Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) – 2017

23 April 2017

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In this second Sunday of Easter, we often focus on the person of St. Thomas the apostle, “Doubting Thomas” as he is often nicknamed.  And Thomas’s confession is dramatic.  But what is far more important than Thomas and his doubt and confession, is the object of his confession: our risen Lord Jesus Christ!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that He was truly dead, and now He truly lives.  What the disciples saw at the cross was not some sort of illusion or trick.  The wounds they saw – including St. John’s gory account of the Roman spear being thrust into our Lord’s side to assure His death through the issue of “the water and the blood” from His body – these mortal wounds were not a clever conspiracy.

But there is so much more that our Lord is teaching us to confess about Him.  For example, our Lord confirms the Most Holy Trinity: “As the Father has sent Me,” He says, “I am sending you.”  And then He breathes on the disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.  If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

Here we see the Father sending the Son, and the Son sending the Holy Spirit.  Here we see the Most Holy Trinity coming to sinful men, authorizing them to speak on behalf of God, bearing the keys to forgive or to withhold forgiveness from others.

Our Lord gives this authority to those whom He is sending out, which is what the word “apostles” means.  He gives the Holy Spirit to them, so that they can forgive sins.  And they in turn will lay hands on other men to give them the Holy Spirit, so that this ministry of forgiveness and the use of the keys will continue for as long as people need to be forgiven their sins.  Our Lord also passes to them the burden of church discipline, to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant.  

St. Thomas had seen the Lord forgive sins.  He had heard our Lord delegate authority to preachers and send them out bearing Good News, even being empowered with authority over demons.  None of this was Thomas’s stumbling-block.

Rather it was the bodily resurrection of the Lord.  This was, and is, the most difficult – and the most liberating – teaching of the Christian faith.  Nobody has a problem with Jesus being born.  Nobody has a problem with Jesus preaching and teaching.  Nobody has a problem believing that Jesus died.  And truth be told, most people would have no problem with Jesus “going to heaven” and doing whatever disembodied spirits do.  Most people love the idea of Jesus’s “teachings” – especially in matters of ethics, of tolerance, of love, of acceptance, of turning the other cheek and of not being judgmental – even as there are other teachings of Jesus most people would rather ignore.

But where we Christians get real pushback is from what really put Thomas to the test: the physical, bodily resurrection.

Unbelievers tell us it’s a myth (though they cannot explain the empty tomb, the historical accounts of appearances of Jesus, the fact that the apostles chose to die rather than renounce their belief in the risen Jesus, and other such dilemmas).  Some unbelievers weave together laughable theories, such as a botched crucifixion, or a conspiracy to steal the body of Jesus, to lie about it, and then to die under torture rather than admit the truth.  Jews tell us Jesus died, but deny the resurrection.  Muslims deny the execution of Jesus.  Some heretical groups argue that Jesus ceased being divine when He died, while others claim He became an angel after the crucifixion.  

The resurrection of Jesus is both the central tenet of Christianity, and the one that is hardest to believe.  Even Thomas, who witnessed Jesus’s miracles for three years – including the raising of Lazarus from the dead – had trouble believing the testimony of the Marys – and now of the other disciples – that they “had seen the Lord.”

Thomas expresses his resistance to a bodily resurrection by invoking the flesh of Jesus: “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.”  He simply will not believe in the physical resurrection of the once-dead Jesus.  

He might have believed that the disciples saw an apparition or ghost.  He might have believed that they had some kind of vision or trance.  He might have believed that Jesus spiritually rose from the dead.  But what he could not fathom was a revivified body walking out of His own grave.

But, dear friends, think about what the bodily resurrection of Jesus means!  It means that Jesus has truly overcome sin, because sin leads to death, and death leads to corruption.  Jesus has reversed the process.  Just as His body saw no corruption, and His body rose from death, and because He, the sinless one paid the ransom for us poor miserable sinners, that means that we too can look forward to standing upon our feet, a great army of the redeemed, former dead, dry bones revivified by the Holy Spirit: not to be ghosts or angels or fond memories in someone’s heart, but rather to be restored with sinews, flesh, and skin, to have the spirit blown back into our dead bodies so that, yes indeed, these bones can live!

This is what it means that our Lord Jesus Christ “has overcome the world.”  We live in a fallen world.  Everyone and everything dies.  Every human being is sinful and corrupt and mortal.  That is our world.  We accept it as normal.  “To err is human,” we say.  But Jesus says that to be human is to be in the image of God.  And He leads the way from the tomb to the newness of life, to incorruptibility, to eternal communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

And that communion is fleshly, dear friends.  Jesus communes with us the same way He communes with Thomas: physically, in the body, in the blood of His wounds.  “Put you finger here,” He says to Thomas.  “Take, eat; take drink,” He says to us.  “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And like St. Thomas, many Christians find it hard to believe that the physical Christ is among us.  He is with us in His Word, forgiving our sins by means of the Holy Spirit that He sent to us as pastors bear the keys.  And He is with us in the same risen fleshly body presented to Thomas, being offered to us in the sacrament.  

And what is far more important than our ability to explain what happens in the Lord’s Supper is just who is physically present with us when He comes to us.  He bids us: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And on this day and on every day in which the Lord comes to us in His body and blood, we receive with great joy the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation, even as we confess with St. Thomas that the risen Lord Jesus is: “My Lord and my God!” and with St. John that “by believing you may have life in His name.”  “Blessed are those,” says our Lord, who have not seen, and yet have believed.”

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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