Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
2Easter/C—April 28, 2019
Gospel: John 20:19-31
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, April 28, 2019
Last week, we rejoiced that the tomb was empty and we collectively exhaled. Today our Gospel lesson causes us to pause and remember that this Easter joy that we feel, here on the other side of the cross, was not experienced by Jesus’ disciples. Replace our resurrection Sunday joy with the disciples’ terror that what happened to Jesus, could certainly happen to them. Imagine the oppressive sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Such fear, anxiety and uncertainty—drove the leader-less disciples to run for their lives, hide and wait, collectively, holding their breath.
How did Jesus’ disciples, locked behind closed doors, fearing the Jewish leaders, move from fearfulness to fearlessness? From helplessness to empowerment? From Despair to hope? From doubt to faith? How? The answer is Jesus.
When our senior class in seminary was preparing for the General Ordination Exams we would hold group study sessions and offer encouragement to one another, saying, “Remember, if you don’t know the answer, the answer is always Jesus.”
In the Gospel lesson it was Jesus who came and stood among the disciples. He spoke to them, and I would imagine that they were paralyzed with shock and disbelief, for the scripture says nothing about their response. It’s not until Jesus voluntarily showed his wounded hands and his pierced side to the disciples that they rejoiced and recognized the risen Christ in their midst. Well, all of them, except Thomas, who was not with them at the time.
The other disciples testified to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas replies with, “Okay, you’ve seen him. But, I haven’t, and I need more. I not only need to see him; I need to touch him. Otherwise, I will not believe.”
One week passed and all of the disciples were again gathered in a room behind closed doors. Jesus, for the second time, came and stood among them. Jesus, knew about Thomas’ unbelief, and spoke to him.
Thomas, “Put your finger here, see my hand, put your hand in my side.” And, I wonder how the very sound of Jesus’ voice touched Thomas’ heart such that in seeing him; touching him; hearing him, he recognized Jesus and exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” For Thomas, encountering the risen Christ was a deeply personal, sensory experience.
Consider, also, that for all of the Gathered Disciples, encountering the risen Christ was a deeply personal, sensory experience. While this intimate encounter is happening between Jesus and Thomas, they were surrounded by the other disciples, the community of faith, who were witnessing this beautiful exchange between Thomas and Jesus.
None of the other disciples had actually touched Jesus. The fact that they were able to witness Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds, necessarily deepened their existing belief that it was truly the Resurrected Jesus standing among them. Jesus, who lived as one of us, understood the human connection between seeing and believing. Think about the intentional SIGNS Jesus did in his ministry. The signs served the purpose of helping people come to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.
The resurrection appearances in this chapter were intentional. They helped the disciples come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Just a few verses prior to our passage, Jesus intentionally appeared to Mary Magdalene outside of the empty tomb. Her sense of sight failed her, for she did not recognize Jesus—she thought he was the gardener. For Mary, hearing Jesus call her by name, opened her eyes to see him and cry out, Rabbouni! (which means teacher).
It’s important to acknowledge that Thomas was not a blank slate when the risen Christ appeared to him. As a disciple, he had followed Jesus’ teachings and witnessed his signs in his public ministry. Thomas and Jesus had an existing relationship before encountering him on the other side of the cross. Engaging Jesus through touch, sight and hearing enabled that existing relationship to deepen.
Nearly four years ago I was immersed in a 14-day pilgrimage throughout the Holy Land. I walked in the footsteps of Jesus. I saw places where he taught and healed people; touched the site of his birth; reaffirmed my Baptismal vows in the Jordan River; and placed my hand in the hole at the site of Jesus’ crucifixion on Calvary. It was an experience that demanded the full attention of my human senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell.
I didn’t go to the Holy Land with the mindset, “Unless I see this and Unless I touch that…I will not believe.” No, it is because I have seen and touched those holy sites that my existing belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ deepened.
Standing on the other side of the cross, we are not so different from the gathered disciples who, Jesus knew, needed to see him. And, we are not so different from the so-called, Doubting Thomas, whom Jesus knew needed to touch him.
Shortly we will gather around the altar rail to share in the deeply personal, and deeply communal, sensory experience of Holy Communion. We will see and touch the sacraments of Christ’s body and blood. As we eat of the bread and drink of the wine, the real presence of the risen Christ intimately comes among us and moves through us. Jesus speaks to us, as he spoke to Thomas, in the depths of our souls.
In our shared experience of the Eucharistic feast, we believe and affirm that: Christ has Died; Christ has Risen; Christ will come again, and our existing faith deepens. We recognize the risen Christ and exclaim as Thomas did, “My Lord and My God!”
As we journey through this Eastertide may we see the Christ among us; touch the Christ who stands before us; and hear that still, small voice speaking to us in the depths of our souls so that through our believing we may have eternal life in Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Christ, and stand among us. Amen.