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“Jesus Came Among Them”
John 20:19-31


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Second Sunday of Easter—April 15, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Our text is today’s Gospel Reading, the familiar story of “Doubting Thomas.”  This same text always occurs on the first Sunday after Easter, so you may have heard many sermons about it.  Preachers often point out that “Doubting Thomas” is like our modern, scientific mindset, doubting the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection.

But, I recall a conversation I had in the early years of my ministry, with an out-of-state relative of some members of the church I was serving, that makes me think of another possible reason why Thomas might have doubted that Jesus should appear to the disciples that day.  This man told me he had stopped attending church because of a conflict in their congregation.  He was just too put off by some things that members had done and said, and so he felt he couldn’t attend there anymore.

It made me think: Maybe that is how Thomas felt on the first Easter evening.  The other disciples are all gathered together that day, but for some reason, which we are not told, Thomas wasn’t there.  But, just consider what had happened to their congregation over the past few days.

The treasurer of the congregation had certainly figured out a novel way to solve their budget shortfall: “Then one of the Twelve, the one called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.”

The Gospels report that at the Last Supper, the president of the congregation, Simon Peter, boldly proposed a resolution: “Lord, I will never deny you, even if I have to die with you.  I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”  And we are told this wonderful, bold resolution was passed unanimously by the whole congregation: “And all the other disciples said the same thing.” 

But, then, the Gospels tell us that just a few hours later in the Garden of Gethsemane, “All the disciples deserted him and fled.”  And a little while after that, just outside the courtroom where Jesus was on trial, Peter was asked, “Are you one of his disciples,” and “He began to call down curses on himself and swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’”

So, maybe that is why Thomas decided just to stay away from the evening meeting of their congregation on that first Easter.  Perhaps he was too put off by some things other members had done and said, and so he felt he couldn’t attend there anymore. 

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”  There were so many good reasons why Jesus himself should have shunned this congregation.  After all, their top leaders had betrayed him and denied even knowing him, and the rest of them had all deserted him.  Even that very morning, when the Ladies Aid of the congregation came back from the cemetery with news of the empty tomb, we are told, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

There were so many good reasons why Jesus should have just given up on them.  And there were so many good reasons Thomas had to shun their evening meeting that day.  The treachery of Judas, the hypocrisy of Peter, the utter failure of all the other disciples.  And, yet, the amazing thing is, despite all their faults and failures, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”

I told that man who had stopped attending church that is what’s important.  Not the faults and failures of others.  For, Thomas also had “deserted him and fled.”  We are all sinners, as Paul says in Romans, “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that [all] alike are all under sin.  As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.’” 

What’s important is not the faults and failures of others, but that, even in midst of such sinners, Christ is there, bringing his peace.  How wonderful that he does not scold them and bring up their hypocrisy and remind them of their faults and failures.  As the psalm says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness.”

Instead of remembering all their wrongs and scolding them and holding it against them, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”  In the same way, Jesus comes among us, sinners though we are.  He comes among us with his Word and Sacraments, to bring us forgiveness and peace.

I told that man who had stopped attending church, that is what you have to focus on, for it is still God’s house, where God’s Word is preached and his Sacraments are administered.  As Jesus said of the Temple at Jerusalem, “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

So, don’t let the faults and failures of others keep you from your Father’s house.  As I told that man who had stopped attending church, if they are such sinners, then surely they need to be there, in church, for the healing of their faults and failures.  And you need to be there too, for the healing of your faults and failures.

Perhaps there’s another reason why Thomas wasn’t there when the disciples met on that first Easter evening.  They were expecting big things from Jesus.  Those original twelve disciples were going to be only the beginning of a mighty movement that would grow and spread and gain more and more followers.  But, now there weren’t even twelve of them anymore, just a little pitiful group of eleven, which sure didn’t seem to have much of a future.   

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’”  Sending them?  This little congregation?  What could they do?  Sending them to make disciples of all nations?  It seemed like a crazy, hopeless task.  But, just a few decades later, Paul wrote in Colossians, “All over the world this Gospel is bearing fruit and growing.”

Like the little congregation of those first disciples, we too are a small congregation with a big task: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  And, like the little congregation of those first disciples, the Lord will bless our witness, and according to his timing give success to our labors here.  “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’”

“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”  The place to encounter Jesus is not only in your personal faith and prayer and devotion.  But, as Hebrews says, “Let us not give up meeting together.” 

Whatever the reason he stayed away on that first Easter, the following week, Thomas was there.  There with his fellow disciples, there with his fellow sinners, there when the Lord came among them and blessed them with his presence and peace.  And that is where you belong, too.  Here with your fellow disciples, here with your fellow sinners, here when he comes among us through his Word and Sacrament and blesses with his presence and peace.

Amen.

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