Sunday, April 03, 2005

Sermon - Easter 2 - John 20:19-31

Easter 2 – April 3rd, 2005
John 20:19-31
“Eyewitness News”

I. Introduction – Here we stand, one week away from the empty tomb of Easter. For the rest of the world, it’s time to move on. But for the Chrsitian church, Easter goes on. Not only is Easter celebrated every Sunday, we have a whole season – 6 weeks after Easter, in which to reflect on its meaning and significance.

Today we read the traditional text for the week following Easter – it is the story of Jesus’ 2 appearances to the Apostles – one, actually on Easter Sunday. The second, a week later. Usually the preacher offers a sermon on doubting and faith, and recalls old “doubting Thomas”. But there’s more to this Sunday than the Sunday School story.

The theme running through each of our readings, besides that Christ is risen, is that there were witnesses to his resurrection. People who saw him alive again. And it is these witnesses who shared the news with others, and others, and throughout the ages – so that we have finally heard the news, and believed. Eyewitness accounts of Jesus Christ – living, breathing, eating, speaking, and being touched. He truly is alive, that’s the good news of the Easter Gospel!

So as I thought about all this, I recalled that growing up in Baltimore, we watched local news on channel 13 – “Eyewitness News” And I got to thinking. How the message of our faith, that is, the Good News of Easter – has come to us: It too has come from Eyewitnesses. But more than any local, late-breaking, evening news… this morning we recall again the old, old story – that news which makes us new. Jesus is alive! And by him, so are we.

II. Top Story: Peace and Forgiveness
The newscast- any newscast- begins with the top story. The most important, or at least the most urgent. Fire in an apartment building. Scandal at City Hall. Terrorist attack kills dozens. Bank robber on the loose.

So often, the news in our world is bad news. Oh, they may try to soften the blow by adding a fluff piece on a dedicated teacher, or a cat saved by a fireman. But really, does that take away the sting of the school shooting or the earthquake in Indonesia, or the Court-sanctioned starvation of a brain damaged woman? Sin is all around us. But it’s not just the sin of others that is “bad news”. We have enough sins of our own to worry about. We surely don’t want our sins, our dirty laundry to make the news. But God would know our faults and failings. He knows all.

Then there’s Jesus. Oh sure, there was some bad news concerning him, too. He had been convicted and executed. The whole city was abuzz with the news. The great prophet, teacher and miracle-worker was crucified. Some found that to be good news. But for his followers, it was devastating. For his disciples, they feared they might be next…. Huddled in a room with doors locked. Perhaps they were trying to figure out what to do, where to go next. Perhaps they were just shell-shocked. Peter and John had come with the story of the empty tomb. The women were talking about angels, and even seeing Jesus themselves. Fear, confusion, and uncertainty ruled the day.

And then, there is Jesus! He appears to them. Miraculously, the Risen Lord comes. And the first words he utters are not an excoriation for the disciples. He doesn’t scold them for deserting him in his hour of need. He does not criticize them for their fear of the Jews. He does not up-braid Peter for denying him three times. Instead, he offers peace. “Peace be with you”. It’s an absolution. It’s as if Jesus says, “Everything is all right now. All is forgiven. I am alive!”

His “Top Story” is not the bad news of Good Friday, but the Great Good News of Easter! His first priority is to bring peace and forgiveness.

The disciples then receive a gift, a charge from the Lord. The power to forgive sins in his name. We learn about this in our catechism as the “office of the keys”. Jesus means for his forgiveness to be given not only to these apostles, but to all who would believe in him. As he breathes his spirit on them, he is really breathing forgiveness on the whole church. For Jesus, the top story is always the Gospel – the forgiveness of sins found in Him.

III. Film at 10: Seeing and Believing
What newscast today doesn’t try for the great footage, the intense video? We’ve all seen the poor reporter who is sent out in the middle of a hurricane, just to give us a visual of how strong the winds really are. It seems with any story, be it at City hall or at the top of a ski hill, a reporter is sent to the scene. To see it first hand, to bring you an “eyewitness” perspective.

Poor Thomas. Whatever he was doing that first Easter, he missed the Lord’s appearance. And rather than believe the eyewitness account of his fellow apostles, he goes on a rant about needing proof - even touching the wounds of Christ. For Thomas, seeing was believing. And we have poked fun at him for thousands of years, we in the church, chuckling at his silly disbelief and doubt.

But as we do so, we do it to ourselves. For we all have our doubting Thomas moments. Our faith flags and wavers, especially in the tough times. We are not immune to the Thomas syndrome – the doubting of our Lord and his life and his love. We need the encouragement and the reminders just the same. We need forgiveness too, for our doubt.

So our Lord appeared to Thomas, met him where he was, gave him what he needed, and more. Thomas confessed his faith, “My Lord and my God!” and Jesus grants him that blessing. But more blessed, Jesus says, are those who do not see and yet believe. Jesus was thinking future believers. Like us.

Though we don’t see him, hear him and touch him like Thomas did, we do see him, hear him and touch him in other ways. Though he is not present in our midst the same as he was on those Sunday appearances, he is present in our midst each Sunday in this place. Jesus is present in his word. Jesus is present in his meal. He lives in us by our baptism, as does his Spirit.

We do not see him as they did long ago, with their very eyes. But we see him through the eyes of faith. We do not see him, physically, as they did, but we will one day when he returns in glory. We do not touch him as Thomas did, but we touch him in the bread and wine. We do not hear him as the apostles did, but we hear him in the voice of absolution, “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. It’s our own Christian multi-media experience of the Risen Lord Jesus!

IV. Health Report: Believing and Life

And what news program is offered today without a health report, often by the designated “health reporter”. But our news report today is not about the benefits of granola, or the fading popularity of the Atkins diet. While getting your exercise is certainly a good thing to do, the health John writes about brings more than cardiovascular benefits.

John piques our imagination by hinting at the many other miracles Jesus performed. But the point here in John’s Gospel is not sensationalism, or tabloid journalism. What he records, he does with a purpose. That even though we have not seen, we may believe. And that by believing, we would have life in his name.

Life. That’s the real point of the Gospels, of the Scriptures, of the Resurrection and of the Resurrected one. Jesus came to bring life – to us who were dead in sin, who were helpless and hopeless. He brings life, abundant, full, real, eternal. We have it already in him. We will have it more fully in the world to come.

Such is the life that he gives – it comes by faith in Jesus. It comes through the word and in the sacraments. And such life is eternal. Like Jesus, who lives forever, so shall we. That’s the ultimate health report. He lives, and we live in Him!

Eyewitness News. It’s more than an evening television show, it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ – brought to you by those who saw him risen from the grave. For he brings peace and forgiveness to us all. He grants faith and blessings even though we haven’t seen. And such faith brings life.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed” Indeed. In His Name, Amen.

V. Conclusion
Thank God for the faithful witness of those who have gone before us. As they report Jesus’ resurrection, and we believe the news – we too have “life in His Name!” Amen.

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