Thomas and the Road Toward Trust

Sermon for April 3, 2016
Location: Bear Creek Lutheran Church in Grand Meadow
Title: Thomas and the Road Toward Trust
Gospel: John 20:19-31

Today’s Gospel text is the story of learning to trust again - learning to try again - learning to believe again. It’s the story of what happens to the disciples AFTER Jesus is crucified, dies, and is then raised again to new life.  

A lot happened in the three days between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. It was a whirlwind for everyone.  And from the sounds of our Gospel reading, none of the disciples experienced it exactly the same way. 

Today - April 3, 2016 - we’re now a week out from Easter. But our Gospel text is a time machine calling us back to that first Easter - the one we celebrated last Sunday. Only today’s text isn’t Easter morning - it’s Easter evening. 

Here’s where John, the author of our story, had left off…. 

Mary found an empty tomb and became worried that someone had stolen the body. She saw some angels. Then she saw a man she assumed was a gardener. It turned out to be Jesus. She rejoiced and told the disciples the news. But for whatever reason, they were unconvinced. 

That’s where today’s reading picks up. John 20:19-31. 

It’s nighttime and the disciples are together (minus Thomas). Let’s pause for a moment and imagine their emotional state at this point. We’ll pause and separate for a moment from our joyful Easter resurrection emotions and try to step into the shoes of the disciples. (We know the happy ending, but they didn’t yet).  

At this point, the disciples are defeated, disappointed, confused, and in deep grief. They’d left everything and spent the last three years following Jesus from town to town. They’d watched him heal people. They’d watched him dine with people no one else would dine with. They’d heard him speak up and argue with really powerful people of the sake of love and justice. And then they’d watched him die a really painful death. They didn’t see it coming. They were blindsided. 

Grief is an awful ache, and they were in the thick of it. Not only that, they were afraid for their safety…and understandably so. Jesus had been murdered; there was no reason to believe they wouldn’t meet the same fate. So they were together in a locked room…maybe wishing they could just close their eyes, wake up, and it would all just go away. 

Into that reality, Jesus shows up. Right in the midst of them. In a locked room. First words: Peace be with you. That’s really something. Into that state of their extreme disappointment and grief, they are offered what they needed most from the one person they needed the most: peace. He breathes onto them - and tells them that they have the Holy Spirit, and then he sends them out. He says, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you.” Jesus saw them in that room looking inward…getting stuck in sadness and fear…and then he reoriented them back out into the world. 

Thomas wasn’t there. But it’s worth noting that he’s likely going through all the same emotions. Profound disappointment, sadness, despair, confusion, and grief. We don’t know where the disciples found him, but maybe he was at his home sitting by the light of a candle…exhausted from three nights of gut-wrenching grief. 

For years, Thomas had listened closely to everything Jesus said. He’d trusted God. He’d trusted Jesus. He’d followed. And then he’d watched Jesus die. Thomas was lost in grief. 

So the disciples show up at his house; they're so jazzed…so pumped. They’re thrilled. But Thomas is having none of it. The Gospel lines recorded are Thomas saying, “Unless I see it and feel it, I won’t believe it.” I wonder if there was more…spoken or unspoken. I wonder if his posture was less that of a know-it-all needing scientific proof, and more that of a completely emotionally exhausted person who can barely get out of bed. In fact, maybe he couldn't even get out of bed, and that's why they had to find him at home. I wonder if Thomas was saying, “I’m not doing this anymore, guys. I can’t. It hurts too much. I’m sick of trusting and trying. I don’t want to be this disappointed ever again.”

So the days tick by. One. two. three. four. Eight days. Eight nights. Thomas doesn’t abandon the disciples…they are his best friends after all. They’re all together one night, and Jesus shows up again with the same message: Peace. 

He walks over to Thomas…showing Thomas his wounds. Our English translation is, “Do not doubt but believe.”

The Greek version is closer to:  “Trust me.” Jesus is extending a hand of peace to Thomas and saying: “It’s safe. You can trust me.” And Thomas says: “My Lord and my God.” 

Jesus’ death was a trauma for everyone who knew him - for his family and followers and disciples. When he returns from the dead, he seems to recognize that what they need is peace. Every disciple is processing what has happened a little differently. Jesus meets them where they are...physically and emotionally.  

The disciple's story is our story…a journey of learning to trust…to believe…to leave our locked rooms and go back out into the world. Jesus meets us where we are, too. 

Stuff happens. Big stuff. Stuff that is confusing and painful. Stuff that causes huge masses of grief. Following Jesus doesn’t prevent pain and trauma and tragedy. The disciples experienced that. And we experience that. 

Yet in those realities of life - we are offered a message of peace. And we are given the Holy Spirit. And with that, Jesus also gives us the power to forgive.  He says that explicitly. That’s a big deal. Peace + the Holy Spirit + the power to forgive. Combined, that makes a pretty great recipe for life.  

Our reading concludes with a reminder that these stories were written down so that we might believe in Jesus and experience life in his name. The actual Greek word used in that sentence, "believe in Jesus" also means entrust. Entrust our lives to Jesus. 

Trusting is not always easy.  It wasn’t easy for the disciples…it wasn’t easy for Thomas. It took courage.  The same is true in our lives - as individuals, as a congregation, as a synod, as a world. It takes courage every day. To keep trying…to keep learning…to keep trusting. To keep showing up and then to keep going back out into the world. 

Thankfully, we only need to go one step at a time, and we never go alone. 

We go with the Holy Spirit and each other. The disciples had each other. And we have each other, too. 

May you remember that presence of the Spirit - with every single breath.