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Is It Easter Already?
John 20:19-31
Gary Roth

Our text tells us that the story begins on Easter evening. The disciples were gathered together in the upper room, hiding out. The doors were chained and bolted, for fear that what had happened to Jesus might also happen to his followers. That morning the two Marys and Salome had gone to the tomb and witnessed the empty grave. Simon Peter and John also heard the story and ran to the tomb, witnessing the same thing as the women. Apparently grave robbers had stolen Jesus' body. Then Mary came back, and said that she had seen Jesus alive. And, later on that same day, two disciples traveling on the road toward Emmaus also saw him. Yet, as the disciples gathered in the room that Easter evening, discussing the events of that day, the prevalent emotion they experienced was fear. The door remained bolted. They had not yet experienced the power of Easter. They had not yet met their risen Lord. And so they remained powerless, and full of fear.

So, that evening, they were gathered, fearful and powerless, in the same room where they had been hiding since Saturday. All except Thomas. Then suddenly Jesus was there, standing among them. He greeted them: "Peace be with you." And he breathed on them the breath of the Holy Spirit, and gave them the keys to his Father's kingdom.

But Thomas wasn't there. He missed the roll call that evening. The rest were there, cowering in the upper room, out of fear. But not Thomas. He was not a coward. Remember, when Jesus first decided to go to see his friend who had died - Lazarus - in Bethany? His disciples begged him not to go, because Jesus had revealed to them that, if he went, it would mean certain death for him. The religious leaders were waiting for him, so they did their best to convince him not to go. But their convincing wasn't convincing enough. Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. And it was Thomas who, when the rest of the disciples cowered, said, "Let us then also go to Jerusalem, that we may die with him!" For Thomas, life meant little without his Lord. If his Lord should die, then Thomas wished to go to the grave with him. He wanted to walk all the way with his Master. He was no coward - not then, not now.

Then came Good Friday. And what Jesus had warned them would happen did happen. And in the confusion of the moment, in the consternation, in the events swirling about them, and in the face if things happening that he couldn't understand - Thomas was separated from his Lord. He also ran, with the rest of the disciples. The events of the day quickly swept over them all. And suddenly Jesus, his Master, was dead. And the disciples retired to the upper room for fear of the Jews. But Thomas was not with them. Thomas - dazed, confused, bitter - he took a walk. He went off to think, and to grieve. For Thomas, that was what Saturday was all about. It was the day after his Lord and Savior and friend had died. It was the day that God became silent for him.

Who was there now to give God's words a human voice? Who now would give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, healing to the diseased, hope to the dispossessed - hope to him? Who now could cut through the issues of life and help him to see and understand things the way God sees them? Without Jesus, everything was confused - he didn't know where to turn. Without Jesus, there were no longer any authoritative answers to his burning questions - only opinions - and opinions are a dime a dozen. Without Jesus, the Kingdom of God was only a blurred specter of some far-off never-never land; the arms of the Father that had embraced him so warmly seemed to evaporate into a cool fog that felt more like death than love against his skin - it left him shivering in the evening air.

Isn't that what Saturday is all about for many of us too? The world cries out: "Show us your God! Show us your Jesus!" And we try to explain, without a lot of conviction - "Well… He is here … I mean, we know He is here somehow … but we can't see Him … or feel Him … or hear Him…." Our voice trails off. The world sneers at us, "Well, then - show us His power!" And we quietly mutter: "Well … we don't know … He doesn't always show it to us either." And then the world laughs in our face: "What? A God you can't see, can't feel, can't hear? A God who doesn't even respond when His children call? Sounds like maybe He's dead to me!" And we try to be brave, like little children, afraid to face the truth, trying to defend the indefensible - but in our heart of hearts, we're also wondering if maybe He hasn't died. If not, then why do we feel so much like orphans? That's Saturday - Thomas's Saturday.

