April 2020 Sermon – Alleluias and Doubt

Easter 2A
April 19, 2020

Acts 2:14a,22-32  | 1 Peter 1:3-9  |  John 20:19-31  | Psalm 16      

The Rev. Cn. Michelle I Walker
Associate Staff Officer, The United Thank Offering
Missioner for Administration and Communication, Diocese of Northern Indiana

John 20:19-31

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, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are 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.

Alleluia!  Christ has Risen!
The Lord has Risen Indeed.  Alleluia!

Isn’t it glorious to have our ‘Alleluias’ back?  Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate the amazing gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for us with song, joy, flowers, candies, and more?  After our Easter celebrations, both in our congregations and around our family tables, it might feel as if we are now living happily ever after.  The long dark days of Lent are behind us.  Spring is here, mostly.  Let us rejoice and be glad.

It is true, we can rejoice and be glad.  And yet, our Gospel passage for this Sunday reminds us that the first followers of Jesus didn’t simply continue their Resurrection celebrations.  They were confused, frightened, and even skeptical.  They locked themselves in the Upper Room in an attempt to feel safe and to talk freely about the mysterious events they’d witnessed.  It wasn’t exactly a celebration.  They weren’t running through the streets proclaiming the Good News.

In the midst of their contemplations, Jesus appears.  Through a locked door, he appears.  While the Gospel of John doesn’t mention this part, Luke’s version tells us: “They [the disciples] were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:37).  I enjoy imagining what it must have been like for them.  I wonder what I might have believed or felt in that moment.

Both John and Luke tell us that Jesus, in his compassion, calms them.  He shows them the nail marks in his hands and the piercing in his side.  He proves he is human.  And through this interaction he strengthens them in their belief, in their faith, in their willingness and ability to bear witness to the truth of the resurrection. 

Thomas wasn’t there, however.  We don’t know where he was.  We only know he was absent.  He missed out on the intimate and reassuring scene with Jesus.  And he had the courage to request a “do over” for himself. 

 “Thomas the Twin” has been referred to as “Doubting Thomas” so often we barely remember him any other way.  His “Doubting” label is in reference to his disbelief in the story of Jesus’ appearance as told to him by the disciples.   Maybe he did doubt.  Can you blame him?  We don’t know for sure why he requested his “do over”.  Maybe he simply knew he’d missed an amazing story, told by the storyteller and teacher, and he desperately wanted to hear it himself.  It’s a tiny bit like knowing the story of friend’s great wedding, vacation, work experience while at the same time wanting to hear it told by them directly.  Thomas, like us, wanted to hear it directly from the source.

Regardless of Thomas’ intention, I think we can be immensely grateful to Thomas in his asking for what he needed, in his request to verify the truth of the resurrection not only for himself, but for the disciples that were “startled and terrified” the first time.  We can also be thankful for ourselves, and the myriad of people who have read this story over the years. 

Thomas’ request of Jesus to “see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side” is a reassurance to us.  I believe he asked the question the disciples themselves wanted to ask again.  I know he asked the question that I, and most likely you, wanted to ask as well. 

God presents us with people in our lives, in our Christian journeys that ask those questions.  They see things we haven’t discovered and they ask about it.  They are less fearful of hurting someone with their questions and they ask about it.  It happens almost daily in our lives.  Our recognition, and gratitude, for this fearless approach to their faith journey can be priceless in our lives, in our own faith journeys.

On this second Sunday of Easter we can indeed be delighted with the return of our Alleluias.  We can be thankful for the witness of the first disciples, and specifically of Thomas.  And we can also be grateful to those people around us that challenge and strengthen us with their questions and support.  Through it all we find the assurance to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ Risen in the world.  Amen.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash