Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Sure enough, here he comes again! Every year, on the Little Easter that follows the Big One, our old friend Thomas steps up, and that old tattletale John, as usual, blows the whistle on him. Have you ever wondered just where poor Thomas was when the Resurrected Lord first appeared to His disciples? My guess is that he had run down to the First Century equivalent of McDonald’s for eleven “Big Macs.”
The only thing we know for sure is that he was not in the room — a room, by the way, that the other ten had “locked for fear of the Jews.” That alone should tell us something about the absent brother. He certainly was not a coward. Whatever took him away from that room took him into danger and he knew it. Everybody knew it!
As a matter of fact, a few weeks earlier, when Jesus announced that Lazarus had died and that He was going to Bethany and then on to Jerusalem, the disciples did everything they could to keep Jesus from going into obvious danger. Once they realized that Jesus would not be dissuaded, it was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (There is some question about whether the “him” was Lazarus or Jesus, but the threat of death did not keep Thomas on the other side of the Jordan, any more than it kept him in that locked room.)
Jesus showed up in that room on Sunday evening. It is important to remember that the women had already been to the empty tomb. Peter and John had also been there and Mary had already told them that she had “seen the Lord!” John doesn’t mention it, but Cleopas and a friend had also seen Jesus on the road and told the story to the disciples. John also, perhaps sheepishly, fails to mention that after hearing from these witnesses, the eleven still did not believe Jesus had risen.
Another whistle-blower, Mark, wrote, “When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she (Mary) had seen Him, they did not believe it.” He also wrote that after Cleopas and company told them what had happened on the road, “They did not believe them either.” Mark wasn’t there, nor was he one of the original gang, so he isn’t sheepish about adding that the Lord later “rebuked them for their lack of faith and stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.”
This information sets the stage for Sunday’s Gospel Lesson — there were ten doubters in the room and one out of it! To label poor Thomas as “the” doubter, or to dub him, “Doubting Thomas,” is a piece of prejudice. John tells us that “The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord.” Please note, however, that the sentence follows John’s earlier report that the Lord had “showed them His hands and His side.” Let it be no surprise that, when the ten told the whole thing to Thomas some time later, he wanted to see for himself. They had not believed until they had seen — why should he?
There are many lessons to be learned from these 13 verses. For a long time, preachers have been selecting their favorites for this annual occasion. I’ve had a go at it myself for more than 30 years. (I seem to recall being selected as preacher for “Low Sunday” the first three years at the seminary as well.) One of the most important lessons is in Jesus’ words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.” It is of no small significance that, according to John, these are among the first words from the Risen Lord to His chosen bunch, after greeting them with “Peace be with you.” Near the top of all the sins needing forgiveness is the incredulity and dullness that keeps disciples and from latching on to the promises of God.
Let’s glean three more very fine kernels from this rich and bountiful harvest. The first is to avoid labels and stereotypes for people who are all unique individuals and chosen children of the Almighty and gracious God. Let’s be very thankful that Jesus comes to us one on one and accepts us as we are. Let’s remember that He even comes again and again to those of us who were at McDonald’s or otherwise “out to lunch” when He came the first time. Let us rejoice in the fact that He dismisses no one on the basis of labels — not “lepers, lame, blind, poor, doubters, thieves (on crosses or off), prostitutes, tax collectors, publicans,” or even “sinners.” Thanking Him for His gracious blindness to such labels is good. Following Him and being like Him is even better.
Feddersen’s Fables has the moral: “The only good rumor is a dead rumor.” The Fifth of Feddersen’s Commandments is “You shall not kill anything you don’t intend to eat, unless it is a rumor.” (Any rumor you might be tempted to gobble up is the most important kind to kill immediately.)
The second kernel, another gem of great price, is to note that before telling His disciples that people’s sins are forgiven when they forgive them, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” The Church must never forget that people’s sins are not being forgiven if we are not out there bringing God’s forgiveness to them! We are a people with a mission, or we are no people at all. In the words of William Temple, the church “is the only society on earth which exists for the benefit of the non-members.” The very moment that ceases to be true is the moment when we revert to a group of doubters for whom the Resurrection is only a rumor, and it is time once again to lock the doors!
Finally, note the words of Jesus to our good friend Honest Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” After He had seen Jesus, old Tom looked Jesus right in the eye and said, “My Lord and my God.” Our temptation is to think that Thomas was particularly blessed by the Lord because Jesus returned so that he could see for himself. Jesus set that record straight. You and I are the ones who are blessed because we have not seen and yet believe!
I have not had the opportunity to look into Jesus’ eyes, but He is my Lord and my God. Where my life doesn’t show that, it’s because I am still in His body shop, in need of additional repairs. God isn’t finished with me yet. As a matter of fact, the biggest frustration of my life is that every time I turn around I find another dent that needs to be straightened out. Sometimes I think I must have been left out in a monstrous hailstorm. At the same time, the church is a great body shop. In spite of all our dings and wrinkles we are Christ’s Body at work in the world. There is plenty of room yet for all kinds of people — all those whose lives are broken down with doubts, shattered relationships, addictions and a list of sins that would make the devil blush.
What’s more, the Head Mechanic is still sending us back out to find others and tow them in. It is dangerous out there. The chances are someone will back into us if not take us head on. If you are like me, you will probably run over something you should have avoided and wind up flat on the side of the road. But — and don’t take my word on this; don’t even take the word of Thomas; take God’s Word — Jesus will come again in His Word and Sacrament to forgive, restore and renew us. Oh, yes, and He will send us out again!
In 1989, at his commencement from the University of Illinois, Paul Henmueller used an illustration that was later adapted by Glendon Harris and applied to the church and our mission. Beneath the surface of the earth are vast deposits of diamonds. Almost all are clear or white. One of the most famous diamonds in the world is radiant blue. It is cherished not only for its size and beauty, but for its uncanny ability to conduct electricity — to energize other objects that it touches. The Hope diamond is the only one of its kind known to the world. Followers of the Risen Christ are sent out to be “diamonds of hope” — lifting, encouraging, enabling and energizing all others that they contact. We are the only ones in the world, servants of the world’s only Hope.