Service & Sermon

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Pastor Laurie's sermon is below:

EAS2B21 – 04.11.21

            As the author of Hebrews reminds us, faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  In other words, faith does not eliminate all doubt.  In fact, doubt is an essential part of faith. Skepticism about some things we are asked to believe is perfectly normal. One of the most difficult things we are asked to believe in is the resurrection of Jesus. And it is not just difficult for us to believe, his closest followers who were witnesses to his life, death and resurrection had trouble believing it as well.  In all four accounts of the resurrection as well as all the post-resurrection appearances by Jesus, not one person says, “we expected Jesus to be raised from the dead.” 

          For example, In Luke’s account, the women had gone to the tomb to anoint his body. They had no expectation that the body would be gone because Jesus was raised from the dead. It is only when they are reminded by the two men at the tomb that what Jesus had predicted - that he would die and be raised from the dead after three days, had come true. The women then remembered all that he had told them, and their lives were changed from grief to great joy. In their excitement, they ran to share the news with his other followers. Unfortunately, the men did not take what they had to say seriously, they called their words an “idle tale,” which is actually a polite translation of the Greek word for “delirious.”  Peter ran to the tomb to check it out for himself; the others just thought the women were hysterical.   

          Their reaction tells us that none of them expected that Jesus’ prediction that he would rise from the dead would come true. In the “normal” world, people who are dead stay dead. They are not miraculously resurrected.  Asking the disciples to believe in the resurrection required them to suspend all normal expectations. They were being asked to believe that in the resurrection of Jesus, God was breaking into the world in a new way and creating a whole new world order – just when they were frightened and filled with sorrow.

          The empty tomb was not enough. His followers needed the post-resurrection appearances to fully believe. Today we heard two of them, which occurred on successive Sundays, from the Gospel of John. First, Jesus appeared on Easter evening to those followers who were together, hiding behind locked doors for fear they might be arrested and face a similar fate. We do not know who was there, but we are told that Thomas was missing. Later, when the others saw him, they told him of the miraculous appearance of Christ. Thomas is reported to have said that until he saw the marks of the crucifixion for himself, he would not believe. That reaction has earned him the name of “doubting” Thomas ever since. 

          But was Thomas actually any different than the other followers of Jesus?  As we noted before, none of them expected Jesus to be raised from the dead, even though he told them that was what was going to happen. When he was crucified, they were devastated. They had watched him suffer and die and not only were they mourning their loss, but they were also afraid they might be the next ones to be arrested. When the women reported that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and in the Gospel of John, when Mary Magdalene told them that she had actually “seen the Lord,” the men refused to believe them. They would not accept this miracle until Jesus appeared to them. Thomas reacted the same way as the others, when the other disciples told him “we have seen the Lord,” he refused to believe until he saw and heard Jesus for himself. Just like them, he wanted hard proof of the claim that was being made.  

          Thomas was not suffering from a greater deficiency of faith than the others; he was experiencing the same doubt that they had in the face of such unbelievable news.  Although many scholars believe that this first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on Easter evening marks the moment when the disciples underwent a transformation in their faith because they testified, “we have seen the Lord,” their actions do not match their words. They remained in hiding for at least another week, when Jesus appeared to them again to give Thomas the same experience of seeing and hearing him that the others had. It appears that it took a while for this miraculous news to sink in, it was not easy for them to accept something so far removed from the reality they had always known. When Thomas sees Jesus, he goes farther than others in his declaration of faith. He not only acknowledges that his Lord is risen, he also declares him to be God.

          When we consider the fact that not only did the disciples not expect Jesus to be raised from the dead, but they were also downright skeptical about it when it happened, one might think that Jesus could have done better in his choice of followers. That is, until we put ourselves in their place. Then perhaps we can understand how normal their reaction was, and how difficult it must have been for them to accept that the world as they knew it had been changed forever. Their initial doubt and hesitation changed into certainty. The reason that we celebrate the resurrection today is because of their faith and courage even in the face of the danger that they faced. It is thanks to their brave testimony that we have faith today.

Scholars point out that there are two “proofs” of the resurrection, the empty tomb, and the post resurrection appearances of Jesus. The empty tomb could possibly be explained away by the theory that the body was removed, either by his followers to make it look as though he had been raised as predicted, or stolen by others, perhaps grave robbers. It is the post resurrection appearances of Jesus that serve as stronger proof, and we would not know about them if the people to whom he appeared had not had the courage and inspiration to share those stories. Belief in the resurrection may not come easily, and we must ask ourselves if we would have had the courage to tell those stories as the followers of Jesus did. Why would so many people endanger their lives unnecessarily unless they saw and heard the risen Christ? And they did not limit their witness to their own circle of family and friends. Many of his followers spread the good news that Christ came to bring into the world in faraway places, among people of different religions and cultures. 

Tradition holds that Thomas traveled to India and established Christianity there.  One thing is clear - “Doubting” Thomas does not seem like a fitting name for a disciple who would risk so much in the name of Christ. It is believed that of the eleven disciples remaining after Judas betrayed Jesus, as well as the one who took his place, Matthias, all except John were martyrs for the faith. Tradition holds that only John died of old age. For over two centuries thousands of people, who never claimed perfect faith, who experienced times of doubt and had questions about many things, have given up their lives in defense of their belief in the risen Christ. We can only pray to have the same courage and perseverance even though we do not have perfect understanding.  Amen.

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