The Second Sunday after Easter – Series C – John 20:19-31
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
You and I have an unhelpful relationship to Christian clichés and platitudes.
Those well-known ideas and popular phrases that often appear on Christian Greeting cards, in Christian literature, in our own conversations and in Christian culture.
We know them well, we hear them often, we use them frequently…
And with no doubt, our use of these clichés and platitudes of the faith, are spoken with the best of intentions.
We quickly call them to mind when we’re trying to comfort someone suffering in the faith, or encourage someone dealing with the challenges of this life.
The problem though, with Christian clichés and platitudes, is that we aren’t always very thoughtful with what they mean or with what they’re actually saying.
We don’t always ask the important questions like, is this phrase, is this idea, actually helpful? Is it actually true? Does it actually confess the fullness, the comfort, the assurance and certainty of the faith that Christ himself has come to hand over?
As we turn to our Gospel text in John 20, we find St. Thomas struggling with the nature of the faith, with the certainty of believing and the solid ground of trusting that Jesus actually is risen from the dead.
In his struggle and skepticism, there may be a part of us that would go running for those age old clichés and platitudes, so as to knock some sense into St. Thomas.
We might be tempted to step up and proclaim, “Don’t worry, Thomas, just have faith”
“Don’t think about it, because it’s a faith thing”
“Stop trying to understand it, Thomas, and take it on the basis of faith”
Those Words might sound nice, they might even sound like real confidence, the Words of trusting, devoted Christians who choose faith rather than doubt.
But are they actually helpful, are they actually true, do they actually reflect the kind of faith that Jesus has come to give and gather his whole church into?
And what do these kinds of Words and ideas say about what the Christian faith is supposedly all about?
Do they not imply that faith is merely the white noise to our lives of constant doubt?
Do they not seem to say that faith doesn’t answer any of our real questions of pain, struggle, skepticism or disbelief, but rather serves to block our ears and minds and bury our heads in the sand?
Is that what Christian faith is all about?
Is the Christian simply one who has chosen to plug his ears to his own doubts and bottle up his fears instead of seeking relief?
Is that the kind of comfort and peace that Christ has come to give?
Again, as we turn our attention to John chapter 20, we find not just Thomas at the center of our text, but in truth the very nature of faith, where it comes from, how it grows, and most importantly, where it finds its home, its source, its font of life.
We tend to have a stumbling block and a blind spot with this passage, and that comes mostly through our familiarity with it.
We know the story well, and especially that of Thomas, or as he’s so well known in our hearts, as ‘Doubting Thomas’.
But today, I’d like to invite you to look with new eyes on this familiar story, to set our assumptions aside and examine Thomas a bit more carefully, along with the Word of faith that Christ comes to give.
For why is it just Thomas who gets the bad rap, and is forevermore remembered in Sunday School lessons as ‘Doubting Thomas’?
After all we never talk about St. Peter as Denying Peter or Sinking Peter, or St. Paul as Murdering Paul or Stoning Paul, we don’t speak of Worldly and Proud James and John, or Cowardly Mark, or Softie Barnabas, but we’re nonetheless, all familiar with Thomas…and why is that?
Are Thomas’ doubts really all that different than our own? Or that of the other apostles?
Doesn’t Thomas just want, like we all do, a tangible faith, something that he can touch, and see and believe?
After all, the other 10 apostles who gathered in the upper room that first week, did indeed touch and see and believe.
Are Thomas’ demands, therefore, really all that unreasonable? Really all that out of the ordinary? Doesn’t he just want what his brothers had the opportunity to do and see?
And what about us?
Are we ever just a little bit jealous of the 1st century Christians who were with Jesus in those 40 days after his resurrection?
Do we ever feel that they had something more to believe in? Because they actually saw Jesus?
We might think to ourselves that where we have to take everything by faith, they had the luxury of sight?
Perhaps this where those clichés are founded, in the jealousy of the first century, that since we live in the time where Jesus is not found walking about the earth like he did with apostles, that we need to buck up and just have faith, just believe, just be more devoted.
Yet John chapter 20 is not given to us so that we would chastise St. Thomas, or wallow in our own self-pity and hard knock life kind of faith.
It is given to us that we might see the very center and heart of this passage, so that we might not miss the greatest greeting in the history of the world…the first Words of Jesus to his sub-par disciples, and the Words that encapsulate the very content of our faith.
As we find in the Gospel text, Jesus places no stock in faith by sight, this is why he says to Thomas, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed’.
But this not because seeing is somehow bad, or that touch is somehow un-Christian…it’s because you and I and the apostles and Thomas, have already been given everything we need…far in advance before putting our hands in his side and seeing his body.
The resurrection, though remarkable, wasn’t really something that happened out of right field.
Jesus had spoken countless times to his disciples prior to Holy Week that he would need to suffer, die, be buried, and that on the third day he would rise.
Way before Thomas could touch the body of Christ…Jesus had already supplied the faith and confession that gives life and life everlasting.
That is, the sure foundation of God’s spoken Word.
The God who does not lie, the God who does and accomplishes what he says he will do, the God whose own Word holds its weight.
For he promised, I will rise…not I might…not if I get around to it…but a promise…and a promise delivered from lips of God in flesh, speaking and creating and finishing in the very formation of his own Words.
For his Word is that same authoritative Word given to Adam and Eve in the garden, though they then disbelieved and sought a new faith by touching, tasting and eating.
Yet the problem, the issue, the doubt is not sight itself…it’s not touch itself.
The issue, the problem, the danger is when we place touch, taste and sight over and against the promise and the Word that has already been nailed to tree and crucified on our behalf.
For indeed, the Word of promise matters.
The Word of Christ is the content of faith.
It is the very location, spring, origin, source and font of life…here you are found, here you are made alive.
For your faith is sustained, found in and returning to the Word of Christ, which is indeed his very flesh and blood.
This witness of the apostles, which was given authority by Jesus as he breathed the spirit on them, is what you have believed, it is the life that you have.
And it is held together not by touch or sight, but by the eternal Word of God…who comes to you in body and blood, water and Word.
It is not because of these things that you can touch and taste and feel that you believe in him, it is his true Word that secures and creates your faith, and keeps it with him unto life everlasting.
And so this Word of promise, the one that is truly the center of this passage, found on the lips of Christ who stands in the midst of the upper room and shatters sin and death with these Words:
Words that create faith, sustain it, give life and destroy death…these Words, and this greeting, “Peace to you”
This is not some simple greeting…this is rather, what the crucifixion and resurrection of God, accomplishes.
Peace, forgiveness, reconciliation.
It is no small thing, and something that we should not gloss over, that the first Words of Christ to his disciples, after they had fallen asleep, run away, and denied him:
That his first Words are not, ‘try harder’, or ‘it’s a faith thing’
Instead, his Words to them, and his Word to you is peace, it is the promise, the Words that only he has the authority to speak.
I have done it, it is finished, you are mine, and therefore, peace to you.
Your falling asleep in the garden, it is finished, peace to you.
Your denying me three times, it is finished, peace to you.
Your jealousy of others faith, it is finished, peace to you.
Your doubting and disbelief, it is finished…peace to you.
The true faith is not intangible, it is not irrational, and it is not ignorance of what we cannot explain.
The true faith is not just a faith thing, or something that you have plug your ears to.
Jesus never leaves you in your suffering, in your pain, or in your doubt.
His Word of life is the very thing that brings peace to your suffering, healing to your pain, and his body and blood to your doubts and questions.
For it is the Word of life shining forth from the grave.
The Word of promise.
The Words that cut through sin and death, temptation and despair and do what they say…peace…to you.
For it is finished.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.