19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written 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.
John’s text actually contains a multitude of preaching possibilities.
One could preach on:
Fear and faith —
Belief and doubt —
Being locked in verse being sent out —
Shalom vs disordered brokenness ––
Suffering vs glory —
Perhaps at the foundation of all these thoughts is the realization that Jesus is alive and the nature of joy. While all those ideas are good ideas what the story is really about is that indescribable and unexpected joy of knowing that Jesus is alive. Really Alive! And what that means to us. How that empowers us.
Jesus’ disciples watched him die a torturous death, without mercy, and without them being able to help, and now he lives!
I know that I have talked with church members in the past and sometimes got the distinct impression that they truly doubted that the idea of life after death. Some people even church people sometimes think that this life is all there is, and when you are dead you are dead for a long time. I can understand that point of view. Eternal life and heaven is not something that we can scientifically proof. We cannot weigh it, measure it, or test for it, and yet as Paul once said:
1 Corinthians 15:12-19
“12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:50-53
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
At the center of our gospel is the proclamation of a living joy for you and me. Jesus is risen and we too are alive in him.
So, the questions may come, how do we know? Do we encounter this living Joy in this life?
Well, the truth is that yes, we do indeed encounter the living joy within our ordinary world from time to time. It usually catches us unawares. We cannot trap it, or catch it, but we do sometimes experience it. Often, I believe God reveals this joy to us when we need it the most. Sometimes it is in the stories and lives of others even more than our own, and like Thomas we are called to simply believe.
Growing up we lived close to a first cousin of my Dad’s, Midge. Midge married Ed, and Ed was the guy that everyone would call on when they needed something fixed. If it was made of metal and had wheels, Ed knew how to weld it or fix it. Anyway, Ed’s father passed away one day, and Ed said he was in the house looking out toward the backyard and there he saw as clear and real as day, his father standing in the backyard. Ed went outside, but by the time he got there his dad had vanished. Later in the years we lost Midge to cancer, and one day when I was visiting with Ed he told of how he had been somewhere and he looked in the mirror of his car and saw Midge standing there. He said he turned around and she vanished from his sight. Ed was just a down to earth person. Sometimes he and Midge went to church but not every Sunday. Still, he believed in God, and he had these experiences. Ed had no doubt that there is life after death.
Now we might like to think this is just the story of one person, but I have heard such tales more than once from a few people. In death there is a mystery of life and a hidden joy. The joy comes not from dying, but rather from the secret of living. Joy is the laughter in the other room and if we listen, we end up wondering what is so funny. What are we laughing about?
My Grandmother once suffered a heart attack in her 50s and had a near death experience, before people were even talking about such things. She was always a person of good humor, a smile on her face and strong faith. Later in life as she was dying, she was lying in a hospital bed and she looked off at a distance and exclaimed, “Oh its so beautiful.” My Mom who was standing there asked her, “What is beautiful, mom?” and my grandma paused for a moment and then replied, “Oh Wheeling.” Later my Mom said that she was seeing more than Wheeling, WV. Either she just didn’t want to worry us, or the heavenly city was such that she didn’t have words to describe it. There in the distance
Revelation 21:18-21 (NRSV)
18 The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass.
19 The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.
We are silly because we may tend to think that the description of the heavenly city is metaphorical. What if God has laid out for us the plain truth of what is to come. Someday in Christ when you see it for yourselves will you not disbelieve in Joy that God has already told you what will be. You will laugh because it will turn out that you already knew what God has prepared for you. When we encounter the inconceivable truth, the response is Joy.
I could still go on and tell you more stories, but the point is summed up: In the mystery of faith is life and joy. This is God’s gift to us.
Maybe you have heard or encountered stories of your own. Those times when we discover that this life is more wonderous and lasting than we can possibly imagine. This is when we encounter joy. You thought you were at an end and something reveals to you that to God it is just a beginning. There is a profound mystery that catches the person unaware. It is like a treasure dug up in a field, or a pearl of great price. Something of value that is kept and never sold, because you become aware that its value cannot be equaled.
In large ways and in small ways I believe that God reveals these truths to us. It was Jesus who was crucified, and it was Jesus who came back to us, and it is Jesus who continues to carry us from fear to faith, doubt to belief, form being locked in to being sent out, and from the brokenness of life he offers us Shalom, that we may touch the face of glory. When we receive these gifts the only thing we may be able to do is laugh, because we are tickled with Joy.
Jesus is alive! Indeed he is alive! Truly, really, undeniably, and he is not finished with us, he is just beginning! Amen.