Absent for Easter
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 20:19–20:31
The Second Sunday of Easter
April 10-11, 2010
“Absent for Easter”
The glorious celebration of Easter Sunday has come and gone, and here we are on what is sometimes referred to as “Low Sunday, so named because of low attendance? Maybe low energy after all the Holy Week and Easter worship services? The Gospel lesson always read on this Second Sunday of Easter is the one we heard about Thomas whose doubt in Jesus’ resurrection was transformed into living faith. Based on that Gospel lesson, we understand that Thomas was absent for Easter. We’re told that he was not with the twelve when Jesus came and stood among them on that first Easter evening. When they huddled together behind locked doors, fearful that as Jesus’ followers they would experience the same fate that He had, for whatever reason Thomas was not there. He was absent for Easter. He wasn’t there to share in that unbelievable experience of seeing Jesus face to face. He wasn’t there to share in the indescribable joy of being reunited with Jesus three days after He had been nailed to a cross, died, and buried in a tomb. He wasn’t there to hear with his own ears those sweet words which first came out of Jesus’ mouth: “Peace be with you.” Remember that most of the disciples had turned tail and run away when Jesus was arrested. They had left Jesus in the lurch! The guilt and anguish which they must have felt for abandoning Jesus had to have been a crushing burden on their conscience. If they were expecting Jesus to say anything, it surely was not shalom – his blessing of peace. Thomas was absent for Easter; he wasn’t there to share in any of what the other disciples had seen and heard and experienced. Though he had been absent for Easter, the risen Lord Jesus was present for him, moving him from doubt and uncertainty to confident and joy-filled trust. And so the message for this day is entitled “Absent for Easter.” May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
We can identify with Thomas on some level about what it’s like to be absent when everyone else is present for some event. There is a shared experience that happens when people come together, and it’s hard to recapture that for someone who wasn’t there. It’s one of those “you had to be there” moments. It’s interesting to note that what convinces the disciples that Jesus has really and truly risen from the dead, that He is actually alive, is not the empty tomb – that could mean many different things. It’s not even the witness of the women who were told by the angels that Jesus was risen. Remember, the Gospel lesson for Easter Sunday ended with these words: “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:12). What ultimately convinces the disciples that Jesus is alive is what we heard in today’s Gospel lesson: “… He showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). They knew it was really Jesus by the wounds in his hands and side. And this description is still what identifies the name of Jesus in American Sign Language (finger touches palms of both hands).
Would we be any different than Thomas if we were absent for Easter? I don’t think so. Thomas is an everyman for the post-modern world that we live in. Proof is needed, and Thomas was more than clear about this: “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” (John 20:25). Doubt and uncertainty seemed to give way to stubborn and obstinate refusal as Thomas dug in his heels. But Jesus comes to meet Thomas where he is in that stubborn refusal. On the Sunday after Easter, which would be today, Jesus again comes into the midst of those frightened disciples who are again huddled behind closed doors. Jesus confronts Thomas’ unbelief with an invitation: “Put your finger here… Reach out your hand…” (John 20:27). Thomas accepts Jesus’ invitation, and puts his finger into the mark of the nails and his hand into Jesus’ side. Jesus invites Thomas to move from doubt to belief and trust. And having done this, Thomas exclaims: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). The risen Savior doesn’t praise Thomas for doubting; for demanding concrete proof in order to believe. He calls blessed “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29) – and this would be us, who have not placed our fingers into Jesus’ wounds, and yet do believe that He is risen from the dead. By the power of the risen Savior, we walk by faith, not by sight.
I was present with you for Easter here, but I will be absent from the fellowship of believers here for the next four months during my sabbatical. Today is my last Sunday here until mid-August. I thank you, the members of this congregation, for this gift. I ask for your prayers during this time away that it would truly be a time of renewal, refreshment, and blessing from the Lord’s hand. I will not be monitoring or responding to church-related email or phone messages during this time, honoring what our congregation’s Sabbatical Policy says, that “the individual Pastor will not be in contact with St. John’s or be contacted by members of the congregation, even if the Pastor on sabbatical remains in the area.” And I thank you for honoring this agreement as well. If something does need to be brought to my attention during the sabbatical, Pastor Campbell will be in contact with me. While I am absent, things will happen that I will not be here to share in. Life and ministry will continue on as they should. And so when I return, I’ll do my best to re-enter life and ministry here, and catch up with all that our risen Savior will do among you over these next four months. May the peace and blessing of our risen Savior be with you all. Amen.