The Second Sunday of Easter
Pastor George Pejakovich
John 20:19-31

WHEN MARY CAME RUSHING BACK FROM THE EMPTY TOMB TO TELL THE DISCIPLES, “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!” THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE HER, AND THOUGHT SHE WAS HAVING A BOUT OF HYSTERIA. THAT’S WHY NO ONE RAN BACK TO THE TOMB TO CHECK OUT HER STORY; THERE WAS NO POINT IN DOING SO. WHAT THEY DID WAS TO BARRICADE THE DOOR, AND SPEND THE LONG DAY IN HIDING FROM THE AUTHORITIES. I FEEL CERTAIN THAT MARY ENTERTAINED SOME INTERESTING THOUGHTS ABOUT THE MEN SHE WAS LOCKED IN WITH. THEY WERE ALL THERE EXCEPT FOR THOMAS, AND ONE HAS TO WONDER WHY THOMAS WAS MISSING. IF WE LOOK AT THOMAS THROUGH THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, WE FIND THAT HE WAS A VERY PRACTICAL PERSON. HE IS THE ONE WHO QUESTIONED JESUS ABOUT THE WAY TO WHERE JESUS WAS GOING. HE WAS THE ONE WHO, WHEN JESUS SAID HE WAS RETURNING TO BETHANY AFTER THE DEATH OF LAZARUS, KNEW THAT WAS TO BE A DEATH SENTENCE FOR JESUS. HE WAS NOT WITH THE OTHERS, AND MY GUESS IS THAT HE WAS GETTING HIS AFFAIRS IN ORDER, AND PACKING TO GET OUT OF TOWN.

WHEN IT WAS EVENING, AND DESPITE THE LOCKED DOOR, JESUS STOOD AMONG THEM, HE SAID, “PEACE BE WITH YOU.” THIS IS THE GREAT SHALOM WHICH MEANS MUCH MORE THAN SIMPLY PEACE; IT MEANS WHOLENESS, COMPLETENESS, THAT ALL WILL BE WELL. NOTICE WHAT JESUS DOES NEXT; HE SHOWS THEM HIS HANDS AND SIDE. THAT IS WHEN THEIR FEAR TURNED INTO REJOICING AS THEY RECOGNIZED THE LORD. THEN HE SAID, “SHALOM ALLECHEM,” AGAIN, AND TOLD THEM WHY PEACE WOULD INDEED BE WITH THEM: “AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, SO I SEND YOU.” THIS IS THE NEW RELATIONSHIP THAT THE RISEN CHRIST BRINGS INTO THE WORLD; THAT THE DISCIPLES OF THE LORD ARE TO BE THE AGENTS OF THE FATHER TO BRING HIS KINGDOM TO THIS WORLD. HE COMMISSIONS THEM BY BREATHING ON THEM THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD, AND MAKES THEM AGENTS OF GRACE AND JUDGMENT FOR THE WORLD. THOMAS, ALAS, IS NOT THERE.

A WEEK LATER, THOMAS WAS WITH THE OTHERS, AND WHEN THEY TOLD HIM, IN THE VERY WORDS OF MARY MAGDALENE WHOM THEY HAD NOT BELIEVED, “WE HAVE SEEN THE LORD,” THOMAS, LIKE HIS FELLOW DISCIPLES BEFORE HIM, DID NOT BELIEVE WHAT THEY TOLD HIM. THOMAS GETS A BAD REPUTATION, AND IS OFTEN CALLED “DOUBTING THOMAS.” SURELY THE OTHERS TOLD HIM HOW JESUS HAD SHOWN THEM HIS HANDS AND SIDE. THOMAS, A PRACTICAL MAN, INDEED, WAS NOT WILLING TO TAKE THE WORD OF HIS FELLOW DISCIPLES; “UNLESS I PUT MY FINGER IN THE MARK OF THE NAILS AND MY HAND IN HIS SIDE, I WILL NOT BELIEVE.” HE IS NOT BEING OBSTINATE; HE IS MERELY DEMANDING THE SAME LEVEL OF PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION THAT THE OTHER DISCIPLES HAD SEEN.

