May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be pleasing to you, O God, my strength and my Redeemer. +
Was it really just last week that we celebrated a wonderful Easter vigil & two Easter morning services?
With a packed church.
With drums, bells, trumpets and cymbals,
lighted candles, huge displays of flowers and the choir leading everyone in glorious alleluias.
With plastic eggs covering the courtyard on a misty morning
that gave way to a perfect, sun-filled afternoon
for the bounty that was our parish picnic.
Was that really just a week ago?
Yes. That was only last week.
Which makes today an interesting Sunday in the church calendar.
Today, the second Sunday of Easter, has been officially dubbed as “Low Sunday.” Typically, there are fewer people, less hoopla.
I mean, the party is over.
Clean-up done, thanks to Dean and Marlone.
Office closed for the week, and the clergy hopefully well rested from the marathon of Holy Week.
And then, upon first glance, we are greeted today with a gospel of fearful disciples hiding out behind locked doors and a “doubting Thomas”, seemingly there to remind us of our human weakness and failings.
Talk about a letdown!
Or is it?
Maybe there is more for us to consider.
Let’s start with Thomas. Most of us have heard of him as “doubting Thomas”. But the first thing that strikes me today, is that Thomas was not doubting God or Jesus. He was doubting the other disciples. The ones who were under so much stress that they were hiding in fear behind locked doors.
Have any of you known someone that when they get put under pressure or stress, they have a tendency to exaggerated details? Or they are so on-edge that the water meter in the alley becomes a vicious dog?
This might, at times, even describe the person who looks back at you in the mirror. It is human nature for many of us to doubt an extravagant story told by someone who is under such duress.
Furthermore, when you look at the Easter story and today’s Gospel as a whole, you see similarities.
Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb, but she did not know or believe that Jesus had risen until he spoke directly and personally to her.
Mary Magdalene then told the disciples she had seen the Lord, but they dismissed her and locked themselves into a room to hide.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples in that locked room, he immediately showed them the wounds in his hands and side.
So, Thomas was not asking for anything different than what the others needed to grasp the situation. The wounds in Jesus’ hands and side were proof that it really was the risen Christ. Not a ghost. Not an exaggeration.
Also, there are more descriptions of Thomas in the Gospel of John that depict Thomas in ways that we could describe as courageous, foolish (ch11) or confused (ch14).
So, let’s drop the easy “Doubting Thomas Gospel” and look at this scripture with a different lens.
The reading begins with the disciples hiding in locked room “for fear of the Jews.”
In the Fourth Edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the New Oxford Annotated Bible which I received from the Bishop upon my ordination, the opening notes for the Gospel of John (pg 1880) says:
The Gospel discredits the religious authorities, whom it calls “the Jews”… Although its scathing portrayal of “the Jews” has opened John to charges of anti Semitism, a careful reading reveals “the Jews” to be a class designation, not a religious or ethnic grouping; rather than denoting adherents to Judaism in general, the term primarily refers to the hereditary Temple religious authorities. The Gospel further acknowledges their influential status by including among “the Jews” those who have accepted the worldview and class interest of the hereditary religious authorities as their own. This larger group includes the Pharisees and even the “crowd” of laypersons whose worth the religious authorities dismissed. Thus the rejection and persecution of Jesus by “the Jews” is shown to be not only the result of his words and deeds, but a result of the fact that his healings, pronouncements, and person lack the pedigree and imprimatur, (or official license), of the governing religious elite.
In short, the Gospel of John tells the story of the Roman and religious authorities who killed Jesus because Jesus was preaching God’s love for all, which was contradictory to the authorities’ laws & rules. Plus, he was not one of them, not of the elite; therefore, to them, he did not have proper religious authority. A “who does he think he is” type of situation. And yet he was stirring up trouble with his teachings and gaining a following, so the authorities crucified him. And as followers of Jesus, the disciples were hiding, because they knew those authorities were coming for them next.
So, the disciples are hunkered down in fear, yet Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”
And showed them his hands and side.
The disciples rejoiced because by seeing his hands & side, they knew it was him. It was the Lord!
Then Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.”
And this time he adds, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
A week later, they are in the house again with the doors shut, this time Thomas is with them when Jesus “came and stood among them”.
Again, Jesus greets them with, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus shows his side and hands to Thomas, inviting Thomas to touch him, and says, “Do not doubt, but believe.”
And Thomas answers, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus says to Thomas,
“Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” … Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Today’s scripture ends by telling us this is “…written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you …us! ... I! may have life in his name.”
Y’all this is the Good News today!
We are all “post-Easter” people.
We missed it by about 2 thousand years.
We did not see, yet we believe Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God.
We believe Jesus is the Word of God, and that he brought the love of God to all.
This is good news because it doesn’t matter where we try to hide. A locked house.
A closed & fearful heart.
Jesus still comes & stands among us!
This is not “Low Sunday”!
This is not “Doubting Thomas” Sunday.
There may be fewer people and less hoopla,
but today is a joyous continuation of the Easter celebration!
Jesus is standing amongst us,
He is saying,
Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
Receive the Holy Spirit.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to
believe. For through believing, we have life in Christ’s name.
Alleluia! Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed!