This is my sermon from the Second Sunday of Easter, based on John 20:19-31. We always read the story of Thomas on the Second Sunday of Easter, and it can be hard to find new ways to experience this text. In this sermon, I decided to focus on the ways the disciples have let their fear close out the rest of the world (and the way we sometimes do the same):
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is the day of resurrection, in our gospel reading. When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week—that day is the day of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene has run from the tomb to the disciples to proclaim that Christ is risen! The resurrection has happened, and she has seen the lord!
And what do the disciples do with that wonderful, miraculous news? Are they celebrating? Are they breathing sighs of relief? Maybe, just maybe, we might hope that they might be out evangelizing—that is, sharing that good news with others.
But no, they’re not doing anything remotely like that: When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week (the day that Mary Magdalene had proclaimed the resurrection): the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked out of fear.
They certainly had good reasons to fear. Now of course, it says that they were afraid of the Jews. Well the disciples themselves were Jews, so they weren’t really afraid of the Jews—they were afraid of the corrupt leaders who had conspired to have Jesus killed. Perhaps that was a good enough reason to stay locked away. Their leader, who they know was innocent, was brutally executed by the state—what’s to say the same wouldn’t happen to them.
But what I find most curious, is that even after Jesus comes to them—he comes through their locked door, and offers them peace and the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine? It says the disciples rejoiced, when they saw the Lord. He has kept his promises to them, not only to return, but to give the promised Spirit.
They proclaim to Thomas, who was missing, that they have seen the Lord! And Thomas, of course, wants to also see the Lord for himself. But what I find curious, is that even after this proclamation of We have seen the Lord, the next week, they are once again in that house, and the doors are once again shut.
Even after the encounter with Jesus, even after their joyous proclamation, the doors are still shut. The actions of the disciples do not match the good news that they have to share. Fear is a powerful thing.
When I was thinking about Fear, what kept coming to my mind was the Pixar movie Inside Out. It’s a movie where the emotions that a young girl experiences are personified, and we see the way they interact with each other. Fear’s job is to protect young Riley and keep her safe. Fear is constantly on the lookout for potential disasters.
This is an important job—fear is often a logical emotion, that keeps us from doing potentially harmful things, things that we really shouldn’t be doing. But, through the movie, we learn that there are very few activities and events that Fear doesn’t find to be dangerous, and usually potentially fatal. If Riley listened to fear all the time, she wouldn’t ever leave her house.
If we let fear rule all of our actions, we wouldn’t ever leave the house. Sound familiar? The disciples aren’t just experiencing fear, but they are letting that fear control their every action. They have literally enfortressed themselves—barred themselves away from interacting with others. They gather together so that they might be safe.
Which brings me to the question—why should they gather together, and why do we still gather. Like the disciples, sometimes it might be that we feel safe here. That’s good—I hope you feel safe here. But sometimes we take that safety to the extreme. When we sing Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” often what we might truly mean is, “a mighty fortress is our church.”
We may gather because it is safe and comfortable and familiar, but when we barricade ourselves in, we have missed the mark. So why do we come together, each and every Sunday, imitating those first disciples, gathering on the first day of the week?
Is it to make God happy with our presence, with our worship and praise? Not really, although I’m sure our gathering does please God. Is it to learn good morals and how to be an upstanding, Christian? No, although maybe you will. Is it to learn and educate ourselves about our faith? No, not even this, although hopefully it does happen from time to time.
These are all things that might happen when we gather, but they are not the reason we come together. We gather so that we might encounter, so that we might be encountered by, the Risen Christ. We, like Thomas, have heard the news, but we too want to hear it ourselves, we want to see, we want to touch and feel the fact that Christ is Risen and to know what that means for us.
This week we celebrate first communion with our second graders, Jack, Cole, and Graci. It is the tradition at St. Paul’s for first communion to be the second Sunday of Easter—the day we hear Jesus say to us: here I am, touch, see and believe. Just as he did for Thomas, in this meal, Jesus offers his very self to us, his body and blood, that we too might believe and be renewed. We receive as a gift his love, mercy, and gift of himself.
How might our encountering Jesus, how might our being fed and being forgiven and receiving God’s grace—how might it move us beyond fear? We have seen the Lord! Instead of closing and barring our doors, let us live as a church, let us live our whole lives, with open doors.
Open doors not just so others might come in—but open doors so that we can also go out. In our personal lives in our families, that we might be open, but also as a church. Church is not just something that we come to, but something that we take with us. We take that mercy, and grace, and forgiveness that we have received here with us—to let it shape our lives and share it with others. Most importantly, we take the love of God with us. It’s not something that can be contained by doors.
We have seen the Lord! May our lives live out that wonderful news. Amen.