WHEN JESUS SUDDENLY APPEARED AMONG THEM, AND AGAIN SAID, “PEACE BE WITH YOU,” HE TURNED TO THOMAS. WHAT HE SAID TO THOMAS SOUNDS LIKE A REBUKE, BUT IT IS NOT. JESUS SHOWS HIM HIS HANDS AND SIDE, AS HE DID TO THE OTHERS, AND INVITES HIM TO TEST THE REALITY OF HIS PRESENCE. THERE ARE MANY PAINTINGS FROM ANTIQUITY THAT DEPICT THOMAS PUTTING HIS FINGER IN THE MARK OF THE NAILS OF THE RISEN LORD, BUT I SERIOUSLY DOUBT THAT HE DID THAT. WHEN JESUS TELLS HIM TO DO NOT DOUBT BUT BELIEVE, THOMAS’ RESPONSE IS THE FIRST GREAT CONFESSION OF THE CHURCH, AND IT WAS PROBABLY SAID ON HIS KNEES; “MY LORD AND MY GOD!” TO THIS CONFESSION, JESUS RESPONDS WITH, “HAVE YOU BELIEVED BECAUSE YOU HAVE SEEN ME? BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET HAVE COME TO BELIEVE.”

THE DATING OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN MAKES IT VERY UNLIKELY THAT ANY OF THE DIRECT WITNESSES OF THE RESURRECTION WERE STILL LIVING. THE WRITER OF THE GOSPEL IS MOST PROBABLY A DISCIPLE OF JOHN THE APOSTLE WHO DIED IN EXILE ON PATMOS AND IS WRITING TO A CHURCH THAT HAS NO OBJECTIVE PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION OTHER THAN THE TESTIMONY OF THE APOSTLES. WHAT JESUS SAYS TO THOMAS IS A MESSAGE FOR THE FIRST CENTURY COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS TO WHICH JOHN WRITES, AND TO OUR TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS. WHEN WE HEAR THE STORY OF GOD’S LOVE, WE COME TO BELIEVE THROUGH THE WORK OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT, THE SAME SPIRIT WE RECEIVE IN OUR BAPTISM (LIKE LITTLE ISRAEL WILL RECEIVE TODAY) AND, SO, IN BELIEVING, WE ARE BLESSED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD.

JOHN BEGINS HIS GOSPEL WITH THE CLEAR STATEMENT OF WHO THIS JESUS IS; THE WORD, WHO IS GOD, HAS BECOME FLESH. JOHN WRITES A STORY DEPICTING A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT ENCOUNTERS AND RESPONSES TO JESUS. FROM FISHERMEN WHO DROP THEIR NETS TO FOLLOW HIM, TO A TEACHER OF ISRAEL WHO COMES AT NIGHT AND LEAVES A BIT CONFUSED, TO A SAMARITAN WOMAN WHO MEETS JESUS AND BECOMES ONE OF HIS FIRST EVANGELISTS, TO A MAN HEALED OF BLINDNESS WHO DEFIES THE AUTHORITIES, TO THE SISTERS OF A DEAD MAN WHO CONFESS THEIR FAITH IN JESUS, JOHN OFFERS A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT OPTIONS IN HOW TO RESPOND TO THE GOOD NEWS THAT GOD LOVES THE WHOLE WORLD. HIS ENTIRE GOSPEL IS 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.”

THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND LIVED AMONG US, AND IN THE LIFE, DEATH, RESURRECTION, AND ASCENSION OF JESUS, THE FLESH HAS BECOME WORD AGAIN. THAT WORD IS THE TESTIMONY OF THE ONES HE SENT OUT AS APOSTLES OF THE KINGDOM, IT IS THE WORD PASSED DOWN THROUGH THE AGES IN THE COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, SO THAT, IN HEARING THAT WORD, WE MAY COME TO BELIEVE IN THE LOVE AND MERCY OF THE FATHER. SO THAT, AS PETER WROTE, “ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE NOT SEEN HIM, YOU LOVE HIM; AND ALTHOUGH YOU DO NOT SEE HIM NOW, YOU BELIEVE IN HIM, AND REJOICE WITH AN INDESCRIBABLE AND GLORIOUS JOY.” WE NEED NOT LOOK INTO THE EMPTY TOMB, NOR DARE TO STICK OUR FINGERS IN THE NAIL HOLES IN HIS HANDS, BECAUSE WE ARE BLESSED BY GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT WHO TESTIFIES TO US TO THE TRUTH THAT CHRIST IS RISEN. IN THAT WORD IS OUR LIFE AND OUR HOPE, IN THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT, AND AT THE NAME OF JESUS, THE ONLY RESPONSE POSSIBLE FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IS, “MY LORD AND MY GOD!”
AMEN

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