John 20:19-31 (ESV)
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld."
 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe."
 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."  Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe."  Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"  Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and My God!” what other choice did he have? Jesus had given life to dry bones, to a dead corpse. He had raised it from the dead. And I speak not of Christ’s body which Just a week before had been laying in a tomb, but of Thomas’s own body. Jesus in demonstrating his life had just given life to Thomas, true life, life as he had never known. Because Jesus had risen from the dead, and showed himself to Thomas, offered to have Thomas thrust, the Greek reads throw, his hand into his side, he had managed to give Thomas life, to give him faith.
Thomas was a skeptic. He heard reports of Jesus living and wanted evidence, not just the hearsay of his friends, he wanted to see for himself. One perhaps wonders why he doesn’t believe his fellow disciples. I suppose one could wonder on that forever, and maybe never have an answer. He was being asked to believe a quite incredible and earth shattering thing. That Jesus had risen from the dead.
Wolfhart Pannenberg asserts that this could mean only one thing for a pious Jew, the day of resurrection had happened, the resurrection of which Ezekiel speaks in out Old Testament lesson, which is the most concrete prophesy concerning the resurrection one can find in the Old Testament. This meant the end times were upon us. In fact this is the interpretation that is given from Peter’s first Pentecost sermon all the way on through to the end of the book of Revelation, the end times are upon us. The first fruits of the resurrection are found in Jesus, our own resurrection will follow. But Thomas knowing all these implications responds, “My Lord and My God.” Yes he bows his knee to a man and calls him God. Unthinkable in Jewish piety and thought. He calls a man God. He calls Jesus God. This is incredible, this is what it means to be a Christian. It means to believe that Jesus is God, that God lived as one of us, that God died on the cross for us, that God rose from the dead, that God himself atoned for your sins, that God has given you life in Holy Baptism, that he sustains that life in his word and in the sacraments. Our proof for the existence of God is the historicity of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Prove that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and I’ll find something else to do.
Today we have quite a few who, like Thomas, want to question this resurrection. Jesus doesn’t promise to personally show up and allow them to feel the wounds. Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. I think it is important to point out, Jesus considers Thomas to now believe. But he knows not all will have the same opportunities, Jesus will go to the Father, he will ascend, at the next opportunity to see him face to face, it will be too late, on that day though every knee will bow, every tongue confess, the end times will be over, on that day all the dry bones of the desert will be resurrected, those who believe in Jesus Christ will be given life. So today is the day. Today is the day to believe. And though Jesus has ascended, and we don’t all get to touch his wounds, there is still good reason to believe the testimony of the disciples.
That said, I think it is important to dwell for a moment on what is that we are asked to believe. Many today have a problem with the church, with Christianity, or what they think is Christianity. And you know, it isn’t necessarily their fault. I’d have a problem with what they think is Christianity. I would. But it is only what they have been taught. They are taught the Ten Commandments and are told following those is what it means to believe in Jesus Christ. Actually I think that might be an improvement on the whole situation. Most often the Ten Commandments are given lip service and then they are given a list of rules that have nothing to do with anything written in scripture. This just sets a person up to fail. It really does. It sets them up to fail and fall. And when they fall they fall hard. We see it in our neighbors. I talked to a girl the other day who has given up on church, because of these things. She was a bit skeptical that our church would be any different. She had been to a few that talk about forgiveness with the right hand, and take it away with the left.
I struggle with that at times. Forgiveness is central. It is why we come to church. It is why we receive communion. It is really why communion is so central to our worship. It is one of the reasons I insist on having it every Sunday. I’d have it more often. It is the one reason that the confessions say we have it every Sunday and on all high feast days, which would include Good Friday too. In truth many of those early reformation churches would have communion services many days a week. It really is central to who we are, and there in no uncertain terms when we receive the Body and Blood of our Risen Lord and Savior, who giving us this body and blood gives us his life with the forgiveness of sins. It is central. That isn’t to say I think we should not try to follow the Ten Commandments, the golden rule and so forth. In fact it is the death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins that gives us reason to do so. I think this is the great thing of Christianity. Other religions will give you moral rules to follow. Many of them boil things down to something along the Ten Commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself. I think most people know they are supposed too. But in the death and resurrection of Christ, we have been loved. We have been loved beyond our wildest dreams. In that we are given reason to love, we are given love itself. And it is this love then that shapes our morality, shapes our relationships with others. We don’t do good works because we expect to receive anything from them. We don’t follow the Ten Commandments primarily out of fear of punishment or desire for reward, but because we cannot imagine how to Love our neighbor without following them. Even the first three commandments we follow not only out of Love for God, but a desire to share that love with our neighbor.
For example, last Sunday we had 70 some people in church. It was awesome! You know how wonderful it is to have so many of our friends together? You know what joy that brings to others? To see you here? It pleases God for you to be here so he can give you yet again his Forgiveness of sins, and extend his love to you in this way, but the fellowship of the saints, the communion of saints. To worship together, it really is a matter of the more the merrier. And in doing so, you do share the love of God with your neighbors, by showing them how important it is for you to receive his forgiveness to grow in the faith. And believe it or not the more you come, the more others will come. I think one of the greatest acts of evangelism a person can do is not actually walking through a neighborhood knocking on doors, but actually just going to church one’s self. Evangelizing yourself. How can you give what you don’t have, and the more you have it, the more you have to share, the more you will share. And we need that here. We do here. And it works, and it is here that the breath of life is breathed out in the forgiveness of sins, where doubting Thomases are given the reason to be no longer disbelieving but believing. Just as Thomas was converted on the first day of the week, when the disciples had already gathered together to remember the events of the week before, and to worship our lord who says even to you: Peace be with you.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen