Jesus appears to the disciples
19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
Jesus appears to Thomas and the disciples
24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
Thoughts on the passage:
For the last few weeks we have been looking at stories of the early church and the reactions of the disciples following the resurrection. The Easter season would not be complete for me if we did not look at the story of poor Doubting Thomas and his struggles to accept the good news that Christ rose from the dead. As we look at what it means to be a church of resurrection, I think it is important that we acknowledge the struggles we can have to believe in the new life that God promises. Sometimes it just seems to good to be true.
For many of us, the story of Easter is not something new. We have always known that Christ died and rose again to offer us new life. If you are like me you do not remember the first time you heard the message of Easter. Recently I have had the pleasure of hearing my kids talk about what they are learning in Sunday school. I just need to give a shout-out to our Sunday school teachers and to Lynn VanNurden who has been running a Connexion group for kids. Thanks to the hard work of so many of you, my children, and others like them, are learning the lessons of Jesus at an early age. I can safely say that both Bryce and Zoe have always known the story of the resurrection.
I share this insight with you because I think we can forget just how hard to accept the idea is that Jesus really rose again. The fact is that for many in the early church, the idea that Christ physically rose again from the dead was hard to believe. Doubting Thomas is just the first of many in a long line of Christians and followers of Jesus who believed in both him and in God and yet struggled to believe in his bodily resurrection. The resurrection is something that is hard to believe. For those of us who cannot directly experience it, like Thomas does, we must instead take it on faith.
The role of reason and faith is a difficult one. Philosophers and theologians have for century struggled to explain the connection between the two and whether they stand in opposition to each other or can work in concert with one another. For many of us, solid evidence and clear explanations are helpful in our understanding of God. Like Thomas we crave those tangible signs that we can point to or touch that help us to know more about God. In the end however, we must make a leap to faith, accepting that no amount of signs is fully going to get us to our believes, we must simply trust and jump.
One the strands of Lutheranism that I love is the idea that our faith comes not from us but from God. We can never rationally reach God, instead we need the faith and love that comes from God and allows us to leap forward into the arms of the divine. Like Thomas, our doubts are a real and human part of us. The hope we have is that Jesus is always there for us, ready to appear and welcome us, to show his wounded and hands and side to us, and help us to know the love of God that has been present in our lives from the very beginning. The author of John emphasizes this in the message from Jesus that even those who have not seen Jesus can still come to have faith in him.
Being a church of resurrection means being willing to take leaps of faith. It is easy to try and root ourselves in what we know and of what we are certain. Instead, we have to trust in that which have not seen and believe things are possible that we can only begin to imagine. Last week we asked for funds to help with a medical procedure for a person in need. We did not know if we would raise the funds. Susan shared with me that she hoped we would be able to cover half the expenses with the special offering and the Aid Program would pick up the rest. By Thursday we had raised the full $550 thanks to the generosity of our members. We are taking a big leap of faith with our Miracle Sunday and our goal of raising $75,000. Sometimes I am not sure which is the bigger leap of faith, that we will be able to raise the money, or that we believe our church will be around long enough to make use of the funds.
I do not lift this up because our church is in danger of closing tomorrow, but because all over the United States we see churches in decline, and we see churches struggling to stay open. All of the demographic data and polling points to a growing number of people who do not think they need church. Even among Christians, the numbers of people who go to church regularly or are members of a congregation is on the decline. Being a church of resurrection means trusting our future not to what we can learn from statistics but instead to God. It means believing that the resurrecting power of Christ is not limited to Easter morning but is available to all of us, each and every day.
Today we are celebrating our graduates and that seems a fitting time to talk about leaps of faith. Graduation feels like a leap of faith. After years of education we still can only know so much, and we have no way of knowing if it is really enough for what will come next. I still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw the sign “Beloit College Next Exit” as my parents took me off to college, and my own wondering about what I was getting myself into. I remember that feeling only getting stronger that first night when my parents had left, and I was all alone on campus. I was taking a leap into the unknown.
The theologian Soren Kierkegaard was the one to famously write about the idea of a leap of faith. At the same time, he struggled to write about faith. For him it was something deeply personally and even the act of committing ideas to a page and writing them down felt wrong. In the end faith was something that was unexplainable and inexplicable. Writing this sermon, I understand what he is talking about. I want to try and rationally explain something that is completely irrational to you. In the end, we can never know everything, and we have to take it on faith.
I could go on and on. I could tell you of the experiences of the risen Christ that are recorded in the scriptures. I could tell you about my own experiences of God’s presence in my life. I could tell you dozen of stories about how people have felt the Holy Spirit moving and stirring in their midst. All of these signs and stories might help, but in the end, it comes down to each of us: are we ready to believe? Being a church of resurrection means taking a leap of faith that God really is moving in our midst. It means taking a leap of faith that Christ really did die and rise again for each of us. It means taking a leap of faith and trusting that the Holy Spirit is ready to lift us up and carry us forward into God’s loving arms. Amen
Questions to Ponder:
What does it mean to be a church of resurrection?
What does a leap of faith look like to you?
When is a time that you have struggled to believe?
Who is someone you know whose faith inspires you and helps you to know God better?
God, you are the resurrection and the life. Thank you for walking along side us in the dark times of our lives. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Help us to be a church of resurrection that shares that joy and new life with others. Amen