Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Risen Lord Jesus Christ!
No matter how often I hear this gospel story, I feel sorry for Thomas. Just imagine you were Thomas. You hadn’t been with your friends last night. And this morning they tell you that they have seen the risen Lord Jesus. Would you have believed them? Even if more than eleven people had tried, I still wouldn’t have believed it. Seeing someone who has died; and not only seeing but touching, and feeling, is not something I would easily believe. I would rather believe in a joke or prank. A silly or even mean one, but still: just that a prank.
The other disciples didn’t behave any better than Thomas. Even though Mary had told them that she had met Jesus at the empty tomb (in the Johanine tradition Mary does not run away saying nothing to no one but she stays after Peter and the beloved disciple have left the empty tomb) the disciples had hid themselves in a locked room because they were afraid. That does not sound like they felt or believed any better than Thomas the other day. They couldn’t believe what Mary had told them earlier.
So what changed them? What turned them from frightened and scared people into disciples?
They had met the risen Christ. Jesus had come into their midst, had greeted them, talked to them, and had blessed them. But Jesus did more than being with them, he also left something with them: the Holy Spirit. The gospel describes this as breathing onto the disciples.
This is not the first time we heard something about breath and life in the bible. In Genesis we read: “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God brings life through His breath at the beginning of all life. And now at the beginning of the new life in the risen Christ, the Lord gives again life through His breath. He gives new life to the frightened and scared disciples, so that they may be able to share and witness the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord is creating something new. He is creating a new community shaped by the encounter with the risen Christ. He is creating a new life for all people. A life, where, as Luke describes it in Acts, people share everything they have so that no one would have to live in need or poverty.
I don’t know about you but as beautiful as this community of sharing sounds, hearing about it makes me uncomfortable because I do not live that way. And I am not even sure I would want to. I am not sure if I want to give up all I have, the house, my car, my camera and the other things that are dear to me, to share everything I owe with those in need. I might feel guilty about this, but still I would have a hard time doing it. But selling everything we own and give away all the profit is only one way of sharing all we have. Throughout most of Acts people do not give away everything they own. Instead they share everything they can. They might not sell their house but open their house to the early church for worship space and fellowship. They might give money for healthcare or food. They might cook for those in need or give money to those who do so.
This idea was nothing new. During that time it was expected that the wealthy would support those in need. But here is the difference between those who have encountered the risen Lord and those who have not: those who have encountered the risen Lord and have been created into something new, share without expecting something in return. They give without making mental lists of IOU’s. They would give substantial amounts of money to the early church but would not expect to be treated any different from those in need who could not give anything at all.
This idea is maybe even more challenging and radical because this model is do-able. But would we be willing today to follow this model? Would we be willing to share our gifts without expecting anything in return? Neither from those we helped nor from God? How often have we thought: “OK, God, I did this or that now please do what I ask of you for me today?”
Or how often have we reminded people that we had helped them earlier when we needed help from them? And how often have we only helped because we had hoped to gain something: maybe more power in a committee, or to get that job, or to get invited by someone? There are usually a lot of reasons why we share and help but most of the time we do not do it just because we love our neighbor but because we expect to get something out of it for ourselves. Would we be able to change that? Would we be willing to help and share just because we love and cherish our neighbor? Would we be wiling to allow God’s breath to work in and through us to create something new?
Did you know that even today there are enough resources in the world to end world hunger and poverty for good? We are not able to do this all on our own. But if we start to share and help out of love, this love will spread. It won’t be fast, and it won’t be easy but the change will happen. Love is irresistible and we cannot other than love back.
This is what also Thomas found out. He couldn’t believe what his friends, the disciples told him about Jesus, but when he finally met the risen Lord, he could not resist the love and started to proclaim the good news. Faith is nothing that we can do or that we can grown in ourselves if only we try hard enough. Faith is something that comes as a gift from God through the encounter of the risen Lord.
But what does this mean for us? We cannot like Thomas put our hands into the wounds or hear God’s words spoken to us. We cannot do that. Or can we?
We can and we do! Every single Sunday we hear, feel, and encounter the risen and living Lord. We hear the risen Lord in the words of forgiveness at the beginning of the service. We hear His words in the gospel and in the sermon. We can see God in the baptism. And we can feel and encounter Him in the Supper. Whenever we come and celebrate the Eucharist we not only remember that one meal long long ago but we really encounter the living Lord. How? In, through and under the wine and bread. When Luther was asked how Jesus could be in the bread and wine he answered: “I don’t know. But Jesus said he will be in bread and wine and I trust his promises.”
Like Luther I don’t know how Jesus can be in the bread and the wine. No matter what I say or do to the bread and wine they still keep being just this: bread and wine. But Jesus does something to them. He breathes through the bread and wine and so we can feel and encounter him in and through them. Even today. 2000 years after the resurrection.
Jesus says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
We cannot see Jesus but through the bread and the wine we can meet him. And it is through this meeting that faith grows in our hearts.
Today Jesus invites you to come and meet Him. He invites you to feel and touch and encounter so that your faith may grow and become stronger.
The old life has ended on the cross and Jesus has breathed new life into us. Let us go out and share this new life with all. Let us share without expecting something in return. Let us just do it because we want to share the love that first has been given to us. Let us not go back to the old life of wanting to have power over other people. Let us instead enter the new community where we have power together with other people.
Christ is risen and He raised us with Him. Let us embrace our neighbors as brothers and sisters and let us all rejoice in the new creation of life.
Let us pray:
Oh God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.