Summary: 2nd Sunday of Easter - Through the fellowship of the church, and the power of God’s Spirit, we are invited to place our doubt before God - who can increase our faith.
2nd Sunday of Easter April 23, 2006 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, the resurrection of your Son, Jesus the Christ, is the greatest news that the world has ever heard. It draws us into an ever-deepening relationship with you, gives us hope in the face of death, and the assurance of your forgiving grace for our repentant sins. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, grant that we might continue to grow in faith, confront our doubts, and witness to others of this tremendous gift of life that our Lord’s resurrection reveals. This we ask in Christ’s Holy name. Amen.
We know the story well! At least those of us who return to worship God on this Second Sunday of Easter, should know it well. For even though we follow a three-year lectionary, the Gospel lesson for this particular Sunday is the same every year. On this Second Sunday of Easter, we drag out the story that places Thomas in his role as doubting the witness of the other disciples to having seen the risen Christ, as the central focus of this day.
Of course, to forever brand Thomas as an unfaithful doubter of our Lord’s resurrection, is as unfair to this disciple, just as sure as it would be unfair to forever picture Peter in his role of denying Jesus, the night he was betrayed. Both of these persons are pictured as being faithful disciples of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, and both of them, according to tradition, proved to be faithful apostles or our Lord, following his resurrection.
Thus, we might ask why this particular lesson is so important to the life of the church, that it has been appointed to be read every year, on the Sunday following our celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. So let us look at this text again, and try to grasp its significance.
First, the author of our lesson tells us that the disciples of Jesus, with the exception of Thomas, had gathered together on that evening that the tomb was found to be empty, and Mary Magdalene had reported to have seen the risen Christ. It was Easter evening. But instead of celebrating the news of Christ’s resurrection, we are told that they had gathered behind locked doors, in fear of the Jewish authorities.
But why were they afraid? What did they fear? Matthew’s Gospel gives us a hint. He tells us that the Roman guards, assigned to guard the tomb of Jesus, experienced the earth quake, saw the stone sealing the grave moved by an angel, and in awe and fear, fell to the ground and pretended to be dead. They had witnessed what the women saw that Easter morning.
Then Matthew tells us, that after the women left, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. But instead of receiving the news with joy, they bribed the guards to report that they had fallen asleep, and that the disciples had come and stolen the body of Jesus. The guards took the bribe, and did as the Scribes had said. Their report quickly spread throughout Jerusalem. And so, the disciples huddled behind locked doors, because they were being sought for stealing a corpse and perpetrating a hoax, a crime punishable by death.
But the locked doors could not keep the risen Christ from entering the room. Our lesson tells us that Jesus came and stood among them, with a greeting of peace – an expression that must have conveyed not just a calmness to the disciple’s fear, but also an expression of forgiveness. Then Jesus showed them his hands and side, bearing the marks of his crucifixion and death, commissioned them for ministry, and empowered them for witness with the gift of his Spirit.
But Thomas was not with the disciples that day, or for several days, as far as we know. Could it be that he had heard the allegations against the other disciples, which the guards had reported, that they had stolen the body of Jesus. Could it be, that when Thomas finally joined the other disciples, that this report led him to question the disciples’ claim that Jesus had risen from the dead?
After all, Jesus had been crucified, and Thomas knew that the Roman soldiers made sure that no one ever came off the cross alive. They even stood watch over his grave. Who was Thomas to believe? What was he to believe? The message of the Roman guard seemed plausible. The message of the other disciples was much more difficult to comprehend.
This poses the question to each of us, who have come to worship on this second Sunday of Easter. Who do we believe? What are we to believe? Do we believe that the disciples have pulled off one of the biggest hoaxes in all of history, by taking the body of Jesus out of the tomb, reburying it in some undisclosed location, to portray the myth that Jesus had risen from the grave? Or do we truly believe the witness of the disciples, who have testified that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, on that first Easter evening?