Sermon–April 3, 2016


Easter 2—Year C

April 3, 2016

William Bradbury

Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

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.” “Doubting Thomas” is a hero to modern men and women. He is the only rational person in the midst of zealots and dreamers. He wants to investigate the evidence before he believes that the crucified, dead, and buried Jesus actually was resurrected by God and then made an embodied appearance to his community.

Thomas is a first century Jew, but if he were a 21st century rational man whose worldview contains only those things his logical mind through the evidence of his senses reveals to him, then the first thing he does after hearing the report of resurrection is run to the tomb to see if it is empty.Many first century Jews, like the Pharisees, believed in a resurrection in which the creator God at the end of the age would bodily resurrect all the righteous dead of Israel and restore them to a renewed land of justice, love, and peace. And when that happened all the tombs of the righteous dead would be empty. This would be a great act of new creation. For these first century Jews, if it’s not hard to believe in the reality of this creation, why should it be hard to believe in the reality of a new creation. Thomas believes in resurrection at the end of the age, but nothing has prepared him to believe there would be one person resurrected in the middle of this age. So Thomas goes to the tomb to investigate.

If the body is there it means the disciples had either a mystical experience that took place only in their heads or they had a real encounter but only with the ghost of the dead Jesus. Every Jew knew their people had mystical experiences from time to time and they all knew the story in 1 Samuel 28 in which a dispirited King Saul, violating Torah, goes to the witch of Endor to have her contact the ghost of the dead prophet Samuel to see if he can tell Saul his future since God had stopped talking to him.

But clearly if the body is in the tomb it won’t be long before the Romans are dragging it through the streets of Jerusalem to put to rest this nonsense of resurrection, thus showing that the Crucified false Messiah is still completely dead and Tiberius Caesar is still in charge of the world. But Thomas finds the tomb exactly as the women found it on Easter morning: completely empty, except for the burial clothes lying in two places.

So next Thomas must interview his friends in more depth about their experience of Jesus: “Are you sure you weren’t seeing a ghost?” “Yes, because he spoke to us and even ate a piece of fish right in front of us.”

“Are you sure it was Jesus and not someone else?”  “Well, at first he was hard to recognize but once he spoke to us and showed us the wounds of his crucifixion we knew it was him.”

Lastly, of course, Thomas says 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.”

So the disciples urge him to be with them tonight at worship so that he might see Jesus.

At this point, however, if Thomas were really a post-modern, post-enlightenment, man then he would refuse the invitation saying: “I’m not going to make a fool of myself by hanging out with you fools who believe this ridiculous claim about Jesus and the resurrection. His worldview would have kept him from attending because why should he investigate something that is impossible.

Of course this reveals a great flaw in our so-called rational worldview: we are only willing to believe in that which we already believe is possible. Of course the world is flat, that’s self-evident to everyone!

We all know when you’re dead you’re dead. We’ll just skip that party.

Thomas should just pack up and leave town except for one thing: he is beginning to notice a change in his friends. On Good Friday his friends are scattered and scared—clearly in shock. Jesus has been the only one holding their diverse community together. With him gone it’s as if the sun has disappeared leaving the planets to the mercy of other gravitational forces which would pull them out of their accustomed orbit.  Without Jesus there is nothing to hold the community together. Not even his ghost could have done that.

We remember Luke telling us about the two disciples walking to Emmaus on Easter evening. They are depressed because they had hoped Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel but then he was murdered by Rome. Now these two are walking away from the community sad and depressed.

But now Thomas finds the community isn’t falling apart but being re-born and re-formed—so maybe…just maybe, the sun has reappeared.

We too might wonder about this change in the disciples. Are they more depressed or joyful? Are they more concerned with their bank accounts and retirement plans or with building, just like Jesus, a new community across the world with no divisions, no racial, economic, or sexual separations? Are they more selfish or loving? Are they paralyzed by the power of Rome or do they seem immune to that fear now?

How do we explain that?

Thomas has to face this fact: these men and women are acting not like people who saw a ghost or had a mass hallucination! Rather they are acting like transformed people encountered by the risen Jesus. So finally Thomas goes to evening worship in a daring expression of hope over experience. And his life is also transformed as he kneels before Jesus and cries out, “My Lord and my God!”

Ancient tradition says after that, Thomas takes the good news to India that they too are included in God’s family.  Even today that’s the kind of trouble you can get into hanging around a community worshiping the Risen Jesus.