Sermon for the First Sunday of Easter - John 20:19-33
Imagine yourself amongst Jesus’ best friends. Friends who had hurt him the most. We’re talking about the disciples. His inner circle. The disciples are hiding in the upper room, possibly the same place they had the “Last Supper.” The same place where we are told that on the night he was betrayed, Christ took bread. That these disciples, these apostles are the very same people who betrayed Jesus. Abandoned him. Denied him. Ran away from him. And the first word he says to them is – “Peace.” Shalom. Greets them with a holy greeting. Not saying “Sup!”, or “how’s it going?”, but “Peace.” Peace in your fear. Peace in your shame. Peace in the midst of your sin. Peace while you yet do not believe. A Peace that does not just rest upon the disciples, but peace that becomes a mission. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
Think about all that the disciples have seen of Jesus. What they may think this mission or sending will be. “Ok Jesus, Let’s go. Who you want me to heal? Will I be able to walk on water like you? How about party tricks like water to wine? I could use some wine.”
“Oh, hold your horses’ boys. There are no powers save one – Forgiveness. As the Father sent me to forgive sins, so I send you to forgive sin.”
What a weird super-power. Forgiveness. Not a call to love, although love is absolutely part of this work of forgiving sins. An actual calling to forgive those who have wronged you, wronged Jesus, wronged God, wronged our neighbors.
What is even more crazy is what Christ says to us is not that we have a decision to make on which sins to forgive, that we can decide, but that the decision has already been made, which is scary. The true reading being – “Whichever sins you might forgive stand as having been forgiven already.” Meaning that this mission of Christ, which looks so much different than what we are told, right? We see mission in the church as some work we do of making the world better. Building things. Fixing things. Changing things. Voting a certain way or feeding people. Here Christ says, your mission is to forgive sins I already forgave. To announce truth I already have given to them, which is that your sins, though many or few, are forgiven you.
I’m sure many of you have heard sermons about Thomas. Thomas whom we have given an inglorious title to, right? What is it? Doubting Thomas? A disciple for whom his legacy in the western world is one of doubt and he has been lampooned that. Yet, his doubt is the most honest portrayal of the life of faith. Faith is not a power we hold or some magic formula, but just trusting something to be true when everything around us says it isn’t. Thomas was absent when Christ first appeared on the day of Resurrection. His fellow disciples then tell Thomas and he’s like, “Right. Jesus is back from the dead. Dead people don’t do that. Not to mention those killed by the Romans. Romans know how to kill people. Make them suffer. Unless I see him with the holes in his body that can’t be duplicated, as the Jesus he is, I ain’t believin’ you.”
We sneer – What a jerk. He didn’t believe. O, Thomas, ye of little faith. But in fact, he is one of great faith. He desires to know. He wants his Jesus. In fact, in the Eastern church he is praised for this because he is not just going on some blind faith, but he wants his Jesus to be the Jesus he needs. His doubt is such that he is driven to seek the truth. Not obstinance. Not like most of us who hear something one time, take it as truth, even though it may not be, and then never change our minds. He is neither stubborn, nor one with some blind faith. He desires Jesus for who he is but he is not going to live off of someone else’s faith.
Taking it to another level. I do even wonder if the doubt of Thomas was not that Jesus lives. He had witnessed him raising Lazarus. He was actually the only one of the disciples not hiding. He was always the one more brash than the others. Willing to stick his head out. I wonder, though, if his doubt was attached to those words – Peace be with you. Almost thinking – After what I did. Fleeing from the soldiers. Abandoning Christ to die. Running in fear. Letting it happen. No way does he come to me and say – Peace. So, Jesus comes to Thomas in that word – Peace. Peace for the one who thinks forgiveness is untrue. Peace for the one who thinks he is still at war with God after what Christ has done and is doing, forgiving the sins of those who are even his enemies. Forgiveness being powerful for the worst of the worst and even the best of the best.
As a child I grew up in the Nazarene Church where testimony was important. Having a conversion story. Something like – I was in a gang, sold drugs, killed people, but Jesus found me strung out in a hotel room with three hookers and now I have never been the same. I used to be jealous of those stories. I wanted a story like that. Then I grew up and realized, no one wants a story like that. Not because they don’t want Jesus, but because you don’t want the pain before the healing. Unlike some others, I grew up in the church. I read my Bible daily. I’ve sung a large percentage of the hymns. I’m a Pastor’s kid. I went to a Christian college. I have been a worship leader, a Sunday school teacher, a youth director, a seminarian, and now a pastor. I don’t have some major conversion story, and yet, Christ comes to me saying – Peace be with you. Saying – I forgive you all your sin. To the one you think is a “good Christian boy.” Even I, quite regularly, need Christ to come to me, wounds and all, to say I forgive you. I might not have the street-cred sins that make the papers, but I have my own sin. Christ needing to speak regularly, because even I forget. Then Jesus Christ sends us in forgiveness to share it. Do as I do. Forgiving sins. Because when you forgive in the name of Christ you see people healed. When you forgive sins in Jesus, you see those who thought they had no sin come to realize they do, but also a Savior. And here is Jesus announcing that the life of a Christian is lived by those words. Because otherwise, left to ourselves, we either spend our time comparing our hearts to those of others, which never works because we don’t have x-ray vision, or we become so self-righteous that Jesus loses all his power for us because we don’t want his death and life. But the funny thing is, no matter which one you are, the addict, the self-righteous Pharisee, the “good little church boy”, each one has Jesus Christ invade the locked rooms of our souls to speak his word to you – Peace. Be forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.