air. But their faith carries them nonetheless, and pushes them onward, to share the good news. To run with fear and great joy is the very action of faith.
And suddenly, Jesus is with them. Boo. Greetings! It’s unclear how. It just says he met them. Maybe he steps out from behind some bushes, maybe he materializes in thin air. Sheesh, Jesus. Having now been surprised twice in one morning, the women fall to the ground for at least some stability and take hold of Jesus feet.
Now its Jesus turn to tell them not to be afraid. He calms their fears and send them on their way. I hope that they could at least catch their breath, but in a verse, they are off again to share the good news. Three things ring true for us today: Jesus goes ahead of us. Faith brings us to him, and fear and great joy go hand in hand when it comes to faith.
If you look back a few chapters before the empty tomb, Fear and apprehension appear to have the last word – but then there is joy! There is a future. This tomb, this sadness, this old world, this Jerusalem, is the past. Jesus is on the move – and leads the way into the future, and surprises us with his present when we least expect it!
God is not in the past, locked into an ancient time when people believed in these sorts of things or did things a certain way. Nor is God shut up in our personal past, along with our sins, our failures, our wasted opportunities, and the dead that we mourn. God draws us into the future, giving us the faith to put one foot in front of the other.
It is my privilege to stand before you today to remind you of the angel’s words and Jesus’ words – Do not be afraid. Before you even glimpse the risen savior, in the midst of uncertainty and change – do not be afraid.
This congregation has been moving forward with great Joy – but there is always fear. We don’t need to pretend there isn’t. This congregation will continue to move forward, in our ministries, in our worship, in our life together, with the call committees work, with the work of the council, and all our volunteer efforts – though we may not know exactly what the Lord is calling us into!
What we do know is this, because Jesus lives, we shall live also, nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ – and the living God has gone ahead of us. May we run to catch up, with fear and great Joy, to the future God has planned for us, and may we be surprised by the presence of Jesus on the way.