Sunday, May 01, 2011

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti – 2011

1 May 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:19-31

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Often our first reaction to something shocking, something out of the ordinary, something life-changing – is denial. “This can’t be happening!” we may even say out loud as our brains scramble to process something that makes no sense. In fact, when a person is told that he is dying, this is such a common first reaction that it is considered the normal course of beginning to come to grips with the reality that we are passing from life to death.

And yet, here we see this same denial, the “This can’t be happening!” reaction by St. Thomas as he comes to grips with the reality that the Lord has passed from death to life. For Thomas was told something shocking, something out of the ordinary, something life-changing: Jesus had not only come back to life, but had appeared to the disciples – and did so at a time when Thomas was absent.

The resurrection of the dead is so far beyond our comprehension, our reason, our normal life experience, that we should not be so hard on Doubting Thomas for his initial refusal to believe the word of his fellow apostles. Perhaps he may have thought that they were playing a cruel joke on him. People do such things. Or maybe he believed that they saw someone who looked like Jesus, and in their grief, were so eager to believe He was alive, that their imaginations concocted the story. People make such claims all the time.

St. Thomas was clearly devastated by the death of His Teacher, His Lord, His Master, His God – and you can hear the pain between the lines of his great “unless” statement: “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

What greater expression of the sinful, stubborn, faith-defying fallen flesh than the statement: “I will never believe”? But thanks be to God that the Lord Jesus comes to take away Thomas’s doubts, to restore his faith, and to bless him with not only a blessing of peace, but also a Word of life that overcomes not only doubt, but death itself. Jesus has come to take away Thomas’s sins!

“My Lord and My God!” Thomas exclaimed when confronted with the mind-boggling reality that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead!

Jesus had mercy on Thomas. He did not condemn His weak faith, but commended him to His Father as a forgiven and redeemed sinner. Our Lord did not scold him for his stubbornness, but softened his heart by presenting Himself to Thomas in His flesh and blood, in a way that Thomas could perceive bodily, even in Thomas’s own sinful flesh.

For our Lord appeared “eight days later,” also on another Sunday, the second Sunday of that first Easter season, and “although the doors were locked,” our Lord appeared. For no bolted human portal can keep our Lord out: not the sealed entrance of His tomb, and certainly not the closed gate of the hardness of St. Thomas’s grieving heart. For Jesus burst forth from the grave, even as He appears gloriously among His disciples.

Our Lord invites Thomas to come, to see, to touch. He urges Thomas to receive the Lord’s blessing of “peace” – peace between God and man, peace between men of a fallen world, a peace secured by the defeat of Satan. The Lord bids St. Thomas to step forward and examine the evidence. “Put your finger here,” He beckons, “and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

“Believe” dear friends. “Believe!” That is the message of Easter, the Good News of the resurrection, the life-changing reality that death has been overcome by life, that sin has been vanquished by righteousness, that the darkness has been banished by the Light of the World. It is the Word of the cross and the Good News of the sepulcher.

“My Lord and My God!” we confess today with St. Thomas. For we not only know that there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem that stands as a witness of the resurrection, and we not only know the irrefutable evidence of so many witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection – even the testimony of hostile witnesses of that time and place who were at a loss to explain it – we also confess with St. Thomas that this risen Man is the risen God. With St. Thomas, we believe, we worship, and we confess.

Some disbelieve. Some claim that St. Thomas was merely using the Lord’s name in vain, just blurting out the divine name to no-one in particular, that he was not confessing Jesus as God. Some claim that the account of our Lord’s appearance that Second Sunday of Easter was just a mythical story to make us feel good about ourselves. Some even go so far as to claim that Jesus never lived. Our Lord bids us to examine the evidence. Look at the historical testimony. Read the accounts of that time and place. Pore over the Scriptures. Consider the words of the friends and foes of Christianity alike! Those who do so honestly will indeed come to the same conclusion as some of the greatest minds in history: Jesus truly rose from the dead. This is an irrefutable fact of history. And this undeniable fact is something shocking and something out of the ordinary.

But what’s more, dear brothers and sisters of our risen Lord, this miracle was done not only to get our attention, but to secure our salvation. It is something life-changing as well. For Jesus not only conquers death and claims victory for Himself over the devil, but He also shares that victory with us, presenting the marks upon His hands, feet, and side before the Father, interceding for us as the one all-availing sacrifice for our salvation.

And Jesus speaks of us, and to us, when He breathes out this benediction upon His beloved disciples: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Lord does not appear to us and invite us to place our fingers in His wounded hands and side as He did with St. Thomas. But He has left the empty tomb, He has risen to the Father, and He continues to come to us in His chosen means: being present for us as His Word: His mighty and merciful Gospel is preached around the world, and in His sacrament of the altar, in which we experience the flesh and blood of our Lord just as surely as St. Thomas did on that first Second Sunday of Easter.

And though we are tempted to ponder this reality and protest: “This can’t be happening!”, we hear the Lord’s proclaimed Word of invitation: “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” and we receive this faith as a free and full gift, offered up by Him who was offered up for us.

We confess with believing joy the little creed: “My Lord and My God!” and our risen Savior blesses us, His joyful believers with the great benediction: “Peace be with you,” promising that we “may have life in His name.” Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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