Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter – April 28, 2019
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever thought about why Sunday is so special for us Christians? In the not-so-distant past Christians referred to this day as “the Lord’s day.” Why would that be?
Many assume it has something to do with the commandment to keep the sabbath, but that’s not exactly right. Technically the sabbath day is the last day of the week, the seventh day, following the pattern of creation, when God rested after spending the first six day creating everything. And so the sabbath day is technically Saturday. It is true that most Christians have conflated the two in seeing Sunday, the Lord’s day, as the day to observe the commandment to keep the sabbath, though Seventh-Day Adventists are a notable exception to this. Once upon a time there were even laws about what businesses could be open on Sundays in recognition of this. But Sunday isn’t special because of the commandment to keep the sabbath. There’s another reason, and it is found in our gospel reading for this morning.
It was on a Sunday, the first day of the week, that Jesus rose from the dead. It was on a Sunday, the first day of the week, the beginning of the new creation, that Jesus kept on coming back to reveal himself to his people, to show them he was alive, to move their hearts from doubt to faith, to give them his spirit and his peace, to renew them in their calling.
Our gospel reading for today is from John rather than Luke, which we heard last week on Easter Sunday, but the timeline picks up right where we left off. “It was evening on that day,” John writes, “the first day of the week.” The disciples, John tells us, were locked in a house for fear of the Judeans, the Jewish authorities. They were not yet full of Easter faith. They were not yet full of Easter joy. They had heard from the women that Jesus had been raised, but as Luke told us last week, they thought it was an idle tale and they did not believe it. Keep this in mind when we turn our attention to Thomas. On the evening of the first day of the week, the disciples had the exact same doubts Thomas did!
So on the first day of the week the disciples, all except for Thomas, who apparently had somewhere else to be, were locked in this house, laying low, when Jesus came to them. He stood among them. He said to them: “Peace be with you.” Jesus showed them his hands and his side. And THEN they rejoiced, THEN they knew that it was all true, THEN their hearts were moved to Easter faith.
Jesus went on to renew them in their calling. Again, he said: “Peace be with you,” and then he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus then breathed on them, giving them the Holy Spirit, telling them: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. It was on this day that Jesus gave the church its mission. It was on the first day of the week, the Lord’s day, that Jesus gave the church its calling: to proclaim law and gospel, to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins, to continue to speak Christ’s word.
And then there was Thomas. This has to be the worst case of bad timing in all of human history! When the risen Lord Jesus came to the disciples on the evening of the first day of the week, Thomas wasn’t there! Where could he possibly have been? Was he less afraid than the other disciples, and so was out and about, taking an evening stroll through the streets of Jerusalem? Or had the other disciples sent him on a run to the store for groceries? We’re never told where he was, but when Jesus came to the disciples on the first day of the week, Thomas wasn’t there.
The other disciples tried to tell Thomas what they had seen, what they had experienced. But Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” For this, Thomas has unfairly earned the nickname “Doubting Thomas,” but Thomas didn’t doubt any more than any of the other disciples. Thomas wasn’t asking for more “proof” than the other disciples had themselves seen. It isn’t fair, but sadly the nickname seems to have stuck. Personally, I think it would be better to call him “Confessing Thomas” or “Believing Thomas” because Thomas would eventually confess truths about Jesus that none of the other disciples had – not even Peter!
But that was still a week away. It wasn’t until the next Sunday that Thomas would have his chance. It was then, once again on the first day of the week, that Jesus came back. This time Thomas was there. Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus addressed Thomas specifically. Jesus seems to have known about Thomas’ doubts. Jesus wasn’t angry about those doubts, but he didn’t want Thomas to stay stuck in them either. And so Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds. “Do not doubt, but believe,” Jesus said to him.
The word alone was all it took. Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God.” He wasn’t “Doubting Thomas” anymore! Now he was Confessing Thomas, and Confessing Thomas knew that Jesus was alive, and that he was his Lord. Now he was Believing Thomas, and Believing Thomas said something that no disciple had said before, but that all Christians confess now: that Jesus is not just a great teacher or a nice example to follow or simply an inspirational figure or one religious leader among many – Jesus is God. “My Lord and my God!”
All of this happened on the first day of the week. The risen Jesus came to his disciples to give them his peace, to give them his spirit, to show them his wounds, to turn their doubts to faith, to reveal himself as their risen redeemer, their Lord, and their God. And so this day, the first day of the week, the first day of the new creation, Sunday, has come to be known as the Lord’s day.
The Lord Jesus certainly doesn’t confine his work to the twenty-four hours that constitute a Sunday. He is at work in our Bible study on Tuesdays and in our Advent and Lenten services on Wednesdays and in your prayers and scripture reading throughout the week. But Sunday is still special. Sunday is still considered the Lord’s day. Every Sunday is a little Easter. As we gather together in Jesus’ name, he continues to come to his people – albeit in a different way.
As Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have NOT seen, and yet have come to believe.” Jesus is talking about you! He’s talking about you and me and all the countless Christians who have been gathering together on the Lord’s day for the past two thousand years. “Blessed are those who have NOT seen, and yet have come to believe.”
We have not seen in the same way the disciples saw the risen Lord in the flesh. We have not seen in the same way Thomas saw, when Jesus came to him and invited him to touch his wounds. But the Lord Jesus continues to come to his people in a special way on the first day of the week.
Jesus comes to us through his Word. As John writes at the end of our gospel reading for today: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written so that YOU may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
As we gather together on the first day of the week, on Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day of the resurrection, our Lord Jesus continues to come to us through his Word. The breath that forms the words of scripture is actually his breath. The breath that announces the forgiveness of sins in his name, the breath that proclaims the gospel, is actually his breath. The Spirit that stirs our hearts to believe it all is his Spirit.
By this Word, Jesus comes to give us his peace. He knows the fear you carry in your heart and he comes to replace that fear with his peace. He wants you to know that he is risen, that he is alive, that he has already conquered all those things you’re so afraid of.
By this Word, Jesus comes to give us faith. The Lord Jesus is patient with your doubts, but he doesn’t want to leave you stuck in them either. He wants you to know him as your Lord and your God. And so he comes through his Word to reveal himself to you, so that you would believe, and that through believing you would have life in his name.
By this Word, Jesus comes to his church to renew us in our calling, our mission. As the Father sent Jesus, so does Jesus send us. We leave here every Lord’s day with a purpose: to share Christ with others, to share with others the forgiveness we ourselves have received from him, to make the good news of Easter known in all the world.
Some Sundays our sanctuary is bursting with people – like last Sunday, when you could hardly find a spot in the pews. Where did all those people go? Like Thomas, they are missing out today. Hopefully, like Thomas, they’ll be back.
But whether the pews are full or not, this is the Lord’s day. This is the first day of the week, the first day of the new creation. It is the day of our Lord’s resurrection. And on this Lord’s day our risen Lord continues to come to us through his powerful Word so that we would believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, we would have life in his name.
Blessed are you who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church