Plymouth United Church of Christ

Sermon, Year A Easter 2, May 1, 2011
Plymouth United Church of Christ , Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011

Focus Scripture: John 20:10-31 (Jesus appears to the disciples)

Mary Magdalene discovered early that morning that Jesus’ tomb was empty. She ran to the disciples and told them about it, then they ran to the tomb and discovered the truth themselves. Then they ran off to their homes. Mary stayed at the tomb, though, and had her encounter with the risen Jesus. “Why do you weep, Mary? Here I am!” Her tells her to go tell the rest of the disciples that he will be ascending to the Father. She does. That’s where we ended reading from this chapter of John on Easter morning. The text then goes immediately into this mysterious encounter with a Messiah that cannot be contained by a tomb, that cannot be kept out by locks or attempts to hide. There’s a sermon right there. You can’t hide from Jesus. You can’t lock out the Messiah, so why keep fighting it?

Now, the disciples have locked themselves away not because they fear Jesus might find them, but out of fear of the Jews. “The Jews” is John’s unfortunate shorthand for “Jewish leaders”. Unfortunate because remember that all of the disciples, as well as Jesus, were Jews, but John’s refrain of “the Jews” has been used in occasional violent and awful anti-semitism in various periods in the church’s history. So, the disciples aren’t afraid of “Jews” in general, but the Jewish leadership who had just Jesus killed a few days ago, and who surely, when they hear word of resurrection or Jesus’ missing body, however they hear about the events of Easter morning, will be coming by to ask questions, probably accuse them of lying, and likely ask to have them arrested or killed. The disciples are probably terrified!

Plus, they hadn’t all witnessed the resurrection. Only Mary actually saw Jesus, and only Simon Peter and the disciple Jesus loved saw the empty tomb and the linens sitting in it. So who knows what they’re all thinking? They don’t know what happened, whether Jesus did rise from the dead or it’s a trick or a hallucination, and when the authorities arrive for questioning, they will have no answers to offer.

What would you think if Simon Peter came to you and said, “The tomb is empty!” and then Mary said, “I talked to Jesus!” Would you believe? Or would you trust all your years of experience that dead things stay dead? Though you’ve been around Lazarus, so you know dead things don’t always stay dead. But you might fear for your life in case it is true. Or fear for your life if it’s found out that someone stole the body in a trick. You can be pretty sure you’ll be questioned as one of Jesus’ followers, and you really have no idea what has happened.

So they lock themselves up in a room, fearful of what happens next. Perhaps making contingency plans: getting their stories coordinated, rehashing the last week and remembering Jesus’ words, looking for a hint of what’s happening. “Didn’t he say once ‘tear down this temple and I will raise it in three days’?” “Remember at our last supper he said, ‘A little while and you will no longer see me, and a little while again and you will see me’?” “He said he would see us once again. Could it be real? Did Mary really see him?”

And then, lo and behold, there he is, in the midst of them!

“Peace be with you!” He shows them his hands and his side, then says a rather archaic, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes the Holy Spirit on them, tells them that if they forgive any sins, they are forgiven, if they retain the sins, they are retained. Then he disappears.

What was that about? He rose from the dead sometime the previous night. Then he waits until evening to show up to his disciples, who happen to be the only people he’s hung out with for 3 years, and he only stays a minute or two. Then voomph. He’s gone. Where has he been? Where has he gone to?

Thomas misses the whole event. For some reason, he was gone. Getting food, maybe, or scouting the lay of the land. He arrives, knocks on the door... I wonder what secret knock they might have come up with. Surely they had to have had a code. Eventually the fish symbol became the code for Christians to mark the home of a Christian, or a place of worship, but for now, maybe a knock for this underground group of potential criminals. The disciples tell Thomas that Jesus was just there. “He was here! We saw him!” Thomas doesn’t believe them. “Unless I see the mark of the nails, and put my finger in the mark and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Can you blame him? What would you think? They hang out for a week. Doing what, I’d like to know. And I’d like to know what Jesus is doing during this week until he shows up again. You who were here for the last Wednesday night of soup and scripture may remember the legend (surely not true) that Joseph of Aramethea was Jesus’ uncle and had once taken him to England as a teenager. Perhaps during this week Jesus went back because he’s had a 20-year hankering for shepherd pie.

So, a week later in the same locked room, when Thomas is there, Jesus appears out of thin air, “Peace be with you.” That’s the third time he has said that since he rose from death. Jesus looks at Thomas and tells him to touch the marks. “Do not doubt, but believe.” He seems okay with Thomas’ doubt. “You need proof? I don’t mind. Here you go!” But Thomas, who had said before he would not believe unless he touched the marks, doesn’t touch them—not according to John, anyway. Jesus makes the offer, and Thomas responds instead with a massive statement of faith: “My Lord and my God!” John the Gospel writer has been saying this all along, but Thomas is the first character in the narrative to actually say that Jesus is God. The so-called Doubting Thomas is the one who “gets it” first, or at least publicly declares that he gets it ... that Jesus is God. I would think that for the bewildered disciples who often were confused, not sure what Jesus was doing, this might have been an AHA moment. “Oh... Jesus was God all along! That explains a lot of the last few years. It all kind of makes sense now!”

If you were here last Sunday, you may remember that before we did our renewal of baptismal vows I mentioned that in the early church, and often still in Catholic and Orthodox churches, Easter was the day of baptism for adults who have come to faith. They spent Lent, and many more time before that, learning about the faith. Then were baptized on Easter, and during the following six Sundays before Pentecost, the pastors preached and taught those who were just baptized the mysteries of the faith in sermons called mystagogical catechesis, the teaching of the mysteries, the things of the faith that the rational mind has difficulty comprehending.

“Jesus is God” is certainly one of those mysteries. And Thomas nails it. My Lord and my God. He believes. Then Jesus asks if he believes because he saw and says blessed are those who have not seen, yet still believe. That would be us. We have not seen Jesus. But is that really true? Some of us, maybe all of us, have had some kind of experience once or more in our lives of a holy presence or vision or a sense of something extra-ordinary ... in a worship service, on a walk, during a time of grief or great stress, church camp, vacation ... some kind of experience with Jesus in a non-rational, non-easily explained way. And we see Jesus at work all over: the people who mobilize to go dig out after tornadoes, or tsunamis, or earthquakes. Jesus in the face of the people suffering, Jesus at work here making quilts, supporting the food pantry, working at the thrift sale, cooking for a pot luck. Jesus is all over the place. Wherever two or more are gathered, I am there. Jesus is here. My Lord and my God. Peace be with you.

Let us pray: God of resurrection life, Lord and God and Holy Spirit, grant us your peace, O Prince of Peace, and give us sight to see you alive here with us and alive in the world wherever your disciples bring comfort and loving kindness to neighbors and strangers, wherever the miracle of love opens tombs of death and locked rooms of fear, through your love and peace. Amen.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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