Sermons That Work

The Incident in John’s Gospel…, Easter 2 (A) – 1996

April 14, 1996

The incident in John’s gospel today is not the first one where Thomas goes and puts his foot in his mouth. Earlier, as Jesus was preparing for his arrest and death, he told the disciples, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas leapt in, saying, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” John gospel portrays Thomas as a very concrete thinker. He needs specific directions and clear goals. His demand for proof that jesus had risen has given him the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” But I don’t see Thomas as a doubter, I don’t see him as anything other than faithful. Rather, I see him as a person whose faith is strengthened by his visible, tangible experiences of God.

I would probably be every bit as suspicious as Thomas was, given the circumstances. His teacher and friend, his Lord, had been arrested, cruelly tortured, and shamefully executed. This is not what is supposed to happen to the son of God, and Thomas’s faith in Jesus was shattered. And now, his other friends were telling him that God has raised Jesus from the dead, proving that Jesus really was the Son of God just as he claimed to be. Thomas was afraid to hope that Jesus really was alive, it would be too painful to believe it and find out it wasn’t true after all. There was nothing in Thomas’s experience that could convince him that this news was possible.

Jesus gave Thomas that experience by inviting Thomas to touch the wounds of the crucifixion. Jesus engaged Thomas’s senses: Thomas heard his Lord’s voice, saw his Lord’s face, and had the opportunity to touch his hands and side. And, it was through that sensory experience that Thomas was the first human to speak the truth that was revealed on the Cross: Jesus as his–and–our–Lord and God.

But Jesus also tells us that those who believe without such a concrete experience are blessed. And that doesn’t sit well with me, because, like Thomas , I’m something of a concrete thinker. I long for those tangible, audible, visible signs that tell me that “The Lord is Risen!”, so that I may reply with all my heart, “Alleluia! He is risen indeed.” No, I will probably never have the experience of putting my hand in the side of one who was wounded, dead and risen. At least, not in the way Thomas did. But the generations of believers that have come after that meeting in a room in Jerusalem are blessed because Thomas went before us and showed us what to look for. We can believe because we can find the risen Lord in so many places, if we choose to look.

How do you touch the resurrection? What gives ordinary people like you and me that a crazy fisherman had so many years ago? We share Thomas’s experience every time we recognize that sin and death and brokenness are not the final word. They are real, there is no doubt about that. Just like Jesus’ death on the cross, death really is dead. For the one who dies, it seems like there is no hope. For those who mourn, it seems as though there will be no end to the grieving. But the cross and resurrection tell us something different. Every time good conquers evil, we have the opportunity to see that life wins over death.

In my own life, I have touched resurrection. The power of God’s love for his broken and sinful people has brought life into situations where only death was visible. My own story involves a loved one. A young woman, beautiful, intelligent and funny, is also an alcoholic. From junior high school until last year–more than half her life–addiction was a living death for her. It led to alienation from friends and family, bankruptcy, depression, and dangerous–even life- threatening–situations. But, with God’s help, demonstrated by a loving community, she has had more than a year of sobriety. She is being led out of the death of her addiction and raised by God to a new life. Alcoholism has left its scars, and she will bear them for the rest of her life. Some of them will fade, some, like the wounds of Jesus will stay as reminders of what that death did to her. She does not yet recognize that it is God’s power that has raised her from death to life. But, I cannot look at this person I love. knowing where she was and seeing where she is, she is, and not know that it is my Lord and God, who has done this. Like Thomas, I have had a personal, tangible encounter with the resurrection.

I come from a parish that is in the midst of an inquisitive community. St. Thomas–the fisherman, and the parish in which he continues to live–has taught me how to touch resurrection every day. At Marquette University, I am part of another community of faithful people who come to know God through what their eyes and ears and hands tell them. God has given us these gifts of physical and intellectual sense, through which we know the world. He hasn’t left us concrete thinkers out of a life of faith, our loving Lord invites us to touch him all the time. And as we use our sense to find the risen Jesus in our midst, we raise our voice s with Thomas in the joyful proclamation: “My Lord and my God!”

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Christopher Sikkema


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