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April 7, 2024

A New Beginning

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary Category: Biblical Scripture: John 20:19–31

The Second Sunday of Easter

April 7, 2024

John 20:19-31

 “A New Beginning”

It’s the Sunday after Easter, often called “Low Sunday,” and for good reason. After the Lenten season, Holy Week and Easter Sunday, it’s low energy, low attendance in worship, low everything. Despite this, our Easter celebration doesn’t end after Easter Sunday is over. Our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection is not one day, but an entire season – the great fifty days of Easter. We continue to sing our Alleluias and continue our rejoicing in our crucified and risen Savior throughout this season all the way up to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Gospel lesson for this day is the same each year for this Sunday after Easter: the story of doubting Thomas, Jesus’ revealing himself to Thomas, and Thomas’ declaration about Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). With Jesus’ resurrection, for Thomas as well as for us, it’s a new beginning. That’s the theme for the sermon today on this Second Sunday of Easter: “A New Beginning.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

In this spring season, the earth itself has a new beginning. Fresh hope and new life are all around us as song birds return, flowers and trees burst into bloom, and winter gives way to spring. All of this in the natural world mirrors the fresh hope and new life in the spiritual world. The cross stands empty and the tomb is open. The word of the angel to the women on that first Easter morning calls out across the ages to us today: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). Mark’s Gospel on that first Easter morning (Mark 16:1-8) does not record any appearance of Jesus to his disciples. That’s what we hear in today’s Gospel about what happened on that first Easter evening, and then eight days later (John 20:19-31).

When Jesus first appeared to his disciples as they were gathered behind closed doors, they were a hot mess: utterly confused, uncertain where to go or what to do, paralyzed with grief. Mary Magdalene had already reported that she had seen the risen Savior (John 20:18), and that he had spoken to her. Luke’s Gospel reports that this report fell on deaf ears, that “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). And so it wasn’t just Thomas who was the doubter; it was all of the disciples. If ever there were people who needed a new beginning, it was these individuals. The crucified and risen Jesus comes into their midst, and what’s the first word out of his mouth? “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Of all the things that the disciples were likely expecting Jesus to say to them, I doubt that “peace” was one of them. They had all turned tail and run away, leaving Jesus all alone to face his suffering and death. They were likely expecting Jesus to lower the boom; come at them “loaded for bear,” as we say. But none of that, only words of blessing: “Peace be with you.” And how is it that they knew – really knew – that it was Jesus? “He showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). The wounds, still visible in Jesus’ resurrected and glorified body, were what convinced the disciples that it really and truly was their Lord. And here is a mini-Pentecost as Jesus breathed on them and bestowed on them this blessing: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22b-23). The Office of the Keys, as this is called in Christian teaching, is that awesome power from the risen Savior to his Church, from Jesus to his disciples and to us today, both to forgive and retain sins.

Do you know what “FOMO” means? It’s an acronym meaning “fear of missing out.” If others – friends or family – are doing something or going somewhere and you aren’t there, you may have FOMO. They’re having a shared experience that you’re not part of. You’ve missed out on that. That’s what we might say Thomas was experiencing when the other disciples told him that the risen Christ has appeared to them. Thomas wasn’t there, and so he hadn’t shared this experience. He then emphatically stated that no how, no way was he ever going to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, not until 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). Be careful what you wish for, right?

Eight days later, all the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was there. As before, the risen Savior came into their midst, behind closed and locked doors, with those same words of blessing: “Peace to you” (John 20:26). Jesus invited Thomas to do what he said he needed to do: “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). Did Thomas actually do this? That’s how this moment is always depicted in art, but Scripture does not tell us whether Thomas did or did not place his finger or hand into the wounds of Jesus. Whether he did or didn’t, Thomas stubborn refusal to believe was transformed into faith: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus chides Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Thomas and those first disciples saw with their eyes the risen Christ. They saw the wounds of Jesus, but we have not, except through the eyes of faith. But Jesus tells us that we are blessed – blessed because we walk by faith and not by sight. We are blessed because, not having seen, we still believe that Christ is risen; risen indeed. Through all the complexities and uncertainties of life; through all the sorrows and joys; through all of the changes and chances of this fleeting life, we believe, and in believing, we are blessed.

After this incident in today’s Gospel, we hear of Thomas just two more times in Scripture (John 21:2 and Acts 1:13). Tradition tells us that he later traveled to India where he shared the good news of Jesus and planted the Christian faith, dying a martyr’s death. To this day, believers in India, especially south India, will often identify themselves as “Thomas Christians,” the spiritual sons and daughters of this disciple. For Thomas, for us, for every believer, it all comes down what the Word of God tells us in those closing words in today’s Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the 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). That, my friends, is our new beginning.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

other sermons in this series

May 26

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Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: Isaiah 6:1–8 Series: Lectionary

May 19

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When the Helper Comes

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: John 15:26– 16:15 Series: Lectionary

May 12

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Unity and Truth

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: John 17:11–19 Series: Lectionary