Dr. Lindsey Pherigo, professor at St. Paul’s School of Theology, once described the Gospel of John as a beautiful string of pearls. Each story is beautiful in and of itself, but when they are strung together, they become a beautiful work of art. Good art is much more than brush strokes on a canvas. Good art points to a truth beyond itself. This is why the miracles in the Gospel of John are called signs. With miracles we stand in reverent awe at the power of Christ, but signs, signs call for more. Signs call for action.
When Jesus is at a wedding in Cana of Galilee the wedding party had run out of wine. Jesus tells the servants to go and fill six stone jars with water to the brim, and when the water was drawn, the steward noticed that the water had become wine—his first sign. Later Jesus returns to Cana and a royal official begs Jesus to heal his son. Jesus tells him “Go, your son will live,” and while the official is on his way, he receives word that his son is well—Jesus’ second sign. To the thousands of hungry follows Jesus tells the disciples, “Go and tell them to sit down.” To the blind man Jesus says, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.” To those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, Jesus says, “Go and unbind him.” Jesus’ signs in the Gospel of John beg for a response, or if you like, Jesus invites us into the divine action that is transforming the world. We are invited to change the world with Christ.
Of course, the greatest of these signs is the Resurrection, so for a few moments I would like to walk through Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on the eve of Resurrection Day.
–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–
Sometimes the Resurrection picture we hold in our cultural memory is one of a beautiful Spring day, the sun is up, the birds are chirping, Jesus is glowing and the orchestra is playing, “Morning,” by Edward Grieg. This is not so in the Gospel of John. Early in the morning before the sun had risen, Mary came to the tomb and found it to be empty. Jesus appeared to Mary while it was still dark. Likewise, Jesus appeared to the disciples during the evening of that day. Now John’s prologue rings true—“In him was life and the life was light. The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” This metaphor of darkness and light runs throughout the Gospel. Darkness represents confusion, as in Jesus’ midnight meeting with Nicodemus. Darkness represents evil, for when Judas departs to betray Jesus, the narrator says, “And it was night.” Darkness also represents great sadness, for the disciples had gathered after the sun had set. John wants to be clear that Christ has overcome the darkness. Christ has crucified the confusion, despair, and evil of the world. It was evening and the disciples had gathered behind locked doors out of fear, and Jesus came and stood among them.
–Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ offering of peace reminds us of the beautiful words he shares with the disciples in chapter 14:27—“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.” Jesus is saying this to his followers who are meeting behind locked doors out of fear. You see, Resurrection dispels the darkness of fear. Our story no longer ends in death. Our story ends with life. If you believe this to be true, there is nothing to fear. Peace be with you.
–After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side—
The Resurrected Christ had wounds. The wounds had been healed, but the scars are there. This is an important lesson of forgiveness. You know the bumper sticker, “Forgive and forget.” The forgiveness Christ offers is not about forgetting. Forgiveness is giving up the right to hurt someone in the way they’ve hurt you. If someone slaps you on the check, forgiveness means you refuse your worldly right to slap them back. “I’m well aware of the pain you have caused me, and I refuse to return the favor.” Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness is about healing. The fact that Christ knew the sin of humanity and chose to offer his life for us anyway brings healing and reconciliation. The fact that God knows how we have missed the mark and chooses to love us anyway is the balm in Gilead which heals the sin sick soul. The fact that God remembers and offers us grace is why Jesus showed his wounds. The wounds are still there, but they have been healed. Don’t you see it in the text? After Jesus shows them his wounds, it doesn’t bring them sorrow; rather it fills them with joy! Remember, Jesus is showing his wounds to those who deserted him. Jesus appears among them, opens his arms to them and says, “May you be filled with peace. I am alive and you are forgiven.” They were filled with joy.
–Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Go and forgive.”
Jesus again offers them peace, and like the other signs in the Gospel, a command is offered. Jesus breathes upon them the Holy Spirit and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus is sending them out into the world with the power of the Holy Spirit for the specific task of offering forgiveness, of building a world of reconciliation in which peace reigns, people are valued, and God is king.
–But Thomas, who was called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”—
I love the disciples reaction to Thomas and I think it is a lesson for us today. When they saw Thomas they didn’t say, “Where were you,” or “We are the true followers because Jesus came to us,” or “Well, if you were hear maybe you wouldn’t forever be remembered as the one who doubted . . .” No. They were filled with an infectious, exuberant joy. “We have seen the Lord!” they tell him. When someone asks us “What did you do today,” how often do we respond with a joyful, “I saw the Lord today.” You see, Thomas is called “The Twin,” and I wonder if Thomas is our twin in the story. Thomas is quite uncomfortable with believing in what he does not see.
Resurrection is an exercise in things unseen. I mentioned this last week at The River Easter sermon. When Mary comes to the tomb in the Gospel of Luke, she does not see Jesus there, and yet she goes back to the disciples and tells them that he is Risen. At times, Resurrection is an exercise in things unseen. When we no longer see abject poverty, we know that Christ is Risen. When we no longer see children who are hungry, we know that Christ is Risen. When we no longer see people vilifying each other because they disagree, we know that Christ is Risen. When we no longer see young girls being sold into slavery, we know that Christ is Risen. When we no longer see violence in schools, we know that Christ is Risen. The tomb is not so much empty as it is full of the darkness that Christ crucified. Resurrection is the proclamation of hope—faith in things unseen.
Hope is lost for Thomas, which is why he needs to see the Risen Lord. Resurrection is not only a proclamation of hope. For those who have lost hope, our abundant God also offers assurance—faith in things seen. When we gather around the table, we see and proclaim that Christ is risen! When we love our enemies, we see and proclaim that Christ is risen! When we feed the hungry and clothe the naked, we see and proclaim that Christ is risen! When we beat our swords into plowshares, we see and proclaim that Christ is risen! When all of humanity is valued as being made in the image of God, we see and proclaim that Christ is risen! When you know that you have been forgiven, and that you are loved, and that God wants to be with you each and every day, we see and proclaim Christ is risen!
The disciples gather for a Eucharistic Celebration. They gather together, Christ is present among them, Christ offers his body, fills them with joy, and sends them forth with the power of the Holy Spirit, calling them to offer forgiveness to the world. Thomas, our twin, arrives later to the gathering, as we do today. Jesus offers Thomas a blessing of hope—faith in things unseen, and the joy of assurance—faith in things seen. For those who greet the world saying, “We have seen the Risen Lord,” God offers the assurance of salvation. To those for whom these words are difficult, God offers hope, the hope of a new life, a new creation, a new kingdom built on forgiveness and grace and love. Praise be to God. Amen.