April 11 sermon of the Rev. Dr. E. Bevan Stanley, rector of St. Michael’s Church, Litchfield.
From the First Letter of John: We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it. In the name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity.
Today’s readings are a simple declaration that Jesus rose from the dead with a physical body. This was difficult to believe from the very beginning, but those who met the risen Jesus had no doubts afterward. The account in the Gospel of John is vivid and clear. Let us go over it again:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them. He was physically present, but he appeared in their midst despite the door being locked. This body he has is not the same as the one he had before; it does not seem to be constrained by the normal laws of physics.
Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” We say this to each other when we gather on Sundays.
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” God sends us into the world to proclaim the coming kingdom and the Love of God in the same way that he sent Jesus into the world.
When he had said this, Jesu breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” For John, the gift of the Holy Spirit comes right away on the day of the Resurrection, not fifty days later at Pentecost. And the power of the Spirit is that we can forgive sins. Not only do we have the grace to forgive those who have sinned against us, we also have the authority to forgive sins and declare that people are reconciled to God.
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, 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 the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” This can be read as stubbornness. I think it may be a mark of intellectual integrity. Remember that, when Jesus said that the disciple knew where he was going, it was Thomas that spoke up and said what all the other disciples were thinking, “We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas believes in facts.
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Right away the disciples are meeting every week on the day of the Resurrection. Christians have been doing so ever since, and we continue that practice by gathering every Sunday.
Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Every time two or three of us gather Jesus is with us, and he gives us his peace.
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Jesus is not angry with Thomas; he knows and appreciates his character. Jesus gives each of us what we need to believe.
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” It does not say that Thomas did put his finger in the wounds or his hand in the Jesus’ side. Nor does the text say that he did not.
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is not so much a rebuke of Thomas, but a word to the rest of us who were not there that night. Do we need to see for ourselves or will we believe the testimony of others? Indeed we believe all sorts of things on the testimony of others. I am not a nuclear physicist, but I believe them when they tell me there are such things as atoms.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. This is the original ending of the Gospel of John. The purpose of John in writing this book is that we should believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that we might have life.
I do not have much to add to this. Jesus is alive. With a physical body that transcends time and space. Since Jesus is alive and not constrained by time and space, he can be with us anytime we need him. We never have to wait, or make an appointment. We have access to him always and everywhere. The Resurrection is not a metaphor. It is not just that in remembering Jesus, we keep his memory alive. No. The resurrection is a sacrament. Because he has breathed on everyone of us, we live with the Holy Spirit in us. We carry God around in our bodies all the time. Every time we go out that door into the world, God has entered it, and it is Christmas all over again. As at the creation, flesh and spirit are combined. The divine and the mundane coinhere. Everything and everybody is full of God.
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it.