"The Ultimate Blessing" - Easter 2B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
April 8, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
John 20:19-31

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Easter 2B – April 8, 2018

Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31


The Ultimate Blessing


              One of the universal human experiences is that of being hurt. And I’m not talking about physical hurt – I’m talking emotional and spiritual pain. The pain of loss. The pain of betrayal. The pain of brokenness. All of us at one point or another feel this kind of pain. We lose a beloved family member. We go through a divorce or the death of a spouse. Someone we thought worthy of trust betrays that trust in some way. Our church, community, and country change over the years, to the point where we barely recognize the age we live in. All of us know this kind of pain. It cripples us. It can close us off from each other, to the point where we would rather be alone, brooding on our own hurt.


              The Gospel of John is sometimes called the “spiritual” Gospel by scholars and theologians, because it seems to be less concerned about actual historical events and more concerned with the meaning of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for those who have faith in him. And yet, it doesn’t have to be either “historical” or “spiritual”. They are not mutually opposed. On the contrary. The reaction of the disciples after the death of their Lord and Teacher is to be expected.


              There they are, closed off in that room. Shut away. In fear of the religious authorities, who might come for them next. In fear of the state, who might do to them what they did to Jesus – state-sanctioned lynching. We know what hurt and betrayal feel like, as I’ve said, but I’m not sure that we know what it feels like to be on the wrong side of the law. To be utterly hated, as they were. No wonder they were afraid! Huddled together in that little room, they were likely waiting for the furor over Jesus to die down before they dispersed back to their homes. Back to their previous lives. Sure, they had heard a report from Mary Magdalene that she had seen Jesus, and Peter and John had seen an empty tomb. But there was nothing more than that. A rumor and an empty tomb. That was not enough to dispel any fear or doubt.


              Bit to their complete shock, Jesus suddenly appears in the room with them. Not a ghost. Not a mere vision. The physical, yet glorified Jesus, flesh and blood, is in that room with them. Imagine, for a moment, that you heard that one of your loved ones had been killed. But to your amazement, you find out that they are still alive. The joy, the elation, the new hope that would fill you might be like the joy that overwhelmed the disciples. Their Teacher, Lord, and Friend wasn’t dead, but alive! Somehow, someway, he had triumphed over the cross. Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit and then sends them into the world. Commissions them, so to speak, as apostles, to bring the gospel of salvation into the world. And then they joyfully go out and do exactly that!


              Oh wait – that’s exactly what they don’t do! (Just like the women last week in Mark’s Gospel! They were told to tell the disciples, and they flee in terror.) You can imagine that Jesus appeared among them. Joy, peace, and renewed purpose filled their hearts. And then, after Jesus left…it fell apart again. Next Sunday rolled around, and they were back in the same room. Shut away. Fearful. In their cave, isolated from the world.


              Only this time, Thomas was with them.


              All I can say is, thank God for Thomas. Thomas spoke those harsh words that we all think and say from time to time, if we’re honest with ourselves. We, too, struggle with what it means to love and follow Christ when we have not seen him. We, too, struggle with what it means to be a Christian in a world where Christ seems to be physically absent. We, too, from time to time, think, “How can I believe unless I see?” After all, unless we have been the recipient of an extraordinary (and incredibly rare) vision, none of us have seen the resurrected, glorified Christ directly. What we do see directly is the institution of the Church itself – a gigantic, flawed, institution that is so often very far from the ideals of sacrificial love that its Savior embodied.


              But that’s not all there is to Jesus. There’s far more to Jesus than what we can see.


              When Thomas is there that night with the other disciples, Jesus appears again. He invites Thomas to see and touch him. But Thomas no longer needs to do so. He gives the clearest confession of Jesus’ identity in any of the four Gospels – “My Lord and my God”. And Jesus pronounces this ultimate blessing – this ultimate beatitude, if you will (And I mean ultimate in both senses of the word. The is the last time Jesus uses the Greek word, makarioi, which is translated “blessed” or “happy”. And it is also the greatest blessing for those on this far shore of the post-Easter Church.) “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”


              We know that the beatitudes in Matthew and Luke are filled with irony. The poor, the weeping, and the hungry are not obviously blessed from a worldly point of view. Neither are those who do not have a seeing basis for their belief. Yet, Jesus declares all of them blessed. All of them, happy. We who do not see the physical Christ in our midst still have him among us, even though we do not see him with our mortal eyes. He is here among us in the breaking of bread. He is here among us in the hearing of the Word. He is here among us, present through the Holy Spirit which renews, strengthens, and sustains our faith. Remember that Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit – the Advocate, the Comforter – to his disciples after he leaves. That is precisely what Jesus did in today’s Gospel, and it is precisely what he does for us today. He calms our anxious unbelief by sending us the Holy Spirit – often in very subtle ways. He opens our eyes to see his work within sinful human beings like you and me – work that is being done in organizations like the Gideons, giving the gift of God’s Word all over the world. Work that is being done through our own church organizations, such as Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Disaster Response. Work that is done on a very local level, when one Christian gives comfort to another who has suffered loss. We who have not seen are happy because, ironically, we can see Jesus’ work diffused throughout his worldwide Church.


              And that is what can get us outside of our Lutheran cave. Jesus gives us the gift of the Spirit so that we can have the courage to unlock the door and go outside. To see the amazing things that he is doing in the world. To be part of those things ourselves. Jesus once raised Lazarus from the dead by saying “Lazarus, come out!” He now raises us from our slumbers and sweeps away our fears by telling us, “Lutherans, come out!”


              Let us pray.


              Lord Jesus, we often keep ourselves and our faith locked away because we are afraid. Give us the eyes to see what you are doing in our world, and the boldness to join it. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.