Daring to Believe
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 20:19–20:31
The Second Sunday of Easter
April 6-7, 2013
“Daring to Believe”
Beginning at sundown on Sunday, April 7, an internationally recognized observance begins. This date comes from the Hebrew calendar, corresponding to the 27th day of Nisan. It is called Yom HaShoah, which means Holocaust Day, marking the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in World War II. This day bears witness to man’s inhumanity to man amidst the horrors of Hitler’s Final Solution that killed some six million Jewish persons, as well as millions of other persons. In September 1942, one person who was arrested and imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp was prisoner number 119104. Three years later when the camp was liberated, most of his family had perished, including his pregnant wife, but he had survived. How? What sustained him throughout the unimaginable suffering of those three years was the book that he would write about this experience. Day after day, he would compose in his mind page after page, and chapter upon chapter, of his book. He envisioned himself standing at a podium on the stage of a comfortable auditorium, the seats filled with well-dressed people who had come and were eager to hear him speak. He dared to believe that there would be life after this concentration camp. He dared to believe that there was meaning and purpose for his life; that there was yet work for him to do. And this is what sustained prisoner number 119104, whose name was Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist. His landmark book, composed in his mind while still in that concentration camp and published in 1946, is Man’s Search for Meaning, declared in 1991 by the Library of Congress as one of the ten most influential books in the United States.
On this Second Sunday of Easter, we dare to believe in something – in Someone – we’ve never actually seen with our eyes. We dare to believe in the reality and truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his living presence among us. Sight unseen, we dare to believe that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. The message for this day is entitled, “Daring to Believe.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Daring to believe in a crucified and risen Savior is not easy, and never has been. Let us note well the cost of discipleship in following Christ that we learn from today’s first reading (Acts 5:12-32) and Epistle (Revelation 1:4-18). In that first reading, the apostles are arrested and put into prison for proclaiming Jesus; they are commanded by the religious leaders in Jerusalem not to do so. “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority’” (Acts 5:29). Filled with the Spirit and bound by conscience, they are captive to Christ, and cannot but speak of what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). In the Epistle, John shares that he was exiled “… on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). He was on the island of Patmos, a tiny island in the Aegean Sea which you can still visit today. Today it is a beautiful place of flowers and rocks – a tourist destination surrounded by a blue sea. In John’s day, Patmos was a dreaded island prison, sort of like Alcatraz. People went to Patmos, but they never came back; it was the place where political troublemakers were sent. And in the midst of his exile, while John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10), that same crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him, giving him a vision to strengthen and sustain his persecuted followers. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17b-18). How Christ’s people have dared to believe in the midst of trial and tribulation!
We may not face out-and-out persecution as those first apostles did, but daring to believe in Jesus can still be risky business and a real challenge for modern-day disciples. On Easter Sunday, I was talking with a member who shared that a good friend had recently commented: “Christianity is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. It’s absolutely ridiculous.” This member shared that the person who said this really is a good friend, and that they can talk on a raw level without hurting each other’s feelings. All of this may, by God’s almighty power, open the door for heartfelt witnessing. Our cynical and distrustful culture prizes doubt more than certainty, and this spills over into the life of the child of God. There is something of Thomas in all of us: harboring doubt and suspicion, stubbornly refusing to believe in that crucified and risen Christ until all of our criteria has been met. Jesus does not praise Thomas for this, even after he exclaims: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). No, Jesus tells him: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). My friends, Jesus is talking about us! He calls we who have not seen and yet believe “blessed.” Daring to believe, we are blessed because we walk by faith, not by sight.
Those nail-pierced hands of Jesus still reach out to us today, just as they did to Thomas and those first disciples. The marks of Jesus’ suffering and death upon the cross, where he paid the price of our forgiveness and salvation, are still visible in his resurrected and glorified body. With John, we too fall at his feet to worship him who died and is alive forevermore, the One who lives and reigns to all eternity. Despite what the world around us may think or say, we dare to believe in Jesus. And where does this take us, this daring to believe? As John’s Gospel for today closes: “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 believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Life in his name – life which begins now and continues through all eternity.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.