Eastertide & the Missing Forty Days
This morning we continue in the great season of “Eastertide,” the fifty days that celebrate Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances to, instruction of and sending out of his disciples, culminating in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Now, to put it lightly, this time is important. Why? Well, I think that popular youth group chorus demonstrates it the best (oh, they don’t sing this anymore?):
You came from heaven to earth / To show the way
From the earth to the cross / My debt to pay
From the cross to the grave / From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift your name on high
Wait, what!? From the grave to sky? What happened there? I don’t know, but I think we’re missing something, right? We, like the author, tend to miss out on the massive importance of the time “After Easter.” Friends, without that time, there is no Christian faith. This time is what Paul includes as of “first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15: “3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
Again, why is this so important? Because it shows that Christianity is not, like other religions, about a dead founder, but about a risen and ever-living Savior. That’s what we’re celebrating in Eastertide. And our first stop is to learn a couple lessons from Thomas.
Lessons from Thomas
A. Seeing Belief and Believing Sight
The Apostles began their “life with Jesus” physically present and spread the Gospel to the world with him physically absent. We begin our life as Christians with Christ physically absent in the hope and expectation of seeing him face to face. And this is the normal Christian life. And it blessed by Jesus. Listen to his words: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus knows that Thomas believes because he has seen – and he humbly (even now at this point!) condescends to allow Thomas to inspect him, so to speak. But at the same time, Jesus looks ahead to a time when people will continue to believe without physical sight and yet come to know him and see him. Not because they’re placing “faith in faith” but because of the ongoing reality and power of Chris’s death and resurrection. Through the eye of faith, we’re given sight to see him. Listen to how Peter puts it: 1 Peter 3:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
There’s good news for us in our mission as the church: the message about Jesus continues to be potent and convincing because the risen Jesus is behind it! Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The mere “word” or “message” about Christ is enough to bring people to faith in Christ! Rejoice in that!
B. We Aim for Saving Faith, not “Honest” Doubt
Thomas gets a bad rap and a horrible label – doubter! Yes, Thomas started out incredulous, but he ends by giving us one of the highest and clearest confessions about Jesus in all of Scripture: “My Lord and my God!”
We live in a time where buzzwords like authenticity and honesty are simply euphemisms for doubt. Unfortunately, staying in that kind of place is also a really good way to inoculate yourself from the Gospel and from truth in general. Can you imagine if Thomas had, after touching the wounds of Christ, simply let out an unconvinced, “meh.” He wouldn’t have been authentic or honest – he would have been insane!
In a similar way, what we should be encouraging, in ourselves and others, is the bright flame of faithful believing. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be honest if we’re struggling with this or that aspect of the faith – it means we should be pressing on, saying “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”
We should also recognize that our culture loves ambiguity, vacillating, and equivocating. This is illustrated perfectly in Martin Scorsese’s movie Silence. It’s about two Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan. The Church in Japan is under intense persecution, and as the movie unfolds, one of the priests dies defending the flock. The other, however, succumbs under torture, denies the faith, subsequently writes against the faith, and lives out his days within traditional Japanese culture. At the end of the film he is given a Japanese funeral. As the film ends, we see his body as he is cremated. He’s holding something. What is it? A cross. Our culture loves that kind of thing. It’s privatized, harmless, and ambiguous. No one is changed by that kind of faith and it, in turn, changes no one.
Church tradition, on the other hand, tells us that Thomas went to India and died preaching the Gospel freely and openly. And, if we’ve genuinely “seen” and carefully weighed the trustworthiness of the Apostles’ message about Jesus and know it to be true, then we can never do less then Thomas did – we can only bow and proclaim, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.
Almighty God, you show those in error the light of your truth so that they may return to the path of righteousness: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.