The Holy Gospel according to John, the 20th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to 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." 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Sunday after Easter is known as “Holy Hilarity” Sunday because at Easter, Jesus gets the last laugh. We all like to joke around, but we know it isn’t nice to make fun of people. For example, it isn’t nice to laugh at someone when their team loses. There is one exception, though.
The devil lost. Satan is defeated forever. Jesus gets the last laugh. We get to laugh and make fun of Satan all we want. Jesus has defeated sin, death, and the devil for us. On this day, we laugh together. Jesus wins!
The Sunday after Easter we always read the "Doubting Thomas" story. In this story, the disciples weren’t ready to laugh yet. We remember Thomas as the disciple who wasn't with the others that first resurrection evening when Jesus came into the locked room. On that first visit Jesus showed the disciples the wounds in his hands and side. They rejoiced because they knew he was the Lord.
Thomas is also known as “Thomas, the twin." We are not told who his twin brother or sister was. We seem to have some things in common with him. Maybe he is a twin to us.
Where was Thomas on that first Easter evening, anyway? Don't you wonder? The scriptures don't tell us where he went. I like to speculate, so here are some possibilities.
Maybe he had family in Jerusalem and he was visiting them. Maybe he was an introvert who just needed to get away from the rest of the disciples. He just couldn't deal with them taking about everything that happened, over and over.
Maybe he thought the whole story from Mary Magdalene was just her imagination. It was her grief making her believe it.
Perhaps he wanted to be alone in his grief. We know grief can do that to people. It is understandable that he didn't believe the others when they said they had seen Jesus.
When you have just experienced a tragedy you go into shock. It is hard to trust your own senses, much less believe these unimaginable stories from the others who are going through the same thing. Maybe Thomas thought they were hallucinating, or they had drunk too much of the wine leftover from the Seder.
Perhaps he was a more practical sort. Maybe he was making plans to get on with the rest of his life. He could have been arranging to do some work for someone, or to go back to his old job. His career as a disciple of a famous rabbi was over with the rabbi's death.
We know the disciples were all afraid of the authorities coming after them, so maybe Thomas thought it was safer to hide alone and not be taken in with the group. Maybe he was like the one cabinet member who doesn't attend the state of the union address each year.
We don't know why Thomas wasn't with the others. Maybe he just wanted to put it all behind him. We do all react differently in crisis situations.
It seems he wasn't with the people closest to him, just when he needed them most. In his grief, he had tried to be alone, but this was the time he most needed his faith community. This was the time he needed to draw on the strength and faith of other believers.
The most likely place for us, for anyone, to meet the risen Christ is in the faith community. It is when we are among the community of believers, that we are most likely to come to faith in Christ.
Christ showed the disciples his wounds when he visited them on that Easter Sunday evening. Christ showed Thomas his wounds when he was there the next week.
When we are together each week, we experience the real presence of Christ and his wounded body. Christ comes to us in our community of believers.
Thomas isn't just known as a doubter. His behavior definitely has a positive side. There are some things we can really admire about him. For one thing, he was honest. He wasn't going to go along with the group and say he believed something he didn't believe. He didn't cave to peer pressure.
Honesty and independent thinking are qualities we all hope we share with Thomas. We try to teach these qualities to our children, especially in these days when bullying is so common. We would all do well to follow Thomas' example and speak up when we disagree with the crowd.
Since Thomas didn't believe until he saw for himself, we have a stronger witness to the resurrection. We know the other disciples weren't having hallucinations or giving in to mass hysteria. Thomas was a disciple with his feet firmly planted on the ground. He had to be convinced himself, not just take someone else's word for it.
Another thing about Thomas, was that once he believed, he believed all the way. His faith was not lukewarm. When he saw Jesus himself, he made one of the strongest confessions of faith recorded in the gospels. He addressed Jesus as: "My Lord and my God!"
The story of Thomas does not stop with his initial confession of faith. His encounter with the risen Christ changes his life forever. The church remembers Thomas as the apostle who traveled as a missionary to India. Christians in India honor him as their patron saint and the founder of their church.
Perhaps Thomas is our twin, after all. We may not be identical, but we have many things in common with him. We also need to be part of the community of believers, because this is where we encounter Christ for ourselves. This is where we share in the peace of Christ.
Thomas is an example for us in honesty and in standing up to the crowd. He speaks his own mind and doesn't cave to peer pressure.
When he does believe, he proclaims it boldly, "My Lord and my God!" and he shares the good news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ far and wide.
We have talked about how we are like Thomas, so now let's look at what Jesus does in this story.
First of all, Jesus comes to the faith community. The community is fearful and closed in behind locked doors. Jesus walks right in anyway. Jesus shares his peace with them. The peace of Christ conquers their fear. He shows them his wounds, giving them the gift of faith.
Last week, Jesus missed seeing Thomas in the group of believers. So Jesus came back. He didn't want to leave anyone out. He had not forgotten Thomas. Jesus doesn't say, "sorry you missed me, too bad, so sad." Jesus shows Thomas his wounds too, giving him the gift of faith. Jesus blesses him.
Then Jesus blesses us. Hear that again: "Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe."
We are the ones who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Jesus pronounces a blessing on us, right there in today's gospel lesson.
Today we touch and experience the real presence of Christ. We are here in this community of faith, among this group of believers. Christ has promised to be present wherever two or more are gathered in his name.
In our sacrament today, we touch his body and blood for ourselves with our own hands. We experience the real presence of our risen Lord. We rejoice in his victory over sin and death. We are strengthened to share the good news. Jesus wins! He gets the last laugh! We get to laugh, too!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!