Sermon; Easter 2C 2019; John 20:19-31
The Gospel of John is highly symbolic. John often uses numbers and names and times to symbolize or represent something else than what is actually written on the page. For instance, Martha represents all believers – “I know he will rise again in the resurrection . . . I believe you are the Messiah.” Likewise, 'the Jews' represent all of humanity in our tendency to reject Christ on whatever level or for whatever reason, as well as representing any and all people who threaten us or who don't believe exactly as we believe. There is also much symbolism and interplay between light and dark – “The light shines in the darkness . . . Judas left to betray him, and it was night.”
And Thomas is the symbol for all those who doubt.
This is unfortunate.
It's unfortunate because people tend to look for the easy answers or easy explanation. We see this in sayings like, “God said it, Paul wrote it, I believe it.” Or from people/groups who advocate for “the plain meaning of scripture,” with the understanding that their definition of “plain meaning” is the correct one. And it's this kind of thinking that lets people read John's writing about “the Jews” to conclude that all Jewish people were/are Christ killers and need to pay for that act.
But you can't do that with the majority of scripture, and you especially can't do that with John. Which is why I want to look at some of the symbolism within today's gospel passage.
If you have been attending St. John's for any length of time, or any church that follows the Lectionary for that matter, you will know that on this second Sunday of Easter we always . . . ALWAYS . . . hear the gospel story about Thomas. Jesus appears to the disciples, but Thomas isn't with them. They tell him about their encounter, but he won't believe it. Jesus appears again, but Thomas is with them. Thomas is invited to see and touch. “My Lord, and my God.”
Let's look at some of the symbolism in today's story.
The disciples were meeting in a house with locked doors for fear of the Jews.
This isn't just a retelling of a post-Resurrection story, that the disciples were afraid and hiding behind locked doors. This is a symbolic moment for us.
The doors were locked out of fear. They were locked because of fear. The disciples allowed fear to control their actions – “Quick, get inside and lock the doors.” There are certainly times when fear is to be listened to. But fear is not, cannot, or should not, be our primary motivation. Angels tell us to fear not. Jesus tells his disciples, and us, to not be afraid. The psalmist wrote, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
How much better would we and the world be if we quit living in fear and began living in love and faithfulness? This challenges us to look at what doors we are keeping locked out of fear.
Another symbolic event in this passage is, obviously, the experience of Thomas. Thomas symbolizes not only all who doubt, but the majority of John's understanding of how people come to faith. In the synoptics, it's almost always faith first, cure/miracle second. In John, that pattern is reversed. The ten disciples saw and believed. Thomas did not see and did not believe. But then he saw and believed. This is Standard Operating Procedure for John.
In putting this story here, at the end, a certain significance is added to all of this. Mary, in the garden, tried to hold onto Jesus and was rebuffed. She wanted to hold onto what she knew. She wanted to hold onto the way things had been.
Thomas is being encouraged to see things in a new light, or a new way. He doesn't touch what was, he touches what is and what will be. Jesus has been changed, not ended. Look here, touch here, and recognize that change. He has an experience with Christ that moves him into deeper belief.
There are times we all struggle with belief. Whether that's because of a particular trauma in our life, or we feel we're just going through the motions, or something else. That is natural and probably even healthy. But if we struggle with our faith, how much more do people out there struggle with faith?
We cannot tell those outside the faith to just believe, because it doesn't work that way. Instead, there are two things we need to do, based on this gospel passage.
The first is that we need to not live in fear. We cannot fear those who don't look, dress, talk, or even smell like us. We cannot be afraid to open our doors to the stranger, even if that means they only show up for their own selfish reasons. We must allow the power of Christ to unlock those doors and drive out our fears.
The second is that we need to recognize we are all wounded in some way. Through personal tragedy, betrayals, denials, or whatever, we are all wounded – just as Christ was also wounded. But, hopefully, we have been healed, or are on the way to being healed, and our lives have been changed, not ended. We can show others that, even though we have been wounded, we carry the fearless love of of God with us.
In the end, the passage today is symbolic of our relationship with others. With this passage in mind, may we help to comfort the fears of others while also reaching forth our hands in love so others may see that things which were cast down are being raise up.
In short, this passage today symbolizes a resurrection story for the rest of us.