Summary: Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Series C. A different approach to the doubting Thomis norm for this Sunday

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2nd Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2007 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, through your death and resurrection, you not only defeated sin and the powers of death and evil – you came back to us, breaking through our locked doors, overcoming our reservations and doubts, calling us to follow you in newness of life. Keep coming to us, Lord, keep raising us from the dead, keep empowering us with the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. [1]

Our Gospel lesson for this, the Second Sunday of Easter, is the same every year, regardless of the cycle from which our lessons are drawn. It is John’s account of our Lord’s appearance to his disciples, with the exception of Thomas, on that first Easter evening. Then, a week later, after the disciples had shared with Thomas that they seen the their risen Lord, Jesus again appears to the disciples, revealing to Thomas the proof he demanded to see, before he would believe.

As a result, many sermons have been written and preached focusing on the skepticism of Thomas, which has resulted in his being forever dubbed, “Doubting Thomas.” It is a nickname that is truly undeserving for this disciple, whom scripture elsewhere holds up as a very faithful disciple of our Lord.

But this morning, I would like to take a rather different approach to this text, as suggested by William H. Willimon, in his commentary. He states, “The opening verse [of our lesson] sets the tone. The disciples are hiding behind locked doors. We are told that they are locked in because of ‘fear.’ We are not told the reason for their gathering, except for ‘fear of the Jews.’ This is curious. Perhaps the Jews that the disciples feared were their friends and relatives, because their Messiah had died such a [shameful] death.” [2] End quote.

Now, regardless of the reason that the disciples had gathered together that first Easter evening, we can’t ignore the fact that they did so in fear, behind locked doors. Some of their fear may well have been justified. After all, just a few days before, they had seen Jesus arrested, falsely accused by the religious authorities, severely beaten and nailed to a cross as a seditious person by the Roman governor. As Jesus’ closest disciples, they may well have been sought by the authorities for the same offense.

But I have never thought about the fear that Willimon alluded to in his commentary – the fear of facing the jeers and mocking of their friends and relatives, for having left everything to follow Jesus. A part of the fear that gripped the disciples that night, may well have included the fear of having made a fool of themselves – especially in light of the fact that the common belief of that time was that the Messiah would free Israel from Roman occupation.

Yet Jesus died on a Roman cross, and with his death came the end of any expectation the disciples may have held concerning the fulfillment of their hope, regardless of how they may have envisioned it. They had invested their whole being into following Jesus, trusting that he would lead them to a new and better life, and now he was gone.

And could it be that a part of the fear that they experienced that night, might have also resulted from the story that Mary had just reported to them – that she had seen Jesus, risen from the dead? After all, you and I have grown to appreciate the significance of our Lord’s resurrection, not only as we grow in faith throughout our years, but also through the benefit of theological reflection on the significance of Christ’s resurrection, which the early disciples did not have.

Thanks to the writing of Luke, in his Book of Acts, in which we can trace how Christ’s resurrection affected the lives of the apostles, and Paul’s theological insight of the resurrection for the life of the church, Easter is no longer frightening. But I believe that it must have been difficult for our Lord’s first disciples to comprehend.

Regardless of the reason, those first disciples were huddled together behind lock doors that first Easter evening, in fear! And some of their fear may have been a healthy fear, for their own lives. Given the climate for putting an end to Jesus and his ministry that week in Jerusalem, we might all have been behind locked doors, as our Lord’s disciples.

But fear can also be crippling. Fear can stifle health activity. In fact, hiding behind locked doors, regardless of the reason for our fear, can prevent us from living the life God intended us to live.

I may have shared this story with you before, but it is the truth. When I was growing up in Jeannette, during the summer months, my brother and I would often sleep out on my Mom and Dad’s front porch. It just seemed like the natural thing to do on hot summer evenings. And my parents probably enjoyed having the house to themselves that night. Of course, front door was never locked, so that Rick and I could use the bathroom.

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