Monday, April 12, 2010

Second Sunday of Easter

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: John 20:27
Theme: Thomas’ Gift

Christ is risen!

Dear worshippers of the risen Jesus,

Things change. Easter changes things. Sometimes things change gradually and almost imperceptibly, at other times immediately and emphatically. Some change is good, other change is bad. Good or bad God uses change to move history towards its conclusion. Unbelief invites the final separation from God for which it strives while Christ prepares the faithful for an unending fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In heaven change (as it relates to aging and decay) becomes obsolete.

Following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead the disciples faced dramatic changes in their lives. Thomas is a key person in these post-resurrection events. The disciple named Thomas was a twin. He was commonly referred to in this manner until Jesus’ resurrection. He was later dubbed “doubting Thomas.” He has been known in this way ever since. Absent when the risen Lord first appeared to His disciples Thomas was not convinced Jesus was alive. “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”1

And so it was that Jesus allowed Thomas not only to see but also to touch His resurrected body. But Jesus doesn’t simply give in to Thomas’s request or use it as a way to make an ostentatious show of power. This is about more than just Thomas; it is about the faith of the apostolic church throughout the ages. It was on the testimony of these witnesses that the church would be built. The words of these eye-witnesses, recorded in the New Testament testifying how Christ was the fulfillment of the Old, would be the means by which the Spirit gathers the church. St. John says today, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”2

It is commonplace to believe things on the testimony of others. Were you there when Plato and Socrates waxed lyrical, Alexander the Great subdued nations, or Rome stood for a thousand years and then crumbled? Were you present when the pyramids were built in Egypt, the Great Wall in China, or the Mayan temples in Mexico? You have not seen these things, and yet do you not believe them?

Satan though is very skilled at placing seeds of doubt. He cultivates deeply, scatters broadly, and waters frequently. This is true in regards to the minor issues that contribute to the fabric of our Christian faith and life as well as the major ones that form the foundation. Doubt can come unexpectedly. Lord Halifax, a former foreign secretary of Great Britain, once shared a railway compartment with two prim and proper-looking spinsters. A few moments before reaching his destination the train passed through a tunnel. In the complete darkness Halifax kissed the back of his hand noisily several times. When the train drew into the station, he rose, lifted his hat, and in a gentlemanly way said: "May I thank whichever one of you two ladies I am indebted to for the charming incident in the tunnel." He then beat a hasty retreat, leaving the two ladies glaring at each other. How much more cleverly does the devil cause us to question and then bid us to glare at each other!

The tendency to doubt that God is always and ever concerned with our well-being is what drives every lapse towards unbelief. We may deplore our sins, but we’d often rather trust ourselves as sinners than Christ, the one who has conquered sin and frees us from its retribution. The law of God constantly calls us to self-recognition of our failings, sins, and short-comings. It demands we own up to our transgressions. It finally insists that we accept the truth about ourselves: We remain sinners always in need of the mercy of God. That situation will not change as long as we live on this earth.

Our sin is also the cause of tension, confusion, and even brokenness in our human relationships. We become tangled in battles of will; sometimes locked in an embrace of mutual determination that holds little hope of being broken. We become inflexible towards those to whom we should be most vulnerable, unavailable to those to whom we should be most helpful, condescending towards those to whom we should be most humble.

God knows that we grapple. Attacks come relentlessly. We are stretched by doubt, tested by trials, and tempered by failures. Our passion becomes quenched, our integrity compromised, and our apathy immovable. But Christ is risen, and He sends the Spirit to breathe new life. Again, and again remember His promises. Again, and again receive His forgiveness. We are not baptised without purpose or effect. We are cross-bearing people and the resurrection of Christ doesn’t make our struggles trivial, it invests them with real meaning.

Thomas is for us-if we are honest- someone with whom we can resonate. But we dare not ask for what he did. Jesus needs to make no such concession to us. Thomas’s witness is a gift to our faith. An historical faith in the biblical witness is not saving faith. The Holy Spirit forms within the heart a reliance on the Christ who was not only part of history but who directs history to the fulfillment of His purposes. Abraham was called from Ur of the Chaldeans, Moses led the people from life along the Nile in Egypt to the deserts of the Sinai peninsula, David ruled the united kingdom from Jerusalem, Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. These events happed at specific times and in distinct places as part of God’s plan of salvation. On the other hand to claim we have saving faith- trust that Jesus died for our sins- but that the historical events are more or less irrelevant is a contradiction that undermines the very foundations of Christianity. The two always go together.

And we are not left without God’s tangible means. Jesus has broken into our world to alter its destiny. His presence is not maintained by the power of the mind or the skill or the imagination. We still hear, we still see, we still taste the blessing of God. Thomas touched the flesh of the risen Christ. You receive His flesh and blood in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine. How privileged were those who were eye-witnesses to the risen Jesus! How privileged are we to have this sacred food! Thomas’s Lord and God is our Saviour. In this meal we participate in the continuity of salvation history.

Jesus lives! Like Thomas many still doubt that this could be true. For others it just seems irrelevant. For many the drudgery of life continues on under the dark shadow of sin. To them Christians are lights in dark places. We bring glimmers of hope and reflections of peace. We engage people not with artificial happiness but humble and honest reflection on the truth. The power of death has lost its sting. Christ has freed sinners from their fate! Existence does not hinge on correct solutions to global warming or the blind chance of evolutionary theory. The sacrifice once made is still accomplishing its purpose. Jesus was not a footnote in history. History finds its completion in Him. The risen Christ is a preview of the believer’s own resurrection. “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father- to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”3

Christ is risen!
+ in nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday of Easter
11 April 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 20:25
2 John 20:31
3 Revelation 1:5-6