Acts 2:14, 22-32 John 20:19-31
On that first Easter Sunday…as Mary cried “Rabboni” after Christ had called her name…she apparently threw her arms around Jesus. But…Jesus cautioned her to not cling to him. He wanted her to realize that a new relationship was in the process of being established. The comfort that awaited Mary and her friends…that exists for you and me…was far more than his physical presence could ever give.
It is very significant that here…as in the other three Gospels…Christ first appears to the woman Mary Magdalene…not to an apostle…not to the great in society or those with strong faith…but to a particular woman. Christ appeared first to one who in the culture of the time was oppressed…a woman who had known great sin. What a great comfort it should be to us that Christ always comes first to the poor in spirit.
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That truth will never change.
How must Mary have felt at that moment? She had been on an emotional roller coaster for days…and now she was deliriously at the top. Off she went on another cross-country run to the disciples. It must have been very satisfying to say to the disciples…”Say…Peter…John…men…I have something to tell you…I’ve seen Jesus.”
What a day it had been. Multiple trips to the tomb. Multiple retellings. The report of the encounter on the road to Emmaus. Dark threats and rumors too. By now it was Sunday evening. Despite all the excitement…the band of apostles was afraid…and so…in a private room…behind closed doors…they sat together to try to sort it all out.
Suddenly…Jesus appeared to the disciples. He was in their midst though no one had opened the door. Hearts raced. Adrenaline flowed. Goose bumps appeared on goose bumps. Jesus greeted them…”Peace…Peace be with you.” Jesus then displayed his hands and his side. The disciples were overjoyed.
What a day! Without a doubt it was the most dramatic day in the history of the world. But one disciple had missed the whole thing. Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
Now…we all deal with our emotions differently…and perhaps Thomas’ grief had driven him to go elsewhere to be by himself. He was not a coward. He was the man who said…”Let us also go…that we may die with him.”…and he meant it. He had probably simply broken down under the pressure of the last few days…and his way of dealing with problems was to be alone. He was not a person to act like he believed when he really did not. So…when the other disciples approached him saying…”We have seen the Lord!” Thomas answered…
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were…and put my hands into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 19:25)
Some say Thomas spoke for the whole world…people who say…”Give me scientific or physical proof and I’ll believe!” I am not so sure. Sometimes I think the world’s view is more like this…”Show me the facts, and I’ll invent another theory.
Years ago Hugh Schoenfeld wrote a book entitled “The Passover Plot”. This book popularized the ancient swoon theory. That theory claims Jesus had not actually died but was unconscious when they placed him in the tomb. While he lay there…unconscious…the spices and linen bandages provided a helpful dressing for his injuries. Finally…the dampness of the tomb revived him and allowed the resurrection hoax to take place. Aside from ignoring the testimony of the Gospels…that the soldiers…hard-boiled professionals…proclaimed him dead…that no human could survive the process of torture and execution as the Gospels describe…this theory creates more problems than it solves.
Others say the body was stolen by either Christ’s enemies or his disciples. Either alternative is a psychological absurdity. His enemies would not have wanted to encourage belief in his resurrection…and his disciples could never have accomplished it. Besides…they not only believed and preached the resurrection…disciples died for it. Who would die for a lie?
The difficulties of belief may be great for some…but the absurdities of unbelief are even greater. The liabilities of unbelief are also much greater…for those who reject the resurrected Christ will never rise to eternal life with him but will instead spend an eternity separated from God because of their delusion.
God blessed us with a remedy for Thomas that is also a remedy for us and those we encounter. The Lord gave Thomas time to think about the situation…eight days to be exact…and Thomas did just that. He was fellowshipping with the apostles…a week later…
“Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your fingers here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:27-28)
Thomas may have been slow to believe…but he was not slow to grasp the meaning of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus was not only his Lord…but his God. The evidence could be felt…it was substantial and clear. Thomas’ faith rested on a solid rock.
What about us…and those we encounter? The evidence is still just as substantial and clear. In believing there is always room for more…it is not a ship of fools. We have the prophetic sermons…those that Peter quoted…to confirm faith. We have the testimony of the resurrected lives…as Peter told the crowd. And…the 20th century American novelist and poet…John Updike gave us strong words of proof in his poem…”Seven Stanzas of Easter”
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as his body;
If the cells dissolution did not reverse, the
Molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
And Charles Wesley reminds us so that we can…with joyous music…tell all … like Peter did …in the hymn that’s first in our United Methodist Hymnal…”O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace.
My gracious master and my God, assist me to proclaim, to spread through all the earth abroad, the honors of thy name.
Jesus! The name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows to cease, tis music in the sinner’s ears, tis life and health, and peace.
He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free; his blood can make the foulest clean, his blood availed for me.
Yes…the blood of our Lord and Savior…availed for you and for me!
The Lord gave one final blessing on those who do not see and yet believe. We have great joy now…and will someday share in the likeness of his resurrection. In the words of Joni Eareckson Tada…a world class competitive snow skier who lost the use of her arms and legs in a skiing accident…from her wheelchair…she says…”I know the meaning of that now. It’s that time after my death when I’ll be on my feet dancing.”
Let us prepare for the dancing…prepare by using our tongues…to share the joy and peace that come with belief…not just on this special day…but every day…let us share with all the good news.
Let us accept the peace that Jesus offers…and greet everyone as Jesus offered…”Peace…peace be with you.”