A sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Acts 5:27-32 ++ Psalm 118:14-29 ++ Revelation 1:4-8 ++ John 20:19-31

When last we heard from John’s gospel, it was Easter morning at dawn, and Mary  Magdalene discovered the tomb empty with angels sitting where Jesus’s body had been, and then she mistook Jesus for the gardener until he spoke her name. After that, she hurried to preach to the disciples the first Easter sermon, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).

Our story picks up this morning on that same day, but it is evening, and Jesus suddenly appears to the disciples, presumably in the same house they had stayed in since coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. It is interesting to note that neither John nor Luke limits the number of disciples to the surviving eleven. In fact, Luke specifically says that the “eleven and their companions” had gathered (Luke 24:33). This could mean any number of followers of Jesus, including the women. So when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on them, he is commissioning all of them – whomever happened to be gathered there – with the power to forgive sins. This is important, because Jesus got in a lot of trouble with the religious leaders for pronouncing forgiveness of sins when he healed people. Only God can do that, they said to him. And now, not only is Jesus forgiving sins, he’s letting everyone else forgive sins, too! Is there no end to the madness?

And then there’s Thomas. This is one of the few times that we read the same scripture on the same day every single year, without fail, and it’s important that we do so for many reasons. Perhaps most obvious is that Thomas’s absence and his need to see to believe serves as a stand-in for all of us who weren’t there on that first day. Thomas is, then, all of us who may find it hard to believe without seeing.

On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene went to Peter and John to tell them that Jesus’ body was missing. They came to see that what she said was true, and then left. It was only then that Mary actually sawJesus and was able to return to them with this happy news.

In Luke’s telling, the women – “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women” (Luke 24:10) – who came to the disciples and the others gathered with them to tell them what the angels had said. And the disciples dismissed their words as “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11). The word they used, however, is stronger than that, and it isn’t found anywhere else in scripture. The Greek is λῆρος, and it’s closer in meaning to a word I probably shouldn’t say from the pulpit.[1]Let’s just say they called it garbage. They did not believe these women who were part of the community, whom they knew and trusted. Thomas didn’t believe the others, either, whom he knew and trusted. These people had been following Jesus around for years, and yet they could not take at face value the reports that Jesus had been seen alive, risen from the dead.

Now, we’re a community here. Some of us have been here longer than others. Every week I stand here and tell you about Jesus and all the miracles and signs and wonders he has wrought in scripture and in my life and in the world, and I sometimes wonder if you’re all sitting there thinking it’s just λῆρος, garbage, an idle tale. And if y’allare wondering that, can you imagine what all those people out thereare thinking? 

But how will you know if I don’t tell you? And if you find it to be an idle tale, that’s the invitation for you to go and see for yourself. To find the risen Lord in the streets and alleys and workplaces and shops where miracles and signs and wonders continue to occur.

And how will all those people out there know if we don’t tell them? Yes, you risk being told you’re full of garbage, but if you tell them, maybe they will go and see for themselves. Just like John and Peter. Just like Thomas. It is hard if not impossible to believe up here, in our heads. True belief comes from an experience of the living God that knocks us down, takes our breath away, and refuses to let us go.

Frederick Buechner wrote:

THE EARLIEST REFERENCE to the Resurrection is Saint Paul’s, and he makes no mention of an empty tomb at all. But the fact of the matter is that in a way it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis what convinced the people that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence. And so it has been ever since. [2]

It is Christ’s presence with us, the warming of our hearts, that is how we most experience the truth of the resurrection. 

It is in families that bring their children to be baptized into the community, and for whom we make promises to support in their life in Christ, that we best experience the truth of the resurrection.

It is in walking through the valley of the shadow of death and coming out the other side that we experience the truth of the resurrection.

If the only confession of faith we are ever able to muster is “My Lord and my God,” we will have said all that we need to say.

Christ is Risen. Alleluia!

[1]I am grateful to Anna Carter Florence for his explanation. https://youtu.be/MM_NIBHDAHs


ASEPA sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019 – The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas