2nd Sunday in Easter
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Have you ever met or known identical twins? In 8th grade, two girls in our class were identical twins. Okay, they weren’t identical in every way, but they were close enough that only their parents and siblings could tell them apart immediately.
This set of twins were 6ft tall in 8th grade. They both had red hair and glasses. Of course, they would often wear the same style of clothes at the same time to make things more confusing. Their parents had named them Kerry and Kristy, both with a ‘K’.
When speaking with one of them without the other present, it was difficult to figure out to whom you were talking. You could see their frustration when you addressed them by the wrong name. They would sigh and say, “I’m Kerry. You must think you’re talking with my sister.”
What made them more frustrated with me is that they were also my neighbors. They lived across the street from me and their older brother and I were in the same Boy Scout troop. I was at their house quite a bit and I still couldn’t tell them apart.
To be fair, they did dress alike most of the time and they would sometimes play the tricks that only identical twins could play; like changing seats in class and answering to the other’s name when called. Eventually, I found out that they had different personalities, although subtly different. But even with that knowledge I had to speak with them for a few minutes to figure out who was who.
Recalling this reminded me of Thomas in our Gospel narrative. Thomas was known as ‘the twin’. Now whether he and his twin were identical is not mentioned. But what if they were identical? I’m sure he and his brother were probably mistaken for each other just like the twins I knew.
Thomas is introduced to us earlier in St. John’s Gospel shortly before the Passover and Christ’s following crucifixion. In a little village of Bethany, the brother of Mary and Martha, Lazarus, had died. When the news of his death reached Jesus, he told them he would go to Bethany to wake Lazarus from his ‘sleep’. Thomas spoke up:
So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [John 11:16]
At the Passover feast Jesus tells his disciples that he goes to prepare a room for them in his father’s house. He concludes with the statement that they know the way to where he is going. It is Thomas who asks: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [John 14:5]
For Thomas, the appearance of his Lord and Savior in a closed, shuttered room with locked doors was… unbelievable. The death of Jesus was acknowledged by Thomas. He had no problem believing in his crucifixion (even though only John witnessed the Lord’s death in person). He had no problem believing the Jews thought them seditionists and blasphemers. In all this fearful and depressing state of affairs one might think good news would be hastily consumed and believed, but not so with poor Thomas.
Maybe Thomas thought that his fellow disciples were mistaken. Maybe he thought the person that appeared to them in that locked room was an imposter and not their teacher, Lord and master. Could this be why Thomas asked to put his fingers in the holes of Christ’s hands? In his mind, this would be impossible for an imposter to do.
Earlier, Thomas had asked Jesus to show them the way to everlasting life. He was not the only disciple to ask Jesus to prove his word by a sign. Remember Phillip had asked Jesus to show them the Father as a sign in which to believe. Now Jesus comes to Thomas in that same shuttered and locked room to give Thomas the sign he needed.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could call on the name of Jesus whenever we are in doubt? Wouldn’t it be nice that when we come face to face with something unbelievable that we could put our hand in the hand of Jesus? What comfort would it give us in our troubled lives to know, unquestionably, undeniably that Our Redeemer Lives?
Jesus’ words of faith to Thomas are words of faith to us; “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” [John 20:29b] In what do we put our trust? We have not seen Jesus. We cannot put our fingers in nail marks of his hands or place our hand in his side. How are we to believe?
We are to believe by his word of promise to us.
These days we hear people confess their beliefs in all sorts of things – many of them false. These days we are inundated with many ‘truths’ and many ‘beliefs’. The reason we have so many different truths is because people do not want to admit their unbelief. People do not want to know their faith is in something false.
Remember the Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried wolf? After many false alarms from the boy about a wolf attacking the sheep, the townspeople quit believing the boy’s word. In times of old, God sent His prophets to speak in His name, to give His people His holy word of promise. They were promised salvation through a Redeemer who would bring God’s people back to righteousness.
Prophet after prophet over thousands of years spoke of the Messiah. Many people fell away from belief because they had not seen the fulfillment of God’s promise. To be fair, just like today, many false prophets say they speak in God’s name but they really speak for themselves. This is why we must remain in God’s word. When we turn from the word of God to the word of man, we too begin to fall away, we too begin to doubt. We doubt our friends, our family, our brothers and sisters and yes, even the very promise of our God.
If only we could put our doubts and our fears in the hands of our Savior. Well have no fear. I bring you good news. His word comes to you this day. That promise of God at the beginning of life has been fulfilled in the resurrection of His only Son. Our Redeemer Lives! God’s word has been fulfilled and we are now heirs to His kingdom. No more shall we doubt because we have been given God’s word and it has been placed in our hands.
The hands of our Savior were pierced and the blood of the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. From his hands to our hands, we are given his promise of life everlasting in his house. Through the Holy Spirit we are given the faith of Christ. Through his death and resurrection, we are saved and through his spirit we can believe without doubt.
This faith is not our weak human faith that trusts only in what we can see, like the rising of the sun in the morning or the firm understanding that death awaits all things, but the everlasting faith through the Holy Spirit given to us in our baptism. The same Holy Spirit breathed into the disciples by Jesus Christ is now in us.
St. Peter proclaims:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1 Peter 1:3-5]
The Apostle Peter also addresses our place in this world and our faith. Even though we do not now see him, he says, we believe in him. What is the outcome of such faith? The salvation of your souls.
We can now take this faith into a world of doubt. Like the disciples, we may not always be able to convince the Thomas’ of the world about our faith in the Risen Redeemer. And so, we may have become afraid of confessing our faith as Jesus Himself commanded us.
For instance, do we pray out loud in the restaurant or are we afraid of what people would think? Do we worry more about paying our bills than giving to God? If I tell someone about Jesus, will they believe?
We have replaced the ‘I believe’ statements in our conversations with ‘I guess we all believe something different’. We don’t want to be ‘cancelled’, we don’t want to be labeled ‘intolerant’, we want to all get along and co-exist. This is how we lock ourselves in our own little rooms of self-doubt and fear.
Remember. These are the doubts of a sinful world. Just as we cannot save ourselves, we cannot save others. It is God’s grace that saves. It is the merits of Jesus Christ that redeems the lost. God’s word does what He says and His word does not return to Him empty.
John writes the words of God for all who have not seen so that they may believe. He writes so that all who were not there to touch Jesus or see his miracles may hear his word and believe. He writes these words so we may confess, as Thomas did that day, Jesus Christ as our Lord and our God.
God’s promise has been fulfilled. He has Risen! He has Risen indeed! But this is not the end of God’s promise. It may seem unbelievable for us to understand, but there is more! Remember that undeniable thing called death? Well, that word no longer means what it used to means. Through Jesus Christ, death no longer stings. By the blood of the Lamb, we now share in the victory over death. It sounds unbelievable but it is true. When our Lord and Savior said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” [John 20:22b] That meant, “Receive resurrection from the grave and life everlasting”