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Wondering more about the resurrection

Apr 08, 2018

Passage: John 20:19-31

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Easter

Category: Easter

Detail:

Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter, Year B (2018)
April 8, 2018
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel) 

Acts 4:32-35        1 John 1:1-2:2        John 20: 19-31

I don’t know if the folks in charge of picking the readings did it intentionally, but I think we can all relate to the Gospel reading for today. Because around this time of year, I think most of us have something in common with Doubting Thomas. As in, when we see our tax bill, our initial response is to say, “I can’t believe it!”   

I’d like to continue this morning with the theme of wonder that we started on last week. Wondering, that is, about what was going on in the time in between what the Gospel tells us happened in the days shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. And the wondering I’d like to do today centers on one figure: Thomas. In terms of timeline, we’re picking up right where we left off. As the Gospel tells us, on the evening of the same day that Mary Magdalene had announced that she had seen Jesus, the disciples were all gathered together in a house, and the doors were locked. But Jesus came and stood among them. Only Thomas wasn’t there. 

And I wonder where he was. We’re told that the disciples were afraid. I imagine Thomas was just as afraid as the rest of them. He was an associate of Jesus, so he may have been afraid that at any moment, Roman soldiers might arrest him and charge him with being in collaboration with the man they had just crucified. So I wonder if Thomas was so terrified of that happening that he decided it would be safer not to try to reconnect with any of the other disciples for several days. 

When I was in high school, it was a fairly common thing for kids my age to attend house parties. Usually these parties took place when someone’s parents were out of town. And you can probably guess that these weren’t quiet or boring gatherings…I don’t know if it was ever spelled out, but there was this sort of common understanding that if you were at a house party and the police showed up, everyone should scatter. The idea was that if everyone scattered, it would be impossible for everyone to get in trouble. Again, this “scatter and run” idea was never really spelled out - I think maybe there was kind of a collective instinct at work. In any case, I can tell you truthfully that I never attended a party where we had to make a run for it. But still, this unspoken “rule” of “scatter and then rendezvous with your friends later” was fairly well understood. And I wonder if the disciples were operating with that same level of collective instinct. After Jesus was arrested, we’re told that the disciples scattered. Some managed to keep an eye on what happened to Jesus, but there’s no account of what happened to the others. It’s fair to say that most of them managed to rendezvous shortly after Jesus’ death. 

But, apparently, not Thomas. And I wonder where Thomas went. I wonder if he had other friends in Jerusalem that he stayed with for several days. I wonder if he slept alone on the streets. I wonder if he ever returned to the place where the other disciples were gathered but decided at the last minute that it wasn’t yet safe enough to meet with them again. I wonder if the other disciples went looking for him or if he was the one to knock on the door and ask to be let back in. I wonder what it must have felt like for him to be the odd man out - to be the only one in the group who didn’t believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And I wonder why Thomas stuck around and continued to associate with the people who believed something he said he could not believe for himself.  

There must have been something special about that group of disciples for Thomas to have remained. There must have been some kind of special bond of affection that made Thomas think twice about cutting ties with them. I wonder if he stayed because that community had even at that early stage begun to practice what Jesus had taught them to practice: showing love for one another and caring for one another with genuine affection. I wonder if it was the love of that community that kept Thomas from wanting to leave.     

It’s tempting to think that in order to belong to a church, you have to be in lock-step belief with everyone else in the church. It’s tempting to think that belonging to a community of faith means that you have to talk all the time about how strong your faith is; almost as if you have to prove to others that your faith is as strong as theirs is or that your piety is as genuine as theirs appears to be. 

But no. The testimony of the early church - that small gathering of disciples - is that not all of them believed. And yet that community did not break apart and disintegrate because the majority who believed excluded the minority who didn’t. That community remained intact. I think it remained intact because they all really had taken Jesus’ message to heart that they were supposed to show love for one another no matter what. And they did. They remained committed to each other even though they weren’t on the same page. And it’s because of that commitment - because of the love of that community - that Thomas was eventually able to experience the risen Christ for himself. 

As the Gospel tells us, for a solid week, Thomas was at least around, and presumably meeting with the others. And I wonder what the conversations of that week were like. I wonder if the others kept trying to convince Thomas that Jesus had risen from the dead or if they just didn’t talk about it when Thomas was around. I wonder if they all prayed together or went to the temple for worship together. I wonder if they ate their meals together, breaking bread and drinking wine with the remembrance of Jesus’ words to them at the last supper. I wonder if they washed each other’s feet. 

And then, on the day that they were all gathered together and Thomas was with them, I wonder if the other disciples were not at all surprised when Jesus came among them. But, given what Thomas must have experienced in that loving community over several days, I wonder if Thomas himself was less surprised than he might have been. I wonder if being a part of that community had prepared him ahead of time to see the risen Jesus. 

We, in this community, profess our faith in the risen Lord, and we invite others to share in that faith. Some may come here with no belief in the resurrection at all. Some may be convinced that they won’t believe it unless they see it for themselves. I cannot speak for how Jesus may make a personal appearance in their lives, but the hope I think we in this church all ought to have is that by showing our love for one another, we will demonstrate to everyone that we do believe in the risen Jesus…and that by showing the kind of love that Jesus taught, it will prepare others and allow others to see and experience Jesus for themselves. That’s what being the church is all about. So - whether you’re a believer or a doubter - know that the most important thing about being a member of the church is being a lover.