Sermon, April 27th, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley, MA.
Text: John 20: 19 – 31
Resurrection happens while it is still dark.*
Our text this morning picks up immediately after last week. It is evening of the same day, the same day when earlier that morning Mary Magdalene had found the empty tomb. She had run to tell the disciples – and though Peter and the Beloved Disciple saw the tomb, they returned home. Jesus appeared to Mary, calling her by name. But the disciples, we are told as this story unfurls, are gathered in a locked room, afraid.
Resurrection happens while it is still dark.
Even though the disciples have heard the good news, even though some have seen for themselves the miracle of the empty tomb – they are gathered in a locked room, filled with fear. Fear of what has happened to Jesus, fear of the Pharisees, yes.
But what if the disciples were also afraid of the empty tomb? What if they were afraid of what the resurrection meant?
And then, in the midst of the locked room clouded with fear, Jesus appears. Jesus shows the disciples the wound in his side and his hands and feet. And it is only then, only after the disciples can see that his new body is the same broken one laid in the tomb, it is only then that we are told all believe. Jesus breathes on them, wishing peace upon them.
This had to be a bizarre encounter for the disciples. They have already been through so much. As bright and lily-filled as our Easter is now, as full of resounding joy, that first Easter was filled with trepidatious wonder.
A pastor once told me that there are only two reasons why people come to church. And these are two, simple, questions:
“Is it true? Can God be trusted?”
“Is it true? Can God be trusted?”
I think these questions have existed long before our resounding trumpets and lily-filled services. I think on that day, the day that Mary Magdalene saw our Lord at the empty tomb, the day that the disciples gathered in fear in a locked room – i think on that day, they were asking the same questions.
Is it true? Can God be trusted?
Jesus leaves the disciples, who are filled with wonder.
But Thomas, called the twin, was not there. We are not told why, but we are told that Thomas’ absence is what leads Thomas to doubt the disciples’ story. Thomas does not believe that the risen Jesus walked with his friends.
I think “Doubting Thomas” gets a bad name. It’s almost as if Thomas has become his surname, like he is known first and foremost by the nickname doubting. But to me, Thomas has always been where i find myself in this story. Resurrection is a wild and wondrous event. Resurrection is the promise that death is not final, that God can be trusted.
But resurrection also happens while it is still dark. And in the dark it can be hard to choose to believe.
Thomas had watched his friend, the man he believed to be the son of God, brutally killed. He knew the reality of death and the incredulity of life after death. I think his doubts are completely understandable. He is a man who has suffered much and who has been promised that which seems impossible.
And yet, Jesus re-appears to the disciples a week later – and this time, Thomas is among them.
Jesus invites Thomas to touch him in the side, to see the wounds in his hands.
Jesus tells Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” So often i think we hear this as a reprimand, as Jesus shaming Thomas for needing tactile evidence in order to believe in the risen Christ.
But i see this as a commission. Jesus appeared to Thomas while Thomas was still doubting. He did not wait for Thomas to believe. Jesus invited Thomas to touch him, beckoned Thomas to step from doubt into faith.
And though Thomas doubted Jesus, Jesus never doubted Thomas.
Jesus blesses Thomas as he blesses us all.
Nadia Bolz-Weber writes that “Easter isn’t about making us perfect; it is about making us new.”
And newness, new life, doesn’t heal the wound in Jesus’ side. New life does not free Thomas of his doubts, does not free the disciples of their fear. But like Mary Magdalene, we are called to believe anyway. Believe when we are full of doubt, believe when we are terrified, believe when all we want to do is lock ourselves away from the world.
For the wildness, the wonder of resurrection is with us, even while it is still dark.
* Barbra Brown Taylor, “Learning to Wait in the Dark”