Well, since it’s ready, and since I don’t think anyone from the congregation in Sutter Creek follows my blog, here’s what I expect I will preach for the Second Sunday in Easter:

Imagine what it must have been like.  A week ago, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem.  Thursday they all gathered for a special meal with Jesus.  Later that night, Jesus was arrested.  Friday morning he was tried and brutally executed while they all hid (and some of the women, braver than the rest of them, watched from a distance).  Today they were hiding, barricaded behind locked doors, waiting for the sound of footsteps which might mean that they too were being arrested …  Fear was in the air.  And that evening, suddenly, something unrecognized appeared in the room with them!

“Peace be with you,” they heard.  But they did not experience shalom.  There was no wholeness or completeness or being in harmony in their hearts. They might well have thought they were seeing a ghost. They must have been scared witless!

But Jesus, it was Jesus, showed them his wounds.  They recognized him by his wounds, certainly a ghost wouldn’t have wounds, and they rejoiced.  It really was Jesus!  And again he said to them, “Peace be with you.”  And he added, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Then he breathed on them.  “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Thomas wasn’t there, and Thomas had not seen Jesus.  And that’s all the others seem to have seen:  their leader, Jesus.  In theory, they have been empowered and they have been sent.  But they’re still huddled together behind closed doors one week later when Jesus appears among them again.  They have been sent, but they have not gone out.  They have received the Holy Spirit, but they have not recognized their empowerment.

“Peace be with you,” he greets them again.  And then he turns 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.”  And in my mind, Thomas does none of that.  Rather he drops to his knees and addresses Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God.”  The others had seen their leader, their Lord, the person, Jesus.  Thomas recognizes in Jesus both his leader and his God.  Thomas believes.

We, I think, usually mistake knowing facts for belief.  But belief is not primarily about thinking something is factual.  In James’ letter he notes that the devil knows it’s a fact that Jesus is the Son of God.  But knowing this to be a fact does not save the devil – rather it terrifies the devil.  It’s not about facts.

Belief, as Jesus uses the word, is about being in a committed relationship.  It’s the kind of trusting commitment that married people should have with each other and that they commit their lives to.  Jesus addressed his comments to Thomas.  But Jesus must have been addressing his other, huddled followers as well when he told Thomas not to be doubting but to believe.  They had seen Jesus, and they had rejoiced.  But they had not seen God, and they had not gone forth.

I don’t know if you’d want to say that they were doubting or hiding or still processing what all this meant.  But they were definitely not believing.  They didn’t really see the whole picture.  They didn’t trust enough to stake their lives on it.  They weren’t fully committed.  Their relationship with Jesus wasn’t yet where it needed to be.  they didn’t fully understand – not the facts – but the truth.

The facts of how Jesus came to stand among them and what kind of a body he had really didn’t matter.  But the truth that Jesus was their God and stood among them again after his death by the power of God was essential.  In the person of Jesus they had a new relationship with their God.  In Jesus they had a saving relationship with their God.

Scholars tell us that the end of this morning’s gospel reading was the conclusion of an earlier draft of John’s gospel.  And it makes sense to me that it would have come, in that earlier draft, in the same complete unit we read this morning.  Because the conclusion seems to build on what I’ve just said.

“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples,” we are told, “which are not written in this book.”

So why were these signs written in the book?

These signs are written in this book so that you may come to believe that Jesus is God’s anointed, the messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life.

In other words, John’s gospel was written to bring you into a relationship with Jesus.  John’s gospel was written to tell you the truth about Jesus.  John’s gospel was written so that you might believe in Jesus, and your relationship with Jesus, and trust in Jesus, and stake your life on Jesus.  If you can do this, if you can believe like this, then your relationship with Jesus will bring you life in Jesus’ Name.

Nothing else can.

Only your relationship with Jesus can bring you life.

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer.  Amen.

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