2nd Sunday of Easter—Year C—April 7, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come[…]and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead.” Amen
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
It has been Easter for a week now, because you know Easter is an ongoing season, not just a one-time event, not just the holiday sometimes celebrated with ham and chocolate and colored eggs.
You could almost call it a state of being. You are in the Easter mood when you proclaim with immense excitement and trust: Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia! Christians are called Easter people, for it is to proclaim and enact the resurrection that we gather weekly. But each of us is not an enthusiastic Easter person 100% of the time. Sometimes circumstances in our life cause our excitement and trust to wane. That is normal, our faith lives, just like the rest of our lives feel like roller coasters sometimes. The ups and downs are natural.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, we see the roller coaster of emotions and belief that the 11 disciples rode during the historical Easter. In just a couple of short verses, John covers a whole week’s worth of time. We hear about Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the 10 disciples, and then the story jumps a week later to when Jesus finally appears to Thomas. We see the 10 and Thomas at their lows and at their highs.
So what I spent this week thinking about is: What exactly happened during that first post-resurrection week?
– Why wasn’t Thomas there with the other disciples?
– What was he doing instead?
– What did it feel like for Thomas to have missed the first appearance?
– Did the disciples even notice he was missing?
– Did they consider going to fetch him when Jesus appeared?
– Was that all the disciples could talk about for the rest of the week?
– Did that annoy Thomas to no end? Did Thomas feel totally left out?
– Why did Thomas stick around…if he was left out…if he didn’t believe?
– What was it like to feel like the only one still left in the darkness of the tomb? In the loneliness and despair of Good Friday?
But I think the most frequently asked question of this text is: Why didn’t Thomas believe what his fellow disciples reported?
It is this question that results in the nickname, doubting Thomas. And it is true that Thomas had some doubts, he wanted the proof that the other disciples had already gotten. He wanted an encounter with the risen Jesus of his own. Belief in Christ is based on relationship, and Thomas’ relationship “had also died on Good Friday” and so the relationship needed to be resurrected as part of Thomas coming to full faith, trust, and belief. Thomas needed his own encounter to pull him up to the top of the roller coaster, he needed something to be that chain to haul him up from death, and the disciples’ second-hand reports were not going to do the trick.
Like Thomas, stories can help nurture and maintain our relationship and faith, but for many, personal encounters with the risen Christ are also necessary.
Many people suggest that Jesus is talking to us when he says to Thomas “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” And although it is true that we will never have resurrection appearances with the historical Jesus the way that the disciples did, we thankfully do get to see the risen Christ. We too get resurrection appearance to nurtures our faith.
It might in the midst of worship, in prayer, or meditation, or song, or scripture that Christ is appears to you.
Or it might be more physical, and the risen Christ appears to you through the words, actions, and love of another person or group of people.
Or it might be in the midst of God’s creation that you encounter the risen Christ.
Wherever it might be, Jesus reaches out his hands and says to you “Peace be with you” and then breaths into you. With that breath comes the Holy Spirit, new life, and the relationship of faith that sustains you from day to day.
But what if you haven’t seen the risen Christ in a long time? Or ever? What if you seem to be the only one who missed the resurrection appearance? Are you any less of an Easter person?
No! Because Christ died and rose for you, just as much as he did for all those who have seen him recently. Needing and waiting for a glimpse of the risen Christ is all Thomas was asking for, and eventually, maybe not as soon as he wanted it, he got it.
Christ is all around taking on so many different forms, and we do not always recognize him at first or trust that it is in fact him, but that does not make you any less blessed as a child of God.
And while you await for your next resurrection appearance, I hope you remember that even when you do not see him, Christ is with you, even in the deepest darkness and trials of life.
I like how Frederick Niedner summarized Luther’s sermons about suffering in an article about depression: “In Jesus Christ, the true God breaks into even the most utter despair. In the one who cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ God joins those whom darkness has swallowed. In so doing, Christ unhelled hell, Luther preached, declaring that Christ’s descent to hell means there is no place that any one of us could ever end up, no depth to which we might sink, but that even there the Lord is with us. Even there, he says, ‘Come with me.’”
And on top of that, just like Thomas, you have the community around you to believe for you when it is otherwise just too hard. If there is a prayer or song or line of the creed that you just cannot seem to say today, that is too much for where your relationship of faith it today, do not fear, we collectively will pray it for you. When it seems like you cannot see Christ in any other way, he is still around you in the gathered community, journeying with you through that week of doubt.
So no matter whether you are rejoicing because you have been brought to Easter because you have seen the risen Christ or you are still waiting in the sorrow of Good Friday, Christ can reach you, Christ is with you, you will not be left behind or forgotten about. Circumstances of life vary from person to person, but the good news remains the same, Christ is risen! And not even any amount of doubt can change that fact! Amen.