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Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Sunday, April 3, 2016


(Click here for an audio version of the sermon.)

Thomas’ core truth is that he is blessed, not that he once doubted, and Christ Jesus likewise comes to us in blessing, no matter where we find ourselves in faith or doubt, confusion or clarity, and we are given peace.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday of Easter, year C
   text:  John 20:19-31

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

This is a story about Blessed Thomas, not Doubting Thomas. We’ve been misinformed.

This is actually a story about the risen Christ, where Thomas is the Blessed One, not the Doubter. Let’s stop using Thomas as a straw man for unbelief and see what’s really going on here.

Thomas missed out on seeing his risen Lord with the others. It’s that simple. They were gathered together, locked away. He was gone. He had the misfortune of missing what everyone else experienced.

Maybe he was gone by choice, maybe he had to be away. Maybe he missed the message passed between the disciples that terrible Friday afternoon, “we’re meeting in the Upper Room, where we were before. Here’s the password.” It doesn’t really matter. He missed it.

So yes, he had his doubts. The combined witness of his sisters and brothers, all of whom saw Jesus alive, didn’t fully convince him. Maybe his frustration at missing it all contributed to that.

But we can’t disdain him. Thomas’ faith and courage are well documented in the Gospels. We would do exceedingly well to be as faithful as he was. Here he’s in the middle of his worst days ever, and he’s struggling. That’s it.

We often hear, “don’t be like Thomas and doubt, believe even if you don’t see.” Our truth is the opposite. Thomas is our hope and our beacon of faith. Despite missing everything, Thomas ends up blessed by the peace and presence of his risen Lord, and finds faith and a future. Thomas is the best news we could have.

Thomas connects deeply with us.

It makes us sad and anxious to be left out. To know that loved ones are gathered and we aren’t there. Imagine his sadness when the others excitedly shared their experience with him.

But it’s more than being left out: it’s hard to handle missing out on learning something important, feeling like others got to know or see something we would have loved to know or see, to get news secondhand.

We can see ourselves in Thomas. Sad, confused, wondering. Wanting to believe Christ is risen and everything is new again, but not having seen it.

How often do we see others who seem to have strong faith and wonder what’s missing in us? Or think, “if only I could have seen something, too, if I had her clarity?” Or even, “what did I miss? Why didn’t I get to see it?”

Thomas is our companion today, not our fool. He stands for us.

But what of Jesus’ saying: blessed are those who do not see and yet believe?

Isn’t this a criticism of Thomas’ doubts? Yes, Jesus says these words. But he says them after giving Thomas peace. After letting Thomas see, offering his hands and his side for evidence. Christ comes to Thomas and gives him exactly what he longed for, to see his beloved Master alive again. That feels like gentle joy and welcome, not criticism.

Then he turns to us, the readers, the watchers, and says: you do not see, and yet you will find faith. You are blessed. As John explains, all this Gospel he has given us is explicitly our Thomas appearance. Because we weren’t there, John has written this, “that [we] may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and, believing, have life in his name.”

This is a story about blessed Thomas, about blessed us. The blessing isn’t in found in our faith or lost by our doubt. It’s Jesus, risen, coming to us.

The risen Christ has provided for us, just like Thomas. And we are blessed.

In God’s Word Christ comes to us and says, “see?” I am with you always. And as you hear me, know me, see me through these words, I give you peace. Like Thomas, you can believe.

In this Meal, Christ comes to us and says, “see?” I told you this is my life, my body and blood, my way of joining you to my death and being with you always.”

Remember, Thomas asks the critical question: “wasn’t he wounded and killed? I need to see those wounds. How can God change death into life?” In this bread and wine, Christ once more shows us his wounded hands and side and says, “this is my love for you, and death can’t stop it. Eat, touch, and believe. Be at peace.”

In this community of faith Christ comes to us and says, “see?” I am with you always in them. And in these others you receive my peace, and like Thomas, you can believe.

If we look even more closely at the risen Christ’s actions, we find another, beautiful blessing.

Christ deeply needs his followers, even after the Resurrection. Eating with them, walking with them, talking with them, the Incarnate One, as he always did before, continues to desire his friends. It feels as if Christ comes to Thomas because he missed Thomas. This reveals the Triune God’s deep desire to be in relationship with us. Our joy is that as much as we miss God’s presence in our lives when we don’t feel it, God even more misses us.

And Christ needs a complete community. Without Thomas, it’s not good. This is so central, that often writers like Paul and John join our Lord in saying that their joy is only complete when the fellowship is complete. Christ is not satisfied until all God’s children are together, all can see God’s grace and receive the peace that passes understanding.

Let’s give thanks for blessed Thomas, who gives us great hope.

Like Thomas, whenever we feel left out, or forgotten, we look up and see our Living Lord smiling and saying, “I’m so glad I found you, I’ve missed you.”

When we don’t understand the pain and suffering of this world, or are afraid of being wounded ourselves in service to God, like Thomas we come here and meet our wounded, crucified, risen Lord who transforms death into life.

When we doubt because we haven’t seen what others have, or fear that faith is harder for us than it should be, or are anxious because we don’t know what to believe, we come here with our sisters and brothers, like Thomas, and Christ comes to us.

And blesses us with peace. So we are ready to join Thomas in being that blessing to the rest of those whom Christ is constantly seeking. Because that’s what’s next for us, and that’s where we’ll really find complete joy.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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