Readings for the day (2nd Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 28, 2019):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Similarly to Christmas, it is believed by the masses that Christmas and Easter are single day celebrations. That we, the church, celebrate Christmas on December 25th and we celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Except our Christmas celebration is 12 days long, and our Easter celebration is 50 days long.
And the very first Sunday after Easter, in the midst of our celebration, we have to wrestle with skepticism. Right out of the gate, we have to face the reality of our own skepticism about Jesus’ resurrection. In fact some of Jesus’ appearances to His disciples after the resurrection includes skepticism. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples in Galilee. They saw, worshipped, and some doubted. In John’s Gospel, it is Thomas who seems skeptical.
During His ministry, Jesus was hard on the disciples at times. Even calling them out and criticizing them for little faith or a lack of faith because they just didn’t seem to get it. But after the resurrection, even though those skeptical thoughts were still present, Jesus doesn’t criticize. Instead He continues to encounter them, where they are, inviting them into a relationship with Him – which in turn is a relationship with the Father.
I feel bad for Thomas. He often gets made out to be the scapegoat for our own doubts and skepticism. We call him “Doubting Thomas.” But what was Thomas actually looking for? What was he longing for? Was he looking for proof that the resurrection did indeed happen? Or was it something more? In order to know what Thomas is truly wanting, we should look back to the only other time when Thomas speaks – in that all too familiar funeral text of John 14. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus has told His disciples that something awful is about to happen, at least from their perspective. He told them that He was going to die. And they don’t get it. They don’t understand what He is talking about. And they really don’t understand what Jesus is talking about when He says that He is going to the Father’s house. So Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas longs to be with Jesus – to stay with Jesus. He desires to have a relationship with Jesus that will last. He doesn’t want Jesus to go, because from his vantage point, when Jesus leaves, the relationship ends.
Fast forward then to hours after Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Mary has an encounter with Jesus. And this isn’t just a spiritual encounter. She saw Him. She touched Him. She talked to Him. So she goes at once to the disciples – those eleven men – to share with them this Good News that Jesus is alive! That evening, the disciples are hiding in a room with the doors and windows locked. They fear the people who crucified Jesus might go after His followers next. But Thomas isn’t with them. We don’t know why he isn’t in the room with the others. Maybe he was out getting some food for everyone. Maybe he drew the short straw to go get takeout. We don’t really know. What we do know is that Thomas was not in the room at this time. And remember up to this point, Mary is the only one who has physically seen Jesus alive. And then Jesus appears, without even opening the door. He just appears, to ten of the eleven. Thomas isn’t there. He missed it.
When Thomas finds out about this encounter, he’s jealous. He wants what Mary got. He wants what the other ten disciples got. He isn’t seeking proof that Jesus is alive. He wants an encounter with Jesus. He wants what everyone else got.
We want this too! Above and beyond our own doubts and skepticism, what we long for is this encounter with our risen Lord. We want to see Him, touch Him, talk to Him. We want to experience what the disciples experienced. And we do get that experience. We do get to encounter our risen Lord, and we don’t have to be skeptical about His existence or His resurrection. For we have the Word and the Sacraments. Here, in this place, we hear and see the Word of God. And then we touch, taste, and smell the Word of God – who is Jesus, the Word of God made flesh who lived among us. When we come to the table to receive the sacrament; that is our opportunity to encounter Jesus – the Word becoming flesh. God’s Word and receiving the sacrament of His body and blood brings us into a relationship with Him.
You may think that the resurrection is only a past event; that it is something that only happened a couple thousand years ago. You may also have hope that the resurrection will come as promised as some future event. However, God’s future breaks into our present. We get to have life in the future, but we also get to have life now, in the present, because of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection becomes a present reality.
After Thomas finally gets his own encounter with our risen Lord, the author of John’s Gospel tells us that he wrote these stories and encounters of Jesus down so that we may come to believe. “And that through believing we may have life in his name.” This life in Jesus’ name is not only the promised eternal life to come, but life today also. That this life that Jesus’ resurrection brings to us:
Frees us from worrying about things that are out of our control.
Frees us from the pressure of completing a bucket list before our earthly life ends.
Frees us from the guilt and burden of our sins.
We don’t have to spiritually remain behind locked doors out of fear. We don’t have to be skeptical and wonder if Jesus really rose from the dead. We don’t have to doubt the forgiveness of our sins. Through believing, we are given life. We are given a relationship with our Lord. A relationship that sustains us through the ups and downs of this life. A relationship that allows us to encounter Jesus without fear. And that is certainly something to celebrate. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.
2019 Anthony Christoffels. All rights
 John 14:2-5, NRSV
 John 14:5, NRSV
 John 20:31, NRSV