2nd Sunday of Easter April 3, 2016 Text – John 20:19-31
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever been disappointed – really disappointed? If so, you know how destructive genuine disappointment can be for a person. Disappointment happens far more frequently than we would like, because we never want to be disappointed.
A friend fails us in a time of particular need – is she or he a friend, or not? A family member breaks a promise. A confidante succumbs to the temptation of rumor, and a private conversation between the two of you becomes public information.
Expectations are broken; dreams are destroyed. You know the scene, perhaps all too freshly and deeply. You believe unconditionally in someone – and that person lets you down, or even betrays you. You love someone at the depth of your being – and that person rejects you.
A single incident of profound, hurtful disappointment can lead to bitterness and sweeping generalizations full of negativism born out of pain. We might feel, “You just can’t count on anybody, or anything.” “Love and friendship, loyalty and promises are great ideals that ultimately fail when life gets tough.”
Because of disappointment in just one area of life, many people refuse to trust in any dimension of life.
Disappointment can adversely affect a person’s relationship with God.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, a famous Protestant preacher of the former generation and one that I admire, once said that most people who don’t believe in God do so because they are deeply discouraged about life.
If you’ve ever been disappointed – deeply disappointed – then you likely understand the disciple, Thomas, and his reaction to the news of Jesus’ resurrection in today’s Gospel. Most of us likely have more in common with Thomas as a disciple than any of the others followers of Jesus.
When Jesus was crucified and died at Golgotha, it looked for a while like all the disciples of Jesus might be killed as well. But the remaining eleven devastated men escaped the grasp of the authorities.
They found hiding places and remained there through Saturday, the day after Jesus was executed – but then came Sunday. The dawn of that Sunday morning was accompanied by incredible Good News – He is risen! Jesus is risen from the dead!
Some reports even indicated that Jesus planned to meet with his disciples again soon. By that Sunday evening, all of the disciples were gathered together – all but Thomas.
Some Bible commentators are very critical of the disciple Thomas’s absence from the rest of the group, but others say this is totally consistent with his character. They contend Thomas would be the most likely to venture out into the city, while his friends and fellow disciples huddled together behind closed doors.
Of course, while Thomas was out, Jesus appeared to the rest, promising them his peace and offering the gift of the Holy Spirit. When Thomas rejoined the disciples, they told him about the appearance of Jesus – and Thomas stunned them.
Thomas said he didn’t believe their news about the resurrection – and he couldn’t believe it. Throwing a heavy, wet blanket on the other disciples’ blazing excitement and fervor, Thomas declared he wouldn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus until he could meet him personally, and see and touch his wounds.
I’m inclined to discourage any criticism of Thomas which is scathing or too harsh. Think for a moment about this scene, and put yourself into it.
As for me, if I didn’t know the whole gospel story, if I didn’t have the benefit of the knowledge of all the years of history between then and now, if I hadn’t experienced the ministry of the church, I don’t know how readily I would have accepted the testimony of others about Jesus defeating death.
Thomas had a “show me,” matter-of-fact mentality. He just wasn’t going to say he believed unless, in fact, he did believe! To me, Thomas was not trying to be a problem; he wasn’t intentionally obstinate. Thomas, I believe, was displaying despondence and voicing skepticism out of his disappointment.
Thomas was aware of the wounds of crucifixion – and he was aware of how the life of Jesus had ebbed away out of those wounds. He may well have thought that the other disciples simply didn’t want to face the facts.
Thomas was determined not to live in a state of denial. He felt he could handle the harsh reality of it all, no matter how much it hurt. Honesty, even painful honesty, was better than confusing fantasy and faith. Thomas would make no glib assertion just to be in agreement with the rest.
“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” (John 20:25b).
If we think Thomas’ tests for believing seem stringent and crude, perhaps we should ask ourselves what – if we were in that situation – what it would have taken for us to believe in the resurrection. Or, for that matter, perhaps we should be asking ourselves right now what it will take for us to believe in the resurrection today!
Personally, I’m convinced that Thomas was not a man who didn’t want to believe. Thomas was a man who had believed and, as a result of that belief, had had his heart broken. Thomas was disappointed. Thomas was disappointed to the point of being “soul-sick” over the death of Jesus.
To him, this was the apparent extinction of all that he believed to be important. Likely, most of us also have known the feeling – “I will never love again. I will never trust again.”
But a week later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples – and this time, Thomas was present. Again, after offering his peace to all, Jesus invited Thomas to see and touch his wounds – and that was all it took.
Thomas was ready to believe again; Thomas was ready to trust again. And once Thomas was convinced of a truth, he was committed to that truth.
Thomas responded to Jesus with a confession that represents the highest point of affirmation about Jesus in the Gospel of John: “My Lord and my God,” Thomas declared (John 20:28b).
The resurrection of Jesus has power beyond any human disappointment. The resurrection of Jesus revives trust. So much in our lives leads to disappointment. Friends fail us. Loved ones lessen their affection, or choose to bestow it elsewhere. Promises are broken; dreams are shattered.
At one time or another, nearly all of us yield to the temptation of pessimism, or give in to the lure of distrust and cynicism. We speak with a certainty born of pain and hurt, “Love does not endure. Integrity cannot prevail.”
But today we are encouraged to remember the experience of Thomas, and to rejoice in the power of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus’ Easter victory allows us to believe in that which will not disappoint us; it invites us to trust in the One who will never fail us.
By the grace of God, the risen Christ has secured for us mercy and forgiveness, and these are ours forever. We can love again. Good does endure. We can trust again. Thanks be to God! Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.
Alan Goertemiller, Pastor
Pilgrim Lutheran Church of Indianapolis, Inc.