Sermon John 20:19-31; 2nd Easter – April 28th, 2019 (by Pr. Dr. Tia Pelz)

 

Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

Fling wide the door, unbar the gate, 
The king of Glory comes in state!

2 weeks ago we sang that song while processing into our beloved sanctuary. Palm Sunday it was and we welcomed Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Only to join into the screams of “Crucify him” minutes later. 
Going from Palm Sunday to Easter is the most challenging time of the year for me emotionally. Because it mirrors my human way of being instable and unreliable. I am easy to wow and enthuse. Wow, the Lord himself walks through the door and wants to share a meal with me. I love that Jesus.
But then, who is the Lord, who can’t help himself, who easily surrenders? That can’t be the Son of God? I am just as easy to be disappointed and desperate. Is that the Lord I believed in? Was I maybe mistaken? Did he fool me? “Crucify him!”, we screamed altogether. Being left alone in shock after I recognized that what I asked for really happened. God died on the cross. God left the world alone for 3 dark days.
Finally, the Good News: Jesus is risen! He can’t be found among the dead anymore. Jesus lives. Just a week ago we celebrated Eastern. Jesus’ victory over eternal death. We heard the Good News, we sang the Good News: The Lord is risen, indeed he is risen. Hallelujah! We can’t say that often enough!
Last week, I went to the Dollar Tree for the first time in my life. Yesterday we celebrated Theo’s 5th birthday with a huge party. And that’s when the Dollar Tree simply is the best place to get goodies and things no one needs but everyone loves. It’s the week after Easter, so Easter candy was on sale. 4 for $1. I couldn’t resist and found 5 packs of candy to go under the pot at the game “hit the pot” (Topfschlagen). But 5 is no good number at a 4 for 1 deal. Well, I dug into the peeps and bunnies and found this!!! A golden egg painted with a cross covered by a white cloth. On top it says: “He is risen”. What an unpredictable found to read the message of our risen Lord at a Dollar Store. And I was really wondering what would be inside. Turned out to be colourful sugary mini-crosses. Not too bad of an idea! 
So, we know, that Jesus has risen, right? I mean, even the Dollar Tree knows. We heard about it, just as the disciples in today’s Gospel heard about it from Mary. They heard, they knew, but they didn’t see Jesus and hid in their homes. 
It is Easter evening, the day of the resurrection. The day, some of them saw the empty tomb. The day, Mary Magdalene announced “I have seen the Lord.” And here they are, gathered in the house. The doors are locked with fear. Nothing much has changed between living before and after Jesus’ resurrection. They heard, they know, they don’t believe it, so they hide. 
Jesus’ tomb is open and empty but the disciples’ house is packed with people and closed, the doors are locked tightly. The house has become their hidden place, their tomb. Jesus is on the loose and the disciples are bound in fear. The disciples have not yet connected themselves and their lives to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. They haven’t yet opened their eyes to the reality that life is now different. They have locked out Mary Magdalene’s words of faith, hope, and love. They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and blindness. The locked doors have become the great stone sealing their tomb. They have locked themselves in. 
The doors of our tombs are always locked from the inside. Apparently, an open tomb is not the key to a locked tomb. Knowledge was not the key to faith for the first disciples. They needed a first-hand experience. They needed to see Jesus.
In our Gospel Jesus doesn’t knock on the door of our closed houses and churches. He comes and stands among us and says, “Peace be with you.” As simple as that. The disciples are startled, they don’t show any kind of reaction. Somehow, they can’t link the story of the resurrection and the man standing in their living-room out of nowhere. The fear prevents them from seeing the obvious. All they see is a stranger. So, Jesus goes on showing them the proof of his identity: the mark at his hands and his side. Finally, the disciples really see the Lord. Finally, they recognize him, finally they rejoice. It took them quite some surprising attempts. 
Just like most of us the disciples only saw what they expected to see. While they expected nothing, they didn’t see anything beyond a stranger, even though Jesus was right in front of them. They expected Jesus to be dead. That’s why the only way he could convince them to see the living Lord, was to show them the marks of death. Seeing death their eyes were opened for life.
But, one guy misses out on that life-changing event. Thomas. He, apparently, was brave enough to leave the house. When he comes home, the others tell him “We have seen the Lord”. It’s a sentence he had heard before from Mary. It’s a sentence he had not believed to be true before. No matter, how many of his friends were going to tell him. He needed to see it with his own eyes. Just like the disciples did. He needed his own first-hand experience plus maybe even some hands-on. 
Funnily, it is Thomas, who is considered to be the doubting one among the disciples. Even though he didn’t ask for any other kind of experience than his fellow friends. 
Doubting Thomas seeks for evidence he has no choice but must believe. He could believe his friends, because Jesus’ resurrection is what he should hope for, right? At the same time, he suffers from a deep frustration about Jesus’ death. That’s why an answer to the question “Can I believe it?” is not enough. Thomas has to be 100% sure. His question is “Must I believe that Jesus’ is risen because the evidence is so distinct and true?” A positive answer will have to withstand any further doubt. A positive answer will turn him into a devoted believer, who will tell everybody: The Lord is risen!
So, a week later, Jesus appears again. Still, the doors are shut by fear. The joy about the risen Lord has not changed the disciple’s life within the last week. They live as if they didn’t know. They live as if they didn’t see. Why should Thomas believe his friends when they themselves don’t seem to trust their own experience.
Jesus comes and stands among them und says: Peace be with you. As simple as that. After, he addresses Thomas and tells him to do what he mostly desired: To touch the Lord’s wounds. To know for sure that this is Jesus himself. No ghost or costume. Other than in most pictures, Thomas doesn’t actually touch Jesus in this story. This man knows his greatest desire, this man must be the Lord. Thomas hears and sees and knows and strongly believes. Shouting out loud, Thomas confesses his faith: “My Lord and my God!” 
Questioning Thomas knew his own needs and he was able to communicate them clearly. He asked, got a truly sufficient answer and started believing with all his heart.

