Texts: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 114; John 20:24-31
Sermon: "Dear Thomas: Thank You!"
Here is my message to Thomas today:
Dear Thomas: Thank you. I love your heart.
Alive, full of life, ready to go, speaking his mind, giving his love and his neediness right up front without any fear of embarrassment or making himself vulnerable before his friends. He puts it out there and lets it fall where it may. And Jesus never fails to be tender with him, responding in love.
A good lawyer knows. A witness can be the difference between winning and losing a case. Like that lawyer, we know: The one who is a good witness for Christ, that person knows how to make a good case for following Jesus.
All of that is just to say that the gospel, especially John, is witness. Each gospel writer witnesses to the truth of what he has seen, heard, and known about Jesus. John -- well, he best knows the art of witnessing over all the other evangelists. We can read carefully through the Gospel of John and see how skillfully he builds his case. He begins with stories of darkness turning to light, fear turning to trust, and unbelief turning into belief. In a word, John builds his case for faith in Jesus.
John declares Jesus as the Word made flesh, he who was with God and was God. This Jesus was the Lamb of God, the one sent so that the whole world through him might be forgiven, be made whole, and receive eternal life. John brings in other witnesses to make his case. They have encounters with Jesus and their lives are changed. They become faithful followers. There is Andrew; then there is Nathanael; there is Phillip; there is Peter. We meet the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene.
John develops the evidence -- stories of Jesus' healing, cleansing of sin, Jesus' miracles which he calls "signs," such as the turning of water into wine and feeding a hillside full of people with only a little bread and fish.
And then John offers the most astonishing of all evidence -- the empty tomb and then the appearance to Mary Magdalene of the risen Jesus, the Jesus who was crucified and died.
But John cannot stop there. There is more to tell, more to set forth in this case. The Resurrection and the appearance of Jesus to Mary is the climax of the gospel for Christians today.
John has something further to prove in this case -- that is, that all the disciples believed in the Resurrection, that they were witnesses to the wounds Jesus suffered on the cross, and that they rejoiced in a faith that sent them out into the world to share what they had seen.
Look at today's lesson. Traditionally, these stories of Jesus' two appearances through the closed door are about doubt rather than faith. For generations, poor Thomas has been designated the "doubting" disciple. But there is more to Thomas than that.
In Chapter 11, he is perhaps Thomas, the one with courage, who says to the other disciples when they fear following Jesus to Bethany, "Let us…go, that we may die with him." Someone in Bethany had recently tried to stone Jesus, but Thomas was willing and ready to go with his teacher.
In Chapter 14, Thomas might be called "confused Thomas," but he does not mind acknowledging his confusion. He does not understand Jesus' words about going to prepare a place for them in the Father's house; Jesus says that they know the way there, but Thomas interrupts and says, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"
Thomas is quick to say what he thinks. He is always engaged in what is going on around him. And that makes him a wonderful witness for John's gospel.
In the first of two vignettes in today's text, Jesus comes to the disciples through the locked door, offers a blessing of peace, and shows the disciples his hands and side. They gasp with joy to see Jesus, to know that he is alive, and to be reassured that he is the one who was crucified and now is standing before them. They witnessed the wounds. They believed.
The disciple Thomas was not there for that appearance by Jesus. So in the second vignette, we find the disciples gathered in the same place. They tell Thomas, "We have seen the Lord," but Thomas wants a chance of his own to see the Lord.
That does not make him different from the other disciples. After all, Mary Magdalene had come to them and said, "I have seen the Lord." But they did not believe until Jesus appeared to them.
And so Thomas says, "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." But we need not judge Thomas for this. Jesus didn't.
In a scene that clearly shows both the faithfulness and the patience of the risen Savior, Jesus comes again. Jesus does not rebuke Thomas. Jesus gently offers Thomas a blessing of peace, invites Thomas to touch the wounds, and urges Thomas to believe.
It is not clear whether Thomas actually touched the wounds. The text does not say. What is clear, however, is that Thomas sees and believes. If there was doubt, that doubt now is gone.
Thomas has embraced faith in the crucified and risen Lord. "My Lord and my God," Thomas cries, again in great exuberance.
Jesus came back so that Thomas could see the wounds and believe the truth of the Resurrection. That is the way of Jesus, who knows that some of us require more time to come to faith.
Many of the most devout of Christians suffer periods of doubt and even unbelief, and Jesus through the Holy Spirit returns to them, visiting and revisiting those who struggle in faith.
John has made his case for faith. Mary was the first to see the risen Lord; then the others, except for Thomas; and now Thomas, too, has seen and believes.
But the gospel writer knows that there will be others who will insist upon the same assurances, others who will need to be brought to faith, oyhers who will not have the privilege of witnessing the wounds first hand as the first followers of Jesus did in those days following his resurrection.
And so John gives us Jesus' blessing that is directed to followers who would come in the generations yet to be born, even now to us these two thousand years later.
"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe," Jesus says.
And he wants to know today: Do I have a witness? Will anyone witness to the truth for me?
Last week, we celebrated Easter, the Resurrection. In truth, we celebrate the Resurrection every time we gather to worship. But perhaps today, this second Sunday in the Easter season, is a day to reflect more deeply on our faith -- on how we have come to our own faith that Jesus, this Jesus, is the risen Lord.
John builds a case for why faith in Jesus Christ makes complete sense when all the evidence is presented and all the testimony heard. John concludes this story of the disciples' witnessing the wounds with another reassuring blessing for us of the later generations, saying:
"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 him you may have life in his name."
And most of us here this morning came to be believers in just the way John describes -- by the words written by witnesses who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
We heard someone tell the story. We heard it told in a way that invited us to come into the story and be a part of it. It may have been a modern-day witnessing of the wounds -- someone describing his or her own faith story. It may have been reading or listening to words of Scripture. It may have been a prayer or a hymn. We heard something. We felt it in our hearts. And we believed.
We, too, can reach out to touch the wounds and cry out with Thomas, "My Lord and My God" as we, too, behold the glory of God in Jesus.
He is here, standing before us, the one who comes to us in all that glory as we approach his very table this morning. He comes to teach, to comfort, to remind us of his love, grace, and faithfulness. He comes to show us in the bread and cup we take in memory of him that he is our Lord and our God. The first disciples show us how witnessing is done. Look at how the church grew as they went forth, filled by the Holy Spirit.
All glory, honor, and praise be to the One God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.