By Pastor John Kerr
Theme: “Seeing and Believing” Text: John 20:19-31
Most of us celebrated Easter last Sunday with dinner at home and with online or television Easter services, because our nation is shut down by the coronavirus epidemic.
The season of Easter in the church actually lasts for 50 days until Pentecost Sunday but few churches celebrate Easter that long. If we were worshipping at church, we’d keep the large Christ Candle lit during this time until Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter.
For most people Easter is one day and that’s it. Take down the decorations, eat the eggs, make them into deviled eggs or egg salad sandwiches. The Sundays of the Easter season don’t feel like Easter. Oh, I know, every Sunday is an Easter celebration. That’s why we Christians observe Sunday as our Sabbath, since it was the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
There was one of Jesus’ friends who had trouble with Easter. He was criticized for it as if Easter was easy to believe. I’d like to talk with you about him.
The story is familiar. It begins on Easter evening, the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem. The disciples were meeting behind locked doors out of fear. I can understand that. Before Jesus was crucified, there was a lot of trouble with political and religious authorities. At least now that trouble was over with.
Then a few of the women who followed Jesus report that he’s alive. The disciples wonder what is going to happen now. Will there be more trouble? Will we again go through another arrest, trial, charges and counter charges? If he’s alive, what does this mean? Will there be more travel, preaching and teaching? What’s going to happen? They kept the doors locked. I can’t blame them.
While they wondered and questioned among themselves, Jesus appears to them and three things happen while he’s with them.
First, there’s a blessing of peace. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. Don’t be afraid for you have the peace of God.” This blessing has remained in the life of the church ever since at our worship services. When people gather for worship, we pass the peace with each other. In other words, what we are saying by this gesture is “I’m not leaving this place with ill-will or hard feelings. I want to feel clean and clear in my relationship with you and others, and I wish for you God’s blessings, good-will and everything that is good in life.”
Secondly, Jesus assures them that it is he. He shows them his hands and feet and side—his five wounds—and they rejoice and believe and know it is Jesus.
And thirdly, he commissions them. “As I have been sent, now I send you. What I’ve been doing you are to do.” He gave them the power to do it. He enabled them to lead and minister in his absence. The disciples wondered, “Now what are we to do?” Jesus said, “I’m not leaving you orphaned. I’m sending a helper for you, the Spirit of God, who will enable you to do my work.” That’s what Jesus did when he appeared. However, the apostle Thomas wasn’t present. He missed the blessing, the words of assurance and the commissioning ceremony.
You can be absent from some things and go back after awhile and say, “I really didn’t miss
anything.” Miss a couple of days at school from illness and you think, “I’ll never catch up,” but after a couple of days you’re caught up. Miss a few weeks of a TV soap, come back and the characters are as mean, sleazy and conniving as ever. You haven’t missed much. But Thomas missed one Sunday evening and he missed the blessing, assuring, commissioning and receiving the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know why he was absent. He was a loyal and courageous disciple. When Jesus said that he was going back to Judea and Jerusalem, the other disciples said, “They’ll kill you. You’ve got enemies there. If you go there, we don’t go.” Thomas spoke up and said, “Let’s go even if it means dying with him.” He was faithful and always there. A legend says that Thomas went to India as a missionary and spent the rest of his life there. In the 1940s in Egypt, The Gospel of Thomas was found. It pictures Thomas as a close friend of Jesus, and when something Jesus thought should be shared with the group but the group was not ready to hear it, Jesus shared it first with Thomas. He was and important member of Jesus’ disciples. We aren’t told why he was absent. Maybe it was because he thought that since Jesus was dead and buried why keep meeting.
Thomas carries the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” I think unfairly. All he wanted was evidence that Jesus was alive. He wanted what the others had, so he could rejoice and believe. He didn’t want second-hand reports from them. “I’d like to see for myself, and not just hear a report of it.”
One week later it happens. He’s with the others and he received what they received—the peace, the reassurance, the commission and the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus says something unusual. He said, “Thomas, you needed some evidence like the others, and you got it and you believed. You have seen and believed, but blessed are those who have not seen and who believe even though they haven’t seen; who believe the report, who have not seen any proof, who have no other evidence than the word that has come to them about the resurrection. Blessed are those who believe the report of the witnesses.”
That’s our situation. We weren’t there, but we believe the reports, the witnesses. Once in awhile I’ve met persons who experience unusual sights and sounds that are proofs for them. A woman in a former parish told me that she woke up in the middle of the night and saw the face of Jesus on her bedroom wall. I heard about one man who had a picture of a piece of wood that somebody took on Mount Ararat in Turkey. He said that it was a picture of a piece of Noah’s ark. So, what does that mean? He said, “It means that I’ve got proof. I believe.”
If you’re one who’s heard voices, seen visions and had rare experiences, and you feel like those early disciples—you’ve heard and seen for yourself—you are blessed. I can’t affirm or deny your experience. Your life can be a blessing to others. I’ve never had those experiences. I’m one of those about whom Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
So, what’s the ground of our faith? Is it the Bible? Yes. The testimony of his disciples, hymns, sermons, Bible studies, worship? They all help. What about the lives of other Christians? For sure! I think of the people who influenced me when I was growing up and all through my adult life, who have had such a loving, forgiving caring, generous nature because of their faith. That’s better than hearing and seeing, and stronger than any proof.
There’s nothing that destroys faith like a life that’s cruel, hateful, hurtful, greedy and profane and still talks about Jesus. There’s nothing more persuasive than a life of love, trust, kindness, forgiveness, generosity and prayer. You ask that person, “What prompts you to live that way?” And they tell you about Jesus. Now that is really persuasive!