Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
What do you think about Thomas? He’s been called “doubting Thomas” because he didn’t believe that Jesus was alive. But is that fair? In today’s reading John tells us that the other disciples didn’t believe until they saw for themselves. And put yourself in their shoes. Who of us would’ve believed such a story as resurrection from the dead? Not me!
It’s tempting to think that this Easter story is about belief—belief that Jesus is who he says he is, belief that he rose from the dead. It’s also tempting to think that belief is good; doubt is bad. John uses the word “believe” six times in today’s gospel reading. Two of those times are in the last sentence: 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The Easter story is about belief. The point of Christian faith is belief—right?
But if belief is what the story of Jesus’ resurrection is about, Christian faith doesn’t really require anything of me. Nothing in my life has to change. I don’t need a community of faith. I don’t even need other people. All I have to do is believe the right things about God. Christian faith becomes a private concern, between me & God.
Is that what Christian faith is about? Or, is there something else?
Imagine being one of Jesus’ friends in that room. The door was locked. They were afraid for their lives. They were still traumatized by the death of their teacher. And maybe most of all, they were burdened by guilt.
When he needed them most, they ran away. When they had the chance to take a stand, they were silent. When they did speak, they denied him.
So what would it have been like for these guys to see Jesus appear among them? Wouldn’t they have been shocked–and probably afraid? If this really was Jesus come back from the dead, why was he there? Maybe to get revenge on them? To punish them?
But Jesus says, Peace be with you. Not once but three times. Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
22. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. And then, the most important line of all: 23. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
he greatest gift that Jesus gave his friends was not a teaching, or a sermon. It was the gift of forgiveness.
The choice we’re left with today is the same choice that Christians have always had. Having heard the Easter story, we choose whether the point of the story is belief–saying the Lord’s Prayer, saying the Creed, believing that Jesus is the Son of God, believing that he rose from the dead— if it’s about belief, then nothing in our lives needs to change.
Or, we can choose to hear the Easter story as the greatest story ever told…about forgiveness. Here is one who was betrayed completely by his own friends, who left him for dead. And yet, he returns to them & says, “Let’s start over. Your sins are forgiven.”
What if the point of the Easter story is not belief but forgiveness? What if the point of the story is that the Living Christ has come among us, inviting us to find ourselves in the story? What if we really are forgiven? Then what? Then, as Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, as he has forgiven us, so he sends us into the world extending that same forgiveness to one another, as an example to the world. Whereas belief requires nothing in my life to change, forgiveness means that everything will change!
Imagine what a difference it would make if Christians were known not for our doctrines & moral teachings—not for our beliefs; what if the world knew the Church not for its fights & scandals; what if the world knew the Church of Jesus Christ for the reason we were put here in the first place: to love one another, which begins & ends with the forgiveness of sins.
If we choose forgiveness, we begin as those first disciples did— confessing our own sin. It was easy for those first disciples to recognize their failure—they couldn’t escape it. Sometimes we, too, can’t escape our own failures. Other times, our failures are not so obvious to us. But when Jesus forgave his disciples, he freed them from the burden of guilt they carried around for betraying him. Out of gratitude for this great gift, they in turn could imitate his example for all the world to see. As the Father has sent me, so I send you, Jesus said. God’s free gift of grace was not to be held on to but practiced & shared for all the world to see.
On Easter morning, Jesus rose from the dead. Each day we rise…from the bed, & decide how we will live. Through the choices we make in the course of a day, we choose to live according to a set of beliefs— in which case nothing needs to change. Or, we choose to live as forgiven people, extending that forgiveness to the world—in which case, everything changes. What difference will God’s great gift of forgiveness make in your life this week?
Let us pray…