“It Is Written…”
John 20: 19-31, April 28th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear these amazing words from the gospel according to John, chapter twenty, verse nineteen thru thirty-one.”
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 Jews, 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.
“Having heard this shocking account of what was seen and heard in the Upper Room, let us allow our hearts to ring with delight and improved hope!
“It Is Written…”
On Easter morning, the air was cool and damp – as I pulled into the parking lot. As I stepped out of the car, I could hear the birds singing from their lofty perches in the trees. The fresh brisk air opened-up my senses and I knew that I was alive! That is what Easter is all about; knowing that life is in you, around you and it fills the air we breath and the space we fill! From that perspective we can face the unknow of each and every-day we awake to the newness of life!
The disciples awoke on Easter morning, frightened and afraid. The women had gone off to tend to their Jewish burial rituals. Their fear and grief being tampered with and their concern of how they might remove the huge stone that had been placed before the grave. They perhaps noted that the guards had fallen asleep; they may have heard the birds singing their morning song. The details are lost in the enormity of the horrific death of Jesus. It was they whom first found the stone removed. How? Well the accounts vary. But, once the stone was removed, they went into the tomb and found it empty. What happened next varies based on which gospel account we read, yet, the tomb was empty. One perhaps two angels greeted them, telling them to tell the disciples that Jesus was not dead but had risen from the grave.
As this was shared with the disciples, they were not consoled. The mock trial of their leader, Jesus, the harsh flogging, then his brutal crucifixion had numbed their spirits. Only Peter went to investigate. He confirmed the empty tomb, yet they had not yet seen the Risen One. They stayed locked up in the upper room of the building they were hiding in. Yes, they were hiding, as they were afraid that they too might be flogged and crucified for simply knowing Jesus. It was at this point in-time that our scripture for today begins.
Can you begin to feel how despondent, hopeless and discouraged and disheartened these ten disciples must have felt? They had yet to celebrate, as we did last Sunday, in the exuberant joy we felt as we recalled the accounting of Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of God, rising-up from the darkness of death. No, they huddled in fear, with the doors locked as they tried to make sense out of what Peter and the women had told them about the tomb being empty. Where there really angels there? Had they truly said Jesus had risen? What did it all mean? Very much the questions any distraught friend or loved one might have… after a tragic death of a loved one.
When was the last time you felt as these men felt? Lost a loved one? Seems like every day we hear of some tragic event. The bombings in Sri Lanka, Christians killed during worship on Easter morning; three hundred and still counting – dead! How do you, how do we respond to such horrific tragedy, a true catastrophe to be sure! On Easter morning! Surely, our hearts go out to them at such a time as this! Fear and anger have once again reared their ugly heads! How can anger drive others to cause such pain? How, how can one not have been driven to fear… at such a moment in time as this? Anger and fear… the ultimate emotions that drive our deepest convictions and faith into hiding… at least for a moment or a period of time. And now, this too has been written in the annals of history for us to consider.
Our scripture today finds the disciples all ten of them, locked up in fear in the upper room. Yes, only ten. Thomas was not with them and Judas, whom betrayed Jesus had gone off and hung himself for the treachery his actions had caused. “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 Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” /John 20:19/ A true God moment. No drums or heavenly chorus of angels. No chirping birds. Not even a knock on the door to give them a heads up! Just a sudden and abrupt moment when the Spirit of Christ, in bodily form appears to them!
Every molecule, every fiber of my being, every fiber of our being wants to embrace this moment in history just as it is! Even Doubting Thomas, when he is told of this event, surely, he too, his very soul cried out, praying it was so! Then why did he, why did you and I also experience that moment of doubt? How could this be – we ask? We are educated people! We have learned to trust in science. Thomas had learned to trust what he could see or touch. We know that when we die, our bodies become void of our essence – our spirits and our very souls – they leave our bodies! Rightly so, as our bodies have served their purpose, their journeys have ended. Perhaps you have not considered this. Yet, who among us wants to cling on to a body which has come to its end? No, as we move to the spiritual world of Heaven, we shall need a spiritual body such as that of Jesus, whom comes to the disciples in a locked room, without opening a door. We need a body like that of the Risen Christ, a body which allows Jesus to depart in the same manner – transcending the barriers of a locked door!
We all want our own, personal God moment, a moment when we can reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’s robe and be cured of our fears, cured of our human calamities. Ah, if only we could have been there with the disciples. Thomas, as we know would not believe until he was able to do just that. “I must see and touch Jesus” he proclaims, “Before I will believe!” /John 20:25b/ Are we, are you and I like Thomas? Do we still demand proof before we shall believe? Jesus tells the gathered disciples that night: “Blessed are those whom shall believe without seeing!” /John 20:29b/
How do go forward in life without fear of the unknown? The answer, of course, is with faith. Where do we get that faith, the kind that will help us through horrific tragedies such as the one in Sir Lanka? The hatred that fueled this event is real and still very much alive. The first response to these killings is shock, outrage, despair, and anger also. Then there is the real possibility that this will happen again, and again. We just do not know where or when it will occur. So, how do we push down our anger and fear and move on? Or perhaps this is not the right response. First, and foremost, we must pray for the fallen and their loved ones whom are left behind. Secondly, we must seek God’s guidance on how to move forward. I do not know the answer, yet, I believe that if we, as citizens of this planet Earth, if we allow our own fears to permit anger to direct our choices and the choices of others, we shall only compound the situation. The question I hear screaming in my heart is – how would the man Jesus have reacted? How would the Living Spirit of Christ urge us to respond? I am personally conflicted with all of this. Yet, my heart tells me we need to step back a bit and try to see the bigger picture. I don’t know what that is, my view is too obstructed. Yet, the methods of fear and anger are not the tools of Christian love and forgiveness.
There were several others special moments which also happened in our scripture today. When Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” /John20:22/ I was scolded by my mentor when I referred to this event as of like the day of Pentecost, when I was first endeavored to preach on this passage. The difference being, that only the ten disciples receive the Holy Spirit in this occurrence of the Risen Christ. It is written, that at the time of Pentecost, the Spirit is bestowed upon a large crowd. We shall talk further about this on the appropriate occasion. Today, we must accept that the disciples on the day of which we now discuss, did indeed receive the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. This ‘in of itself’ helps us to understand how they became more vocal and able to accept what they experienced together, when, as it is written, they saw and heard the Living Christ.
Most of us focus, ‘too much’ on doubting Thomas, though the Thomas lesson is vital. Yet, several other major events are put into play within this scripture. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” /John20:21/ Here we begin to receive the instructions from Christ for the disciples to go out into the world where they are propelled to proclaim the message of Jesus – to others. Impowered by the Holy Spirit and instructed by Christ, the disciples become Apostles and are instructed to leave their hiding place, their self-proclaimed sanctuary and go forth where they are sent!
Lastly, yet not least, is the command to forgive the sins of others. Jesus says unto them: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” /John20:23/ For most of us, this instruction to forgive is very difficult indeed. However, we must look closely at our writing. Jesus bestows upon these first disciples his living presence in the upper room. Then he grants them peace while breathing the Holy Spirit upon them. Not once, but twice, and three times they are blessed and empowered by the Living Spirit of Christ. They are instructed to go out among the community, proclaiming and teaching to others of the peace and love of Christ. Telling others of Christ’s forgiveness and calling upon others to come to believe, based on faith, not on science or knowledge. Doubting Thomas came to believe because he was blessed to have that God moment, and to be in the presence of the Risen Christ. We are called upon to believe, having faith that the ‘Spirit of Christ’, will descend upon us, empowering us to go out into the community – as the Spirit so compels us.
Praise be to God. Amen.