A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday of Easter – April 18, 2004
Text: John 20:24-29
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God the Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We call him “doubting Thomas,” but really it’s hard to blame the poor man for being a bit skeptical.
Thomas had been by himself that Sunday – no one knows exactly where he went or what he was doing. Maybe running errands for the other disciples who were too afraid even to go out. Maybe returning to his day job, now that his stint as a disciple seemed to be pretty dramatically over with. More likely, Thomas was grieving. It had only been a handful of days since his master had been snatched away by the police, and then horribly killed a few hours later. The wounds were still raw, and I who can blame him if Thomas needed some time alone to lick those wounds. We each deal with the depths of grief in our own way; perhaps this was Thomas’ way.
With all this racing through Thomas’ mind, you can imagine his shock when he finally did join his friends that night. He must have entered the room expecting long faces and wet eyes; instead he found dancing and whoops of joy, shaking heads and awestruck faces. When they saw him, his ten friends practically fell all over him, playfully jostling each other in order to be the one to say it first: “He’s not dead, Thomas! Do you understand? Not dead – alive! Alive, Thomas! He’s alive!”
Put yourself in Thomas’ shoes for a minute. Wouldn’t you immediately be on your guard if this happened to you? Wouldn’t you be a little – or a lot! – suspicious of these men? Having just lived through your Lord’s arrest and death, wouldn’t you find this whole scene an appalling, sick joke? It was obvious what had happened. While Thomas had been away, Peter, or maybe James or John, had come up with this cruel, perverted game – “Hey, let’s see if we can get that silly old Thomas to believe Jesus is really still alive! That’ll make us feel better.” They thought it was funny, did they? Look at them laughing out loud. Thomas could tell when he was being made the butt of someone’s joke, and it made his blood boil.
“Alive, is he? Oh, that’s good, Peter…real good. You’re just so clever, aren’t you? Shame on you all for even saying such a thing! How could you? OK, so if he’s so alive, where is he? Come on. Let’s see. I’m not unreasonable – show him to me, holes in his hands and all” (at this point Thomas let out a stifled sob) “and then maybe I’ll listen to you, you heartless devils.”
It’s amazing that Thomas was even with them a week later. You have to wonder why he stayed. His friends stuck to their story, which must have infuriated him. If there’s one thing worse than a bad joke, it’s a bad joke that goes on way too long, and surely that’s what this must have seemed like to Thomas.
But he was there somehow, and when Jesus appeared the second time, Thomas saw him, too. No doubts here – the moment risen Lord speaks to Thomas, his heart leaps in his chest and he knows it’s all real. Thomas doesn’t need to touch those holes or run his finger around Jesus’ wounds, even though Thomas’ dear friend offered to let him do exactly that. No, Thomas doubted when doubt seemed like the only reasonable thing to do; now he believed with all his heart.
We all have “Thomas moments.” The good news that death couldn’t keep a good man down – at least, not when that good man is Jesus Christ, the Son of God – well, that news is sometimes just too good for us to believe.
Doubt hits us from all around. Some days we are grieving, and we feel like nothing good exists in the world any longer after a loss like this; our hearts are so broken that we can’t help doubting every good word we hear – especially words about Jesus and his new life.
Some days we’re worried facts and figures, and we begin to doubt that the resurrection adds up. We’ve never known someone who rose from the dead. None of our friends or relatives has. We’ve never read about it in the papers. Our scientists tell us it can’t happen. So we worry that the facts and figures we want to believe just don’t check out in the end.
Some days we’re just ornery, and that’s all there is to it. A friend could say to us, “The sky is blue,” and we’d snap back: “Yeah? Prove it.” Days like that we’re not inclined to believe anything at all, and we’re not going to take anyone’s version of the facts without a tooth-and-nail fight.
The point is, it doesn’t matter why we have our “Thomas moments.” It doesn’t matter whether we’re stuck in doubt because we’re wounded, factual, or just plain ornery – the important thing isn’t our “Thomas moments” at all, in fact. It’s our “Jesus moments.”
Thomas had a Jesus moment, and it blew away his doubt with one puff of fresh air. Jesus didn’t punish Thomas for doubting – in fact, Jesus met every last one of Thomas’ demands in order to help him believe. Jesus understood how hard it was to wrap your head around what had just happened, and so he went out of his way to give Thomas a reason to believe again. He gave Thomas a “Jesus moment.”
Jesus understands our doubts, too. He knows we’re going to have “Thomas moments” – he even said to Thomas how much harder it was going to be for people who had never seen him to believe in him. If you’re in the middle of a “Thomas moment” this morning, don’t despair and don’t give up. Your Lord knows how you’re struggling, and when he finally does come to you, it’s not going to be to punish you, but to help you. You’re going to have a “Jesus moment” like Thomas had, because that’s how the Lord we worship works. Wait for it.
Whether you’re caught up in doubt right now, or you’re confident and sure, please understand that those “Thomas moments” come to us all. When you find yourself starting to fall into doubt, know that it’s not a sin. Know that Jesus loves you, doubts or not. Know that Jesus will go out of his way to help you believe, but that it may take some time. For Thomas, his “Jesus moment” was a long week away. Yours may be more or less, but it will come. It will come.
We always forget that Thomas was “doubting Thomas” for only a week; he was “faithful, believing, inspired Thomas” for the rest of his life. Just one “Jesus moment” and it was all clear to him again.
What happened for Thomas can happen for you, too. It will happen for you. May this Easter season fill our congregations with “Jesus moments” and make us joyful believers like Thomas. Amen.