Acts 1:3-5, 12-14+Psalm 41:1-4, 12-13+Romans 7:1-2+John 20:19-31
Sometimes church time can be confusing. Many of us gathered here last week celebrating the resurrection, hunting Easter Eggs, singing our little hearts out. And then we went about our business of the week. Some of us were on spring break and got away for a bit. Some of us took a couple of days to unwind. Most of us, I imagine, went about our week just the same as we do every other week. Going to work, school, the gym, the grocery store, and all of that. And here we are again, a week later.
Well, that’s not the way church time works. In our story from John, we are just later that same day. Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus in the garden, he told her to go and tell the others, and she went to the remaining eleven disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
Our reading today picks up later that same day. The disciples are holed up behind locked doors when suddenly Jesus appears to them and says, “Peace be with you” (20:19) when it’s a pretty sure bet that they felt anything but peace in that moment. They have just experienced a traumatic few days with the arrest, torture, and execution of the one they thought would be the kind of savior they expected. One who would overthrow the powers and principalities in the usual way rather than allowing himself to be arrested and killed. And who knew if they might be next?
There was one of the eleven who was not there with them. Maybe he drew the short end of the stick and had to go out for supplies or something, or maybe he went and waited at the tomb to see if Jesus came back. We really don’t know, but he missed the excitement and refuses to believe it based on the word of the others.
And so the following week, Jesus comes again, shows himself to Thomas in all his risen woundedness, and Thomas then believes.
John writes this story for those of his own time who lived 60 or more years after these events. How are we to believe if we don’t see and touch and hear? Well, Jesus offers a blessing to us, those of us who do not see and touch and hear. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:29).
It would appear that those disciples who were in the room in Thomas’s absence did not do a very good job of telling that story. Maybe they continued to hide in fear, not behaving much like believers in what Jesus had promised. Maybe they were just too afraid to talk about it for fear of seeming silly or looking like that had taken leave of their senses. At some point, though, we know they made a course correction because the word spread. The Holy Spirit came on the 50th day and gave them power from on high to carry the Good News into all the world, from Palestine to Egypt and Turkey and Rome and east to India until, all these centuries later, it comes to us right here in Hoboken, New Jersey in the United States of America.
How is it, then, that we believe without seeing? How is it that the Word came to each of us so that we felt our hearts “strangely warmed,” as John Wesley put it? And what are we supposed to do with that, anyway?
I don’t know how many of you remember middle school math, those equations where we learn where if a=b and b=c, then a=c? It’s the transitive property.
Well, John gives us a transitive property of resurrection here today, because when Jesus says to them that God has sent him and he sends them, them God is sending them and, by extension, us to proclaim God’s peace to the world. And he breathes on them, giving them the gift of the Spirit even before Pentecost arrives.
In the early church, the custom arose that, just as the Spirit moved over the waters in creation, the priest would blow on the waters of baptism and also blow on the candidates for baptism in imitation of Jesus right here in John 20. Now, in the age of COVID, I won’t be blowing on anybody today, but it is in that giving of resurrected life – resurrected breath – from Jesus to the disciples and to everyone who came after that the people who call themselves Church carry their own new, resurrected selves into the world.
In baptism, we are dead to sin, not just our own personal misbehaviors, but the sin of humankind that fills the world with war and poverty, disease and hate. We are born to new life, and every time we witness baptism as we will this morning and renew our baptismal promises, we are born again.
So, if anyone ever asks you when you were born again, just tell them you were reborn in your baptism.
No hiding behind locked doors, friends. No going back to life as usual. Once you receive this gift of new life, there is no turning back. We cannot prove that Jesus rose with formulas or photos or certified documents. No, but we can prove it in how we live it. That is the gift that came from God to Jesus to the early believers, and to us. And now it’s our turn to do something with it.