Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunday’s Readings:

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

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

            Last week, we heard the story of the first resurrection appearances from Matthew’s gospel: two women named Mary head to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning, an earthquake happens when an angel of the Lord descends and rolls the big stone away from the tomb’s entrance, and that angel tells the two women to go and tell the disciples to head to Galilee, where they’ll get to see Jesus. Presumably, the disciples don’t question the women at all, because Matthew’s Gospel ends with all of them gathered on a hilltop in Galilee watching Jesus ascend into heaven.

This morning, we switch gears, and hear about what happens after the resurrection from a different perspective: John’s. Now, Matthew has a great account of that first Easter morning, but it seems to me that if we’re going to understand what’s happening with Thomas and the disciples in John’s story, we’re going to need to review what happened that morning as John records it. So here it is, from John 20:

Early on Sunday morning,while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed — 9for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10Then they went home.

11Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13“Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15“Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” 16“Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher” ). 17“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 18Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Do you see what happened there? Mary goes to the tomb, sees it empty, and runs to get the disciples. They see the empty tomb, and, despite everything Jesus had told them about what was going to happen to him, went back home as sad and fearful as ever. Mary then runs into two angels and doesn’t catch on until she meets Jesus face to face and hears him call her name. She rushes home to tell the disciples again, and…

Nothing. At least, it seems that way, because when we pick up the story today in verse 19, they’re still locked up for fear of the authorities, apparently unchanged by what Mary announces to them. All of a sudden, Jesus appears in their midst, speaks to them, and assures them of his risen presence. And you know what? They trust him! They can’t stop telling Thomas, who wasn’t there, all about what they’d seen. Thomas gets all the attention for his disbelief, but he’s in the same boat that Mary and the disciples were in, and all he wants is the same thing they got: a sign that the crushing blow they had all received on that terrible Friday afternoon hadn’t been the whole story. Of course, Jesus doesn’t disappoint: eight days later, they’re all together again, and he shows up once more, giving Thomas the proof he had so desperately wanted and needed.

All of this leads to the really important line from today’s gospel reading, the one that is aimed directly at you and me. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had the benefit of seeing the resurrected Jesus Christ appear in human form. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the experience of those first disciples was qualitatively different than the experience of 21st century Christians. We haven’t seen Jesus in the same way they did. But Jesus has a word just for us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!” Jesus doesn’t spend a whole lot of time blessing people in John’s gospel. Yet here, as we near the end, this word of blessing is spoken to all those who would not have the chance to see Jesus in the flesh: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

That’s an especially important word as we gather this day to celebrate as three young men affirm their faith and their baptism. On days like this, we’re reminded of something that is repeated so often it has become a cliché: Confirmation is not the end of a journey, but the beginning of one. Shane, Zach, and Dylan are remarkable young people who (most weeks at least) embraced the challenge of thinking deeply about the life of faith, about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and about how all this stuff about God can make a difference in their daily lives. They probably come to this moment with more questions than they had at the start of their confirmation experiences, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. After all, if the people who spent years walking around with Jesus himself had questions and doubts and fears and longings, then those of us who bear his name today shouldn’t expect to be any different. My message to you three today is the same that I have for everyone else who can hear my voice: Don’t be ashamed of doubt. Don’t be frightened by your questions. Embrace the Thomas within you, the part that seeks after God and won’t rest until the presence of Jesus is revealed, and always remember where Jesus promises to meet us: in our gathering together, in the word of forgiveness and grace, in the breaking of bread, in the water of baptism that is offered freely to all, in the encouragement we give to one another. We haven’t seen Jesus face-to-face, brothers and sisters, but we are surely blessed. May we remember that blessing as we go out into the world to serve as Christ has served, confident that our risen Lord goes ahead of us, follows behind us, and walks beside us – all of us, with everything we have – into new and abundant life today and every day. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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