A Reading from Scripture John 20:19-29
19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
24 Thomas, the one called Didymus,[a] one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” 26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” 28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.
“You must be relieved now that Easter is over.” It is a remark I’ve often heard as a pastor over the years. My answer is, “Yes, it is a relief to have Easter day and Holy Week over.” They are strenuous periods in the life of the church, if you have not noticed, Beth and Jennifer take a collective sigh of relief, and we find ways to renew ourselves. I must say that this last Holy Week in Easter was an extremely gratifying experience for me as we experience God’s Spirit at work in our congregation in some remarkable ways for which I am grateful. Those days did leave me a little depleted in terms of energy. After agreeing with the statement, “It must be a relief to have Easter over another year,” that is true if Easter is only a day in the early spring when the flowers are beginning to bloom, when it’s getting warmer, then the Easter is over. But, if it is a day when we pull out all the stops, celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, if that is what Easter means, then Easter is over. That was last Sunday.
But today is the Second Sunday of Easter. It is affectionately called “Low Sunday” because as you can tell, there is more room in the sanctuary this morning. That is not to bring any judgment upon anyone who was here last week and not here this week. The lilies are starting to droop. The trumpet is gone. But the Easter reality is not over.
I love Low Sunday. As much as I enjoy Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, there remains a question hanging out there, isn’t it? What do we do with this Easter message? What does Easter reality mean, not just for the high celebrations, but for the day-to-day living of our lives? You and I have a decision to make either the facts of life are set—you are born, you grow up, you live your life, and then you die—and there is nothing to do but grab what you can in the time left.
OR! If what Jesus did make a difference, it is the defining moment in human history. If the Lord is risen indeed, then there is a whole other agenda set before us.
Take a look at today’s Scripture reading from John. Thomas has heard that Jesus is alive and that the other disciples have met the Risen Christ, but he is not buying it. He wants personal proof of the resurrection—that the Jesus standing in front of him is the same Jesus who was dead as a doornail just days earlier. He wants the tactile experience of touch not words. Thomas wants to see so he can believe! What he ends up gaining from his encounter with Jesus, however, is presence. He gets so overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus, that it appears in John’s passage, that he ends up dispensing with the idea of poking his finger into Jesus’ flesh, even though most paintings show Thomas touching Jesus.
From Thomas, we learn that searching for proof of God’s existence is difficult. But experiencing God’s presence is precisely what we need. Whatever language we use to describe our hope for an encounter, the miracle we are after is knowing the presence of God in the daily decisions, the words and deeds, and the inner complexities of our lives. The miracle we want is the miracle that Thomas gets: “My Lord and my God!” he exclaims.
Prior to Thomas’s encounter with the risen Jesus, John informs us that the other disciples are locked in a room. When the resurrected Jesus arrives unsolicited, he does so with what appears to be more gentleness than the disciples anticipated. “Peace be with you,” he says twice, as if to encourage them not to lock him out of their lives, lest they miss something he has that is also something they need.
This something turns out to be his breath. With this breath, I am going to infuse you with the power and the will to forgive other people, courtesy of the Holy Spirit. It is quite the gift, if you put it to work. But first you must inhale and make my breath a part of your own.
I think of this passage about Thomas almost every time I lead a funeral like I did this time last year. It was the Easter Monday funeral of Richard Merryman. An exhausted family gathers in shock, weary from days of too little sleep and too much crying. Fingering little packets of tissue in their hands, these mourners look like the wind of life has been sucked right out of them. The present feels joyless. The future looks foggy. But seeing their despondent faces, I am moved to tell the whole gathering why the church exists. We are here to help carry people over the toughest thresholds and into a new future. To remind them that everybody needs oxygen to live—one kind of oxygen for breathing and the other kind for hoping. To inhale the spirit of Jesus and his way is to reinflate the soul and allow someone to function with hope again. Hope abounded that Monday as we celebrated Richard’s life. Hope continues to abound this time – a year later
The New Testament uses the word hope in two ways. When it comes to hoping in human beings and ourselves, our hope is always relative, uncertain. If you lend money to someone, you do so in the hope that person will pay you back. If we till and plant our garden, we do so in the hope that there will be a harvest. We choose the best methods and wisest practices to secure the outcome we want. We insist to ourselves and others that we have it sorted and under control. But we do not have it under control—we never do. This is relative, “hope so” hope.
But when the object of hope is not any human agent but God, then hope means confidence, certainty, and full assurance (Heb. 11:1). To have hope in God is not to have an uncertain, anxious wish that God will affirm our plans —but to recognize that God and God alone is trustworthy, that everything else will let you down. and that God’s plan is infinitely wise and good.
If I believe in the resurrection of Jesus, that confirms that there is a God who is both good and powerful, who brings light out of darkness, and who is patiently working out a plan for his glory, our good, and the good of the world. (Eph. 1:9–12; Rom. 8:28). Christian hope means that I stop betting my life and happiness on human agency but rest in God.
A person who gets a diagnosis of cancer will put hope in doctors and medical treatment. But the main source of dependence must be upon God. As Ann would explain her cancer situation last summer she would always say: First, I give thanks to God for my life and growth; I give thanks to Dr. Huff for her caring and compassionate management of the Multiple Myeloma; and especially to Dick who has walked our journey in love together for over sixty years.
We can have certainty that God’s plan and will for us is always good and perfect and that the inevitable destiny is resurrection. If a cancer patient’s main hope lies in medicine, then an unfavorable report will be devastating. But if that hope is in the Lord, it will be like a mountain that cannot be shaken or moved (Ps. 125:1). Isaiah 40:31 says that those who “hope in the Lord” are not anxiously holding on but always “renewing their strength” and even “soaring like eagles.” Hope in God leads to “running and not growing weary” and “walking and not being faint.” Jesus has secured this for us by his death and resurrection. When this assurance abides in us, our immediate fates—how the current situation turns out—can no longer trouble us. Hope comes from looking at Jesus.
This is a living hope. One of my friends in the ministry calls it raw hope. He said, “Raw hope begins when you have the courage to question, the courage to deal with your honest doubts.” Thomas is not thrown out of the community, but he is welcomed. The church is a place that accepts and appreciates our doubts. The hope we have is based on the God who can take our doubts and our uncertainties, our fears and our bewilderment and transform them. We grieve, the apostle Paul says, but not as those who have no hope. Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. In an Easter world, you can never tell where this hope, this love, this presence of the living God is going to show up and unlock our hopes and renew our faith.
Christ has Risen! He has Risen indeed!!!!
 Some of the material comes from Tim Keller: Hope for a Better World Starts with the Resurrection. Christianity Today April 9, 2021