2nd Sunday of Easter, year C, 2016
first reading: Acts 5:27-32
second reading: Revelation 1:4-8
gospel reading: John 20:19-31
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but just in case you’ve forgotten – every year on the second Sunday of Easter we read the story of Thomas. I opened my sermon file and groaned, “Thomas AGAIN.” It’s a natural reaction to stories we think we know so well.
That’s a danger we all face when we look at well-known Bible stories – the tendency to read them quickly and assume we know all there is to know. Thanks be to God that when we actually take some TIME with Scripture, many times God grants us new insight, and that’s what happened for me.
What I saw this week, with the help of my gospels professor who wrote a commentary on John’s gospel – is God coming to us in the midst of our frail human condition.
Thomas isn’t the focus when we look at it this way – Thomas is merely a reflection of us – just as the other disciples in the first half of the reading are a reflection of us.
We have two basic human emotions in this reading – FEAR and DOUBT.
In the first half we read, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…”
This was no irrational fear – this was real terror that had them locked in that house at night. They had reason to fear. The same religious authorities that put Jesus to death might be coming for them next.
When you think about it, fear is a big controlling force in our lives. I’m sure if I would ask you to think about all the things that make you afraid, you could name several. Whether they’re things related to physical or mental health, finances, the well-being of loved ones, the political climate, crime both locally and globally – there’s plenty of things to fear.
My professor, Robert Kysar, summed it up like this: “The point is less that [Jesus] can pass through locked doors than that he comes to believers in the midst of their human condition.”
And when Jesus comes to the disciples in the midst of their fear, what does he do? Does he chastise them for not being faithful enough? NO. He gives them the gift of PEACE. He says, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus comes in the midst of the turmoil and fear and speaks peace. To OUR fear he speaks peace.
In the second half of our reading Thomas is still reeling from grief. What would we think if a group of friends told us that they had seen a deceased loved one ALIVE? What do we think sometimes when we hear the Easter story of gruesome death and and empty tomb, Jesus walking and greeting Mary in the garden, and appearing to the disciples out of nowhere in a locked up house?
What do we think when we experience suffering in ourselves, our loved ones and in the world? How can there be a God? And if God DOES exist then why doesn’t God do something? Thomas’ reaction is our reaction. We’re incredulous. We DOUBT. Doubt can be painful. It can be crippling. It can leave us stuck and floundering.
When Jesus came to Thomas in the midst of his doubt, what does he do? Does he rebuke Thomas for his lack of trust in the witness of the other disciples? NO. Jesus speaks to Thomas what he spoke to the other disciples the week before – PEACE. Once again, he says, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus comes in the midst of the turmoil and doubt and speaks peace. To OUR doubt he speaks peace.
Jesus comes in the midst of our human condition, whatever it might be, and brings us peace.
Because life is messy. Nowhere in the scriptures do we find perfect people in perfect circumstances. Perhaps Eden – but by the third chapter of Genesis that’s already messed up.
Scripture speaks to our lives in all its messiness. Jesus speaks to us in our messiness.
We see this in all three of our readings today. In Acts we see the conflicts that arose AFTER the disciples had unlocked the doors and let go of their fear. John’s letter to the seven churches in the book of Revelation is written precisely because those communities were having great hardships.
Easter doesn’t mean we’ll have the perfect life. Easter doesn’t mean life won’t be messy. Our gospel today gives us the examples of FEAR and DOUBT as things we confront.
What Easter DOES give us is a way to live WITH our fear and doubts and all the other messiness. And that way is PEACE.
To quote my professor again: “The wholeness and fulfillment of Christian life is summarized in THIS word, and it is presented as a gift from the risen Christ.”
And this peace isn’t a cure-all. A week after being given this peace, the disciples had only progressed a little – from locking themselves in to simply having the doors SHUT. It would be a while yet before they would become the bold evangelists we find in the book of Acts.
- PEACE from a Christian perspective isn’t simply the absence of conflict.
- PEACE is the presence and strength of God within us.
- PEACE is knowing that despite the messiness we are loved by a gracious God.
- PEACE is being reassured that through the Holy Spirit the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.
- PEACE is God’s promise that we are NEVER alone. In all our fears and doubts, Jesus is with us.
Peace may not change the circumstances around us, but I believe peace DOES change US.
So, as Jesus spoke to his disciples, I speak to you now, and after the prayer of the Church we will speak to each other, “Peace be with you.”
quotations from John: Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Robert Kysar, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1986.