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Coming to Believe

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid. Posted in Sermons

Easter 2 A      John 20:19-31

Last week, on Easter Sunday, I told everyone gathered here that God’s intention that day was to give us, feed us, and fill us with, the resurrection life of Jesus, so that God could then send us out empowered to live that new life into our homes, communities and world. And to be honest, I don’t really have much beyond that to say today, other than to say that it’s still true. God’s intention here today is still to give us, feed us, and fill us with the resurrection life of Jesus, so that God can again send us out empowered to live that new life into our homes, communities and world.

In fact, I could just let that be my sermon every Sunday and perhaps save us all a lot of time. God wants to give us new life, Easter life, eternal life. Jesus was God’s way of accomplishing that. Jesus’ life lived for others, his self-giving passion, his death and resurrection was God’s way of birthing that new life, that new creation, for us. And this weekly gathering, these words, this Baptism, this meal, this time together and the blessed sending that concludes it is God’s way of giving that new life to us, and extending that new creation through us.

At the end of today’s gospel reading, John tells us that this perpetual intention of God was also his intention in writing his gospel. Jesus did many other things, John says, that he didn’t include in his gospel, “but these are written” he says, “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.”

Our believing was John’s goal, because he knew that our believing was God’s goal, that our having life in Jesus’ name is God’s purpose. God wants to give us new life, Easter life, eternal life, and in gatherings like this, all around the world, God still fulfills that purpose and accomplishes that goal.  

Look at how John describes Easter faith first coming to people and then spreading through them to others. In his gospel, Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb. Peter and John come along and fumble with the abandoned grave clothes. Mary is surprised by Jesus in the garden outside the tomb, and she goes and tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” Only that personal witness from one of their own doesn’t seem to get much Easter life into them. That evening, Sunday evening, Easter evening, they gather together in fear, John tells us, behind locked doors afraid that what happened to Jesus might just happen to them.

And then, when they are together, Jesus comes. Jesus speaks peace to their fearful hearts. Jesus shows them his wounds, helps them believe that he’s truly present in their midst. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them. He fills them with his new resurrection life, and then, he sends them out with the authority to spread that new life by forgiving others their sins.

To me, that sounds like church. Early church, certainly. First experience of what God has done in such gatherings ever since, to be sure, but it’s a gathering of people on a Sunday at which Jesus shows up, lets people touch his wounds, and breathes Easter life into them and send them out to spread that new life to others. And by the time John wrote his gospel, that weekly gathering was already the habit of the early believers, and that Easter evening encounter would have sounded to them like church as well.

Which brings us to Thomas, who wasn’t there, and who because he wasn’t there, and wasn’t breathed on and filled like the others, couldn’t, maybe even wouldn’t believe…. not without seeing and touching the risen Jesus for himself. So what does John tells us next? …That A WEEK LATER….his disciples were again in the house.

Why do you suppose John tells us that? What kind of gathering happens once a week? And on Sunday? And what difference does it make to have been there? What do you miss if you’re not? This time, Thomas is there, so when Jesus shows up, (as Jesus tends to do at these gatherings) Thomas gets what he needs to believe – Jesus really present and there for him. Thomas hears Jesus’ voice, sees his face, touches his wounds, and filled with Jesus’ resurrection life, Thomas blurts out “My Lord and my God!”

And then Jesus speaks his blessing to every reader of John’s gospel ever since, God’s blessing to every believer since Thomas, right down to you and me: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The faith that fills us with life in Jesus’ name, the believing that fills us with Easter’s new life, comes to us from a God who comes to our weekly gatherings to give us, feed us, fill us and send us forth into the world with Jesus’ Easter life. Belief isn’t something God only expects, or requires of us. It is something God goes great lengths to give us. Faith isn’t something that God waits for us to muster up on our own in order to receive the risen Christ into our hearts and lives. Faith is what God creates and feeds into us and stirs and renews in us through this weekly rhythm of gathering, word, meal and sending.

On this second Easter Sunday Thomas reminds us that though our world may assume that we come here BECAUSE we believe, the reality is that we come SO THAT we can believe, in order to believe, to be sustained and strengthened in faith, and to receive the new life God so lovingly wants to give us that God gave his only Son.

So forgive me for repeating myself, but it seemed important and worthwhile to do. I’ll try to come up with something new next time we gather….a week later….again in this house…where Jesus still makes it his habit to come and stand among us, show us his wounds, his body broken for us, feed us his Easter life and send us out saying  “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”    AMEN