Believing After Easter John 20:19-29 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019
Radford Rader Westminster by the Sea Presbyterian
Thomas missed Easter. He wasn’t there with everyone else. He wasn’t there when the Risen Lord stood among them and said, “Peace to you”. He missed Jesus first showing of his hands and side, the signs of his suffering and the proof of his bodily resurrection. He missed the commissioning of the infant church and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thomas wasn’t there for Easter.
We don’t know why…he was a twin so maybe went to visit his sibling
…maybe he had gone fishing that Sunday…maybe he decided to be alone to pray or was one of those people who preferred to grieve in private…maybe he just didn’t get the word that circulated among Jesus’ friends after Mary found the tomb empty. Everybody else was now sure of the resurrect
tion, everybody but Thomas.
The other disciples tried to tell him about it like those who have gone on a retreat together, come back all aglow and try to share with you their common experience. They were abuzz like those who were here last Sunday, overjoyed by the crowd, moved by the marvelous music, touched by the sermon and are still excited about the Easter you missed. Easter second hand was for Thomas like seeing 200 pictures of another cruise to Alaska.
Thomas needed more. The Sunday after Easter, the disciples were together again. This time, Thomas showed up. They were back in the same sanctuary. The door was again closed. Again, Jesus stands among them. He makes himself known. He extends his hand and says, to Thomas, put your finger here, examine my hands.” He pulls up his shirt and invites Thomas to put his hand and in his side. Thomas doesn’t move forward but instead drips to his knees, confessing “My Lord and My God”. It is the Sunday after when Easter comes to Thomas.
Every one of us is Thomas, because we all missed Easter. We couldn’t help it; it happened long before we were born. We didn’t have a chance to go and discover the empty tomb. We couldn’t enter with Peter and see the discarded grave cloths. We all missed the first Sunday night worship in the Upper Room. It all happened millennia ago. For that matter we missed Thomas’ Easter too. We’re not in the Easter picture; we’re the ones for whom the story is told. We’re the people about whom Jesus’ says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
So how do post-Easter people come to believe in the Risen Christ.
Many like the biblical Timothy learned from their mother or grandmother. Some from Sunday school teachers. They came as trusting children, not concerned about doctrines or the impossible nature of the resurrection. They learned of Jesus and believed what they were told and have never wavered from that faith. They may have had trials along the way, but nothing has ever overcome the faith so early at work in them. Fred Craddock once wrote: “For some faith is born and grows as quietly as a child sleeping on a grandmother’s lap.” If you are one of these, Blessed are YOU!
But Craddock continues, “For others faith is a lifetime of wrestling with angels.” Maybe this image describes you. Some of us are from Missouri; you must show us. It is Good News that Jesus did not write Thomas out of the list of disciples. Instead, The Risen Christ comes to him. We are not told whether Thomas actually touched Jesus. If anything, the scripture seems to say that he didn’t need that much after all. Jesus came to him in a way that was convincing. He gave Thomas what he needed to believe.
Do you need to see? Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given unto you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open unto you.” Our Lord has ways to show himself and make himself known: in events that makes us marvel, in the majesty of creation but also in what we call answered prayers or miracles…in people, so changed, so holy, so obviously filled with the Spirit that we cannot deny the Risen Christ living in them. We see his glory in their faces and his touch in their actions.
I came to Christ from infancy, as one who was told the stories and loved them. While in college the preacher’s son and I taught a class for our peers in my home church. We started at the beginning. The first Sunday was the Creation. That very day, Walter declared there were two stories of creation in Genesis. I denied it but he insisted and said his dad would come to our class the next week and show me. He did and it punctured my Sunday school faith balloon. I went to seminary to see if I could hold a biblically based faith after all. It worked though it was a radical re-orientation. While there I was helped by the 20th century theologian Paul Tillich who wrote, “Faith and doubt are not opposites. Apathy is faith’s opposite. True faith encompasses doubt.” Doubt is only a dead end if it expects a negative answer and thus becomes antagonistic and walks away with hands thrown up. But doubt has potential; it has a least the seed of faith in it. There was an NFL draft commercial that circulated last week. Dak Prescott, the Cowboys quarterback seems to be speaking to Kyler Murray, the #1 pick this year. Dak a 135th pick whom people said was to small, to slow, not gifted enough. In the commercial he says “Doubt is a gift. It pushes you to a higher level.” Thomas wills to believe. He is a doubter but still a seeker. He seeks conviction and Jesus removes his doubt. He knows the prayer, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
How can we see the Risen Christ? I can only speak out of my experience.
I saw him in the joy of faith in my dying aunt’s young face and I have seen faith in the faces of many believers, who face illness and death.
I met Rudy Timm, who turned to Christ as an adult, whose story I heard, whose strength of faith I felt and whose saintly ways were visible to all. When I asked one year’s confirmation class to write down the name of the person in the congregation that most displayed Christian faith, everyone one of the twelve wrote Rudy. There are many “Rudys” out there. They are the saints of the church, aglow with Christ.
When I was anxious and frightened, a confused and fearfully alone young man, I prayed out of desperation into the darkness of the night and felt the calm of Christ come over me.
At the point of my life when I was most guilty of sin and thought had no hope of a future, I was in a retreat and during a directed prayer, I experienced Christ coming to me and giving me again his love and then had words of forgiveness spoken to me by one who didn’t even know my sin.
I have been in worship when Christ was present, his Spirit filled the space and all present knew the Lord was there.
If seeing is believing, when we believe we also see. A mother was fixing dinner and observed her husband chasing their young daughter around the table, to her squeals of delight and joy. They mother confessed, “Truly the Lord is in this place.”
If you have some of Thomas in you, “DON’T DESPAIR”. Christ has ways to make himself known that will convince. If may not ever come on Easter, it may be on a later Sunday, It may come when you come to the table, when you are given something physical and tangible, material and corporeal, bread and juice and you hold them in your hands and put them in your mouth and the presence of Christ fills you. It might be in your most despairing moment when suddenly you know you are not alone or at the moment of your first child’s birth and, in that joy, you can believe again in miracles. Maybe Christ will come to you in a human form, a believer in whose face and life you see the reality of the resurrection life.
It is hard to believe after Easter, but not impossible. It takes faith—walking, living, worshipping, trusting faithfully, practicing faith until your eyes are opened and you recognize the Risen Lord who has been walking, talking and being faithful to you all along. Don’t quit. Declare your faith and ask help for your doubts. Keep knocking until the door is opened.