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 theLord.” 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.
Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)
One of the differences in Lutheranism – particularly Lutheran preaching – is that we don’t speak too much of what happens when you die. As a rule, Lutherans have tended to just trust God for that sort of stuff and focus on living here and now. In today’s epistle, which is just a fancy word for letter, the author does not tell the reader that they WILL receive the outcome of their faith, but that they are receiving the outcome, the salvation of their souls currently.
Faith is not for a later date. For a time yet to be determined. Faith is for now. Here. Salvation is for now. Because how and why we live is important. For now. For here. Because we are saved by grace through faith, we can live for our neighbor.
Thomas will forever be known as Doubting Thomas. Because he has a hard time believing something impossible? His faith relied on his daily experience. But he doubts the disciples’ experience and testimony! Maybe he just doesn’t have faith in the other disciples! Think back to what else we know about Thomas….
Remember Jesus’ friend Lazarus? When Jesus hears about Lazarus – he doesn’t go right away, but then Lazarus dies, and Jesus decides to make the trip back. The disciples try to persuade him not to venture near Jerusalem. “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (John 11:8).
Thomas knows that for Jesus to return to Jerusalem is to go to his death. Thomas was no fool. He counted the costs before making a decision. Nevertheless, it is he who bravely urges the others to follow Jesus: “Let us also go also, that we may die with him” (11:16). And in his last talk and prayer with his disciples, it seems like this same Thomas inspires Jesus with his brave questions. Jesus offers eternal hope in telling the disciples,
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going” (John 14:1-4).
Wait a minute, Thomas interrupts. Maybe the other disciples were falling asleep already. “We don’t know where you are going. So how can we know the way?” Thomas is a realist. and Jesus replies frankly. “I am the way, says Jesus (John 14:6). I am the way, the truth, the life.
And we get to this scene here, and Simon Peter and the other disciples nearly boast to Thomas – “We have seen the Lord!”
One author imagines Thomas’s snarky responses to Simon Peter’s enthusiasm, “You have seen the Lord, Mr. Simon Let’s-build-three-booths Peter?? You have seen the Lord, Mr. Simon God-forbid-Lord-This- shall-never-happen-to-you Peter? You have seen the Lord, Mr. Simon You-shall-never-wash-my-feet-Peter? You have seen the Lord, Mr. Simon I’ll-never-deny-thee-deny-thee-deny thee Peter?” I mean, would you believe Simon Peter?
Surely, Jesus will build his church upon him, and he is an inspiration everywhere to bumbling, stumbling, cocky, and self-assured Christians. But I think we’re all more likely to believe a Thomas sort. If Thomas says it, you know it must be true. Thomas is not the sort to check his brain at the door. While the rest of the disciples were locked in the upper room, where was Thomas?
After Mary Magdalene preaches the Good News of the Resurrection to the disciples – their first reaction is apparently to hide. Locked away. For fear of not the Jews – but the Jewish leadership who had been pitted against Jesus from the beginning. After all Jesus and the disciples are Jewish? But where’s Thomas? Where is Thomas who has already let it be known that he would go and die with Jesus? Where is Thomas who asked for more explicit instructions on how to follow God in Jesus absence?
Maybe fear didn’t get the best of him, maybe he was still out there doing the work. Ready to die if he must for being a disciple of this man. He’s not with the disciples quaking in fear behind locked doors – he’s out there. Why does Jesus come to the disciples first and not to him?
Thomas was still living his faith day to day. In the here and now. Struggling, obviously. Grieving, definitely. But he’s not hiding. And doesn’t ask for anything different than the other disciples experienced themselves. They got to experience Jesus wounded and resurrected body. They saw for themselves. Jesus came and stood among them and said Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Jesus is resurrecting their mission, as not just disciples, students, but APOSTLES – the sent ones. Sent to share the good news of the resurrection – with those who will never see it for themselves as they did.
Signs and wonders have their place, but Jesus wants to lead his followers into a faith of a different sort, trusting in the peace, the relationship, and love of God – not just believing someone because you saw a miracle. This is the faith that will sustain us.
We share this daily faith in many ways – and reassure each other when we gather for the celebration of Holy Communion that the peace of Christ is with us. The presence of Christ is with us. We tell each other “Peace be with you.” and proclaim peace for the here and now. We remind each other that faith that can flourish even when what can be “seen” is dispiriting. We recall that the Holy Spirit is in our midst, giving faith, discerning beyond the visible, beyond the surface of things.
Jesus of course, did many other signs – but THESE are written so that you may come to believe. The resurrection is not the happy ending of the story – but the beginning of believe, the beginning of faith, the beginning of trust and discerning Jesus’ presence. You are witnesses to these things. Amen. Alleluia