In the beginning of today’s story, the disciples are hiding. They are afraid. Jesus has died. Many have lost faith in Jesus. All of a sudden the Risen Christ bursts into their midst, greets them with wishes for peace and commissions them to forgive sins and follow Jesus into new life. Wow! We wonder what is next for the disciples.
We who have come through a faith inspiring Easter may be asking, ‘What’s next for us?’ The rhododendrons are in bloom, cherry blossoms are still fat and days are lengthening. Easter always marks a new beginning.
Our story from the Fourth Gospel can help point our way forward.
There are two episodes in this gospel story. The first episode takes place and then, one week later, Jesus bursts for a second time into the room with the locked doors. In the first episode the disciples are moved to joy that Jesus is resurrected, crucifixion wounds and all. He breathes the gift of the Spirit into each of them and tells them that they are commissioned to forgive peoples‘ sins. It is dramatic.
When Jesus bursts into the locked room the second time, he repeats his greeting to them the week before, ‘Peace be with you.’ Saying this twice gives it great importance, something like an anchor in the story. Jesus has come to meet with his disciple, Thomas, one of the twelve, who was not present with the group the week before. Thomas has been saying that he will not believe that Jesus has risen from the dead until he touches Jesus’ wounds. Here is tension in the story.
Thomas has been known over the centuries as ‘Doubting Thomas.’ Readers seem to have forgotten that Mary, in the passage from Luke read last week, comes to believe who Jesus is with help from the brightly clad angels at the tomb. Peter believes after he has seen the folded grave clothes at the tomb.
The Risen Jesus does not judge Thomas for needing and asking for help in believing. He gives Thomas what he says he needs in order to believe. We watch and listen to ‘Doubting Thomas’ become ‘Believing Thomas,’ ‘Worshipping Thomas.’ His resounding reply to the Risen Christ is, ‘My Lord and My God.’
Thomas is now a solid member of the group of believers. At the end of the chapter the gospel writer tells us that this story is written so that readers may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Child of God. Here is purpose in the story. We who read this story now may experience The Risen Christ as giving both Thomas and us the choice of whether or not to enter into this story and come to deeper faith because of it.
The writer of the Fourth Gospel is a wonderful creative storyteller, a Christian who is sophisticated in Greek and Jewish thought.
Scholars believe that the community in this story lived in Alexandria in Greece. This gospel is thought to have been written down about 80 A.D., for second generation believers and beyond –for us. The disciples here were Jews who became Christian while retaining much Jewish Theology. After the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, this little Jewish Christian community seemed to be worshipping with the larger religious community. However, for reasons which we can only guess, tensions between the main group and this small Jewish Christian group grew. At the time of this story, the members of the group were afraid of persecution from the main group. They had been expelled from the larger group. They were isolated.
The Gospel of John has more primitive origins than the origins of the other three gospels. One of these primitive sources is called ‘The Signs Source.’ The story we read today is a miracle or a sign story.
Some of the Theology that marks this gospel as being from John’s community is that Jesus is one with God. Jesus in the Forth Gospel is the Risen Christ, one and the same with God’s own self. The God who is the Risen Christ is merciful as Judaism sees God as merciful. Here God in Christ mercifully gives people the choice of whether to believe or not. We notice the spaciousness in the writing. It makes us feel the mercy in the choice Thomas is given, that we are given too.
We modern people, perhaps all people, find it difficult to forgive sins that we see or know about in our present world. We have trouble forgiving ourselves for not dealing with problems – all kinds of problems –before they have grown into such large and in some cases monstrous sins. We know that Jesus said from the cross, ‘Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’ As followers of Jesus we are commissioned to forgive sins.
We all have our own heroes of the faith, our own faith stories, which help anchor our lives. The Spirit of the Risen Christ is around us and within us. Stories of faith abound.
One of my heroes is and has been for many years, a black minister from the Civil rights Movement, Howard Thurman. Martin Luther King Jr. carried Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited with him all during the Civil Rights Movement. Howard Thurman taught the black community to forgive the sins of racism committed against them. He taught people who were descendants of slaves to remember that we and anyone who is hurting us or hurting others are all children of God. This is a great leveler. It is disarming to think of all people as Children of God. This can do a lot to help us not fall into the error of hating other people because we think they are sinners. We need some help with this.
Howard Thurman taught that an individual’s personal relationship with God in Christ, crucified and risen, includes all the scar tissue and consciousness of the individual person’s life and allows him or her to see himself or herself from another point of view. A new centre can be found in which the individual can see what every person among us has in common with the creator. The individual sees that it is possible to enter into fellowship and communion with the creator. This point of view allows the individual to see his or her place as one of God’s many children in the magnificent enormity of all creation. Thurman refers to this double point of view as a rebirth. He also refers to it as mysticism.
I hope that we will keep track of our stories of faith. They are the building blocks of who we are. Here is another one of my stories which happens to be ‘kid friendly ‘
There is a famous poster of Jim Hensen, creator of The Muppets and Sesame Street. Jim is together with the Muppet, Kermit the Frog. We don’t know which one is speaking the words that appear as a caption on the poster. It could be Jim Hensen or Kermit the Frog or someone else. The caption says:
Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life. Enjoy it.
May God’s peace and mercy be with us as we go forward in the name of the Risen Christ.