Easter 2, Do not doubt...
The following sermon was preached by Lyle A. Snyder, LSTC M.Div. student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Wednesday, April 18, 2007.
Grace to you and peace, from God our Creator, and Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior, Amen.
The disciples were all gathered, and they shut the doors because they were afraid. Presumably they are afraid of dying the same kind of death Jesus did. But even though the doors were shut, Jesus was still able to enter and join the disciples.
And what were his first words? "Peace be with you." Basically he was saying, "don't be afraid." And then Jesus goes ahead and shows them his hands, and his side. He showed them his hands that were nailed to the cross, and his side that was stabbed by a Roman soldier. They are obviously overjoyed. Their Lord, the one they were following, was no longer dead, but alive!
And now is the point in John's Gospel when we encounter Thomas. Thomas, the doubter. The other disciples tell Thomas, "We have seen the Lord." And of course, he didn't believe them. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." Unless he is right here, next to me, so I can see and touch his wounds, I won't believe that he was with you. The words of Thomas here fall under that cliché, "famous last words."
I don't think he was so much a doubter. I don't think he was stubborn. I think he was human. See, Thomas had it tougher than did all of the other disciples. He wasn't with them. All of the other disciples got to see Jesus. Jesus breathed on them. They received the Holy Spirit from him. He extended them peace twice. He gave them instructions on forgiving the sins of others. Thomas experienced none of these things. So no wonder he didn't believe them.
But just over a week later Jesus appeared to everyone again… the same situation, they were afraid, the doors were shut, but the closed doors were not enough to keep out Jesus. Jesus came and stood among them. Low and behold, in accordance with Thomas's own words, he says, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas – see and touch my wounds, and feel that it is me.
And of course here Thomas bows down and proclaims, "My Lord and my God!"
I don't need to speak to you about the message of John, that seeing is believing. You all know that lesson, that signs are performed by Jesus in order to get people to believe in him. And in John's account Jesus says "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."
That seeing is believing formula is not limited to John's Gospel. It is the way we humans function. It is the way we operate. We have a difficult time believing in something when we don't see or experience it for ourselves.
Thomas had it easy. Jesus appeared to him, and said, "Don't believe in me? Go ahead, touch my wounds." We don't have it so easy in this world. Chances are pretty good that if I said Jesus, I won't believe in you unless I can touch the nail mark in your hand and the gash in your side, that Jesus won't show up and say, "Lyle, touch my wounds."
We are all a Thomas. We are all doubters. Thomas is a good model of how we operate. God, I am not going to believe in you if I don't see you. And couple this with fear like the disciples had when gathered, or our own troubles, and the doubt becomes bigger.
Think about the stress and the anxiety and the fears that surrounds the end of the school year. I'm not going to believe in you right now, I've got too much work to do. I've got too much studying to do… Or for faculty, I've got too much grading, too much research right now. Staff is busy too. Too many meetings right now to believe in Jesus.
Or in the midst of the fear of transitions. Jesus, I'm not going to believe in you right now… I'm more worried about first call. Internship. MIC.
When the fears grow, the anxiety grows, the pressure increases, the sadness grows. I'm going to take you down a bit of a darker path now. Believing gets even tougher when we are faced with the headlines from the news we get to face everyday. Last Saturday in Baghdad another 56 people died in a car bombing. Jesus… unless I see you.
Or Monday. In Blacksburg, VA. At Virginia Tech. 32 murders and 1 suicide. "Jesus, unless I see the mark of the nails in your hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in your side, I will not believe."
One of my favorite authors, Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor wrote very poignantly about this kind of unbelief. Now I don't mean to pick on Wiesel cause he's Jewish… he's actually a great man of deep faith. But he did write about the deepest his despair got during the holocaust when he watched a child hanged, and the child wouldn't die, because he was too light. Wiesel writes about this,
For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: "Where is God now?" And I heard a voice within me answer him: "Where is He? Here he is – He is hanging here on these gallows."
When you are put in bondage, starved, forced into hard labor, and watch your friends and family die, it's pretty difficult to see God active in your world, in your life, and among your family and friends. "Jesus, unless I see the mark of the nails in your hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in your side, I will not believe."
I took you down a pretty dark path there… I've got to bring you back from that doubt and despair. I love doubt. I love doubt because it's the first step towards belief. I think it sometimes is even belief.
At times we are blessed like Thomas and experience Jesus, touch him, and then believe.
We do get to see, and know, and experience, for those Greek loving folks, we do oraw Jesus Christ, coming to us, in our fear, through the closed doors. The way we see Jesus is a little more subtle. A little more hidden. We touch the wounds of Jesus by seeing the bread and the wine that Jesus is truly present in. We see Jesus by taking, eating, and drinking his body, and blood.
We experience Jesus when we remember our baptism. Touching the water in this font is much like touching Jesus' wounds.
We see Jesus when we proclaim, "Alleluia, Christ has risen. Christ has risen indeed."
We experience Jesus when we sing. Just as in a couple of minutes we will be singing "We may not touch your hands and side, nor follow where you trod; but in your promise we rejoice, and cry, My Lord and God."
And finally, there is that blessing we have, despite everything the world throws at us, to try and stop our belief, our belief, our faith persists. That is the blessing that we have. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." That blessing is that we who have believed in his resurrection without having ever seen his risen body. To believe in this is the blessing itself. To have hope in what at times seems like a hopeless world.
To all of the stress and tensions here at LSTC, the grave things of this world like car bombings and hangings. 32 murders and one suicide in Blacksburg, Virginia. To this, Jesus says "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."
In the name of the Father+, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.