And here we are. We heard the Good News of Jesus’ victory over eternal death. We have heard it so many times. So, we should know by now, shouldn’t we? But, do we believe it to be true? Do we fling wide open our hearts and doors to tell the world what we know to be true?
It is one thing to know the truth. It’s another thing to feel the truth, you know is true. My mind is set to believe that Jesus is risen. Still, most days I don’t think about, I don’t feel about it, I don’t long to tell everybody.
I might be old-fashioned in that way just like Thomas. It helps me to not only hear the Good News, but to shout it out. Not just from the pulpit as part of my job description. But on an every-day basis. That’s what I aim for and it’s highly challenging. Actually, I am still very much at the beginning and I have been practicing for over 10 years now.
It all dates back to 2007 when I spent a year abroad in Romania, studying orthodox theology. 
Among my mostly orthodox friends and fellow students it was rather normal to greet each-other with the Easter acclamation during the weeks between Easter and Pentecost. I knew that. I didn’t entirely understand it emotionally.
One day I was on my bike to university in Cluj. Another student saw me and literally shouted all over the streets: “Hristos a inviat!” “Jesus is risen!” And without even thinking about it I shouted back “Adevarat a inviat!” “Indeed he is risen!”
A moment later, I realised what just happened! I was so amazed that I couldn’t stop smiling. What a liberating feeling to shout out publicly the joy I was feeling in my heart. For the next 40 days I felt light-hearted and naturally greeted people with “Hristos a inviat!” “Jesus is risen!” 
I am pretty sure living in a different and very orthodox country and speaking a different language helped a lot. Because talking about my faith in a language that is not the language of my heart is harder and easier at the time. It’s harder because I sometimes lack the right words. It’s easier because I can say what moves me without an emotional break-down. A foreign tongue somehow helps me to connect my heart and my brain. 
I have to admit that I am having a much harder time greeting people in Berkeley with “Jesus is risen!” I am not sure anymore if it is appropriate to announce the resurrected Lord to people of other or no faith. I don’t want to offend anyone. Or, maybe I am afraid of being offended by an unexpected answer like “Really, do you think so?”, or “Well, I don’t believe that!” or “That’s not true”. Am I ready to start a conversation about why I believe in Jesus’ resurrection and what it means to me?
Nevertheless, I am trying to share the joy as open as I can with greeting people with “Jesus is risen”. It does feel pretty awkward most of the time. That’s for sure. Eventually it will start to feel good and right and true.

Eventually it will fling wide the door, unbar the gate, And let the king of Glory comes in state! In our hearts and our brains and our mouths. Because Jesus is risen! Indeed he is risen! Amen.

Picture by Sandy millar on unsplash.com