Saturday is the day when the voice of the church is silent, when its message sounds strangely hollow. When instead of offering sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and healing to the diseased, all it seems to be able to offer is a lot of excuses. It is the day when, instead of offering a clear voice and a clear call to the world, it becomes trapped in the confusion itself, and finally becomes silent on the major issues of the time, and of life (and of Newsweek, too!). Saturday is the day when we, in the church, retreat behind our locked doors, afraid of the world outside, and play "Ain't it Awful," instead of offering healing and hope; it is the day when we begin to wonder whether we really have anything important to say - when we wonder whether anyone is even listening anymore, anyway. Saturday is the day that the Kingdom of God starts to seem to us very like a fairy tale that we're not quite sure grownups should believe in. That is Thomas's Saturday experience. Today we usually call it by another day's name - we call it, "the Monday Morning Blues." It's the church without Jesus. It is the church without her Lord.

Do we love our Lord? Oh, yes! Oh, God, yes! If He were just here! That's the problem! I'd do anything for that! I'd throw myself down and kiss His feet, and cry like a baby! But I've grown up now. I've gotten tough. I've had to get realistic. I have to put aside this death I feel in the pit of my stomach, this emptiness that gnaws at my gut. I've got to be hard. I've got to be practical. I won't be taken in again. Unless I see the marks of the nails in His hands; unless I put my hand in the wound at His side, I WILL NOT BELIEVE!


Then, one day, Thomas decided to come back and visit the other disciples. We don't know why - perhaps it is because misery loves company. That's one of the reasons we have groups like AA and widows groups, and groups for families of the terminally ill, and all that, isn't it? We need to form bonds in our suffering and in our despair. We need someone to share the lifeboat when we suffer shipwreck. Besides, Thomas found it difficult to let go of Jesus, just like we do. He needed, as we all do after someone dies, to share the stories, to remember, to ease the pain. So Thomas came back to visit his friends and fellow sufferers - but he found them all changed. They were no longer fearful. They were no longer despairing. Then he found out why:

"… after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors still being shut, and stood in their midst, and said, 'Peace to you!' Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.' And Thomas said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!' And Jesus said to him, 'Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'"

Now - I don't know what that conversation does to you, but it leaves me a little uncomfortable. Because I know who Jesus is talking to. He's not talking to Thomas any longer. He isn't talking to the other disciples. He is talking to me. And to you. "Blessed are those who do not see - and yet believe." It's like an actor in a play who suddenly turns and directly addresses the audience. Jesus is talking to Thomas; but He knows we are listening in on the conversation, and suddenly He turns, and across the miles, across the centuries, He speaks to us.

Suddenly I feel a lot like Thomas. Suddenly I wonder about the way that I feel. It was fine while Jesus was with the disciples - teaching, healing, talking, eating and drinking. But where is He now? It's Saturday all over again, isn't it? Don't I also wonder if that is all that I have in the end - a Lord who rises, puts in a show, only, once again, to evaporate into the mist, to leave me again to my own devices?

Where is Jesus now? Where is He - that I may touch Him, and see His face, and feel His wounded side? I'm no good with a "Jesus of the Mists." I want the Lord whose clear voice I once heard calling me! Where is Jesus now, so that I can feel my Father's arms once again surrounding me, holding me in His love? Where is Jesus now, that I may know His healing touch? Where is He now - now when I need Him so badly, when I feel like an orphan in the world? Where is He now?

He is there - right there - sitting beside you this morning! And so you folks on the other side don't feel left out - He is also right there, sitting next to you. And He is there, in the back row. And here, in the front. He is beside you. And in front of you. And behind you. And in you. And wherever the least one is among us. And wherever two or more of us gather to offer one another hope and strength and love for His sake. And He is here (Bible), and here (sermon notes), and in your words of comfort to one another. He is in the bread, and in the wine, and in the water, and in the promise. He is here! He is alive! He is risen! And you can put your arms around Him. And you can touch His wounded places. And you can hear Him again - and always - speaking His words - clear words - of comfort and hope to you! And if you cannot see Him here, it is only because you will not see Him here! "Do not be faithless, but believing!" Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!