Topic: Biblical Verse: John 20:19–31
The Second Sunday of Easter
April 7-8, 2018
On this Second Sunday of Easter, the Sunday after the Resurrection of Our Lord-Easter Sunday, there is another name for today: Low Sunday. After the rigors of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday, there is typically low attendance and low energy on this day, but you are the faithful who are present and accounted for! Anybody can show up for worship on Easter, but it’s the faithful who show up on the Sunday after Easter. The Gospel lesson appointed for this day is always the same: John’s account of Jesus meeting his frightened disciples who are behind closed and locked doors. John alone records this as the risen Lord Jesus enters into their midst, transforming doubt into belief, for Thomas and for all of us. Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus speaks these words of great comfort to his disciples: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26). Of all the things that the disciples were likely expecting Jesus to say, this probably wasn’t one of them. They had turned tail and run, abandoning Jesus in his time of need. What they were likely expecting to hear from him were words of reprimand and rebuke. But that’s not what Jesus does. Instead, he speaks a blessingThose words of Jesus become the basis for the sermon this day under the theme, “Easter Peace.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The image before us is from an oil painting by the Italian Baroque master, Caravaggio, and was painted more than 400 years ago between 1601-1602. It hangs in the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, now a museum, in Potsdam, Germany, where it is available for anyone who wishes to look at it in person (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_%28Caravaggio%29). The formal title of the painting is The Incredulity of Thomas, and it captures that moment in today’s Gospel where Thomas must make a decision about what he believes or doesn’t believe now that the risen Christ is before him. Thomas’ words are well-known, and seem especially appropriate in the data-driven and proof-required world that we live in today. Having missed out on Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the other disciples on that first Easter evening, Thomas bluntly stated: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). And so it happened eight days later that the risen Savior came once again into the midst of the disciples, gathered once again behind locked doors. This time, Thomas is among them. Jesus graciously accommodates Thomas’ request and now invites him: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). In the painting, Jesus holds onto the wrist of Thomas and guides his forefinger into the wound where the soldier’s spear had pierced Jesus’ side (John 19:31-37). Caravaggio captures that moment of surprise on Thomas’ face as he realizes that this is not some vision or dream. It’s not some prank or sleight of hand. It really is Jesus in the flesh, no longer dead but alive and standing right in front of him! Notice that in the painting, Jesus has no halo. By omitting this, the artist emphasizes the corporeality of Jesus; that even after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus has a body that can be touched and felt. Thomas’ eyebrows are arched and the lines of his forehead are clearly evident as he registers his surprise, wonder, amazement, and perhaps his shame in refusing to believe the witness of what others had told him about Jesus. But before Jesus invited Thomas to do this, he spoke those wonderful words: “Peace be with you” (John 20:26).
Thomas is really an everyman for every man and every woman who has ever had doubts or felt skepticism about Jesus, about resurrection, about faith. The age in which we live holds up skepticism, rather than faith, as the ideal. We live in a skeptical age that operates with the understanding, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Unless I can see it, touch it, verify it, prove it, I can’t believe it. Or rather, it might be more accurate to say, “I won’t believe it.” There may be compelling evidence that can move our hearts and minds from disbelief to belief, but at the end of the day, we can still choose not to believe. Jesus does not praise Thomas for his refusal to believe. What he did say to Thomas was this: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Thomas was blessed to receive that physical, in-person, concrete proof, but that’s not the case for us. We walk but faith, not by sight. And it is precisely because of this that Jesus pronounces you and me to be blessed. Nobody, including Jesus, ever said that faith was easy; far from it. It takes courage and conviction to hold fast in faith to Jesus in an age and at a time when that faith can be ridiculed and laughed to scorn. But we do believe. We do hold fast in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in our lives through God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. It is through these gifts that the risen Christ enters into our midst today just as he entered into the midst of those first disciples. And what he said to them, he says to us today: “Peace be with you” (John 20:26). And more than just saying “peace,” Jesus actually bestows peace; peace which the world cannot give (John 14:27); peace which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). That is the gift of the risen Savior for you this day. This is a gift that needs to be shared with the world. It’s a gift that we cannot keep to ourselves! As we leave this service and go out into the world that the Lord dearly loves and for which He gave his life, we join Jesus on his mission in daily life, carrying that message of resurrection and new life into the world around us.
The One who died on the cross and shed his blood for us is the One who rose in triumph over death and the grave. He comes to us today when we are fearful and huddling behind doors that are closed and locked. In the midst of all the burdens and demands of this life, with everything that is pressing upon us and weighing heavily on our minds and hearts, this is our hope and our joy: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.