BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET HAVE BELIEVED.
M: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the name + of Jesus.
The Gospel lesson for today may be rather disappointing for you. Jesus appeared to his apostles in the upper room where he had feasted with them just a few days earlier. He proclaimed peace to his fearful disciples, and he showed them the wounds he had sustained in order to redeem them from sin, death, and the devil. Thomas was not there that first Sunday. He heard the news from his fellow apostles. Perhaps he had also heard the report of the women who had gone to the tomb. He could have heard it from everyone; I don't think it would have mattered. Thomas was not content with reports or witnesses. Some things you just have to see for yourself.
So Thomas claimed: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) Thomas made a demand he had no right to make. It is like us demanding, “I will not believe God's promises unless my grandmother recovers from her stroke,” or, “I will not believe God really loves me unless I land this job.” It is foolish—actually, dangerous—to make such demands of God and to dictate to God how he must prove himself to you. Thomas did make such a demand. He demanded to see Jesus himself, to touch his body, and to inspect his wounds. Only then would Thomas believe that Jesus had risen, bodily, from the grave. In doing so, he was playing with hell-fire. Jesus did not owe Thomas a special appearance. Nevertheless, Jesus mercifully granted it, allowing Thomas to inspect the wounds he insisted upon seeing.
Now the reason this Gospel might be a little disappointing to you is because, while Jesus did grant Thomas this appearance, he has not done this for you. No matter how persistent or adamant you might get in appealing for such an appearance, you will not get one. But it does not mean that you have lost out on anything. On the contrary, Jesus bestows a blessing upon you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
More than that, the prayer of the day reminds us that our Lord does, indeed, come to us. Hear the prayer again: O risen Lord, you came to your disciples and took away their fears with your word of peace. Come to us also by word and sacrament, and banish our fears with the comforting assurance of your abiding presence; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Jesus has not short-changed you because he has not come to you in person. Jesus does come to you, but you must look for Jesus only where he tells you he will be. Jesus comes to you with all of his blessings, his mercy, and his salvation in the word and the sacraments.
The payment for your sins was made at the cross on Mt. Calvary. Your forgiveness and salvation were guaranteed with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Peace is proclaimed by the risen Savior because he redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil by giving up his life for you. Peace is assured to you by the Savior because he is risen from the dead. But if you travel to Israel and take photos of Mt. Calvary, you will not find forgiveness there. If you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and even see the newly restored slab on which Jesus' body was laid and from which he was raised to life, you will not find salvation there. Forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation are given not by seeing Jesus or the historical places connected to his work of redemption; they are given in the word of God and the sacraments. The blessing of salvation is not bestowed merely by what you see and feel, but by the faith God gives in his word. Therefore, Jesus declares, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
The Lord Jesus did not appear to the disciples who were locked in the upper room just to enhance the message of the angels at the tomb, “He is risen!” Their word could have and should have stood on its own. Jesus appeared to his disciples for a greater reason. First was Jesus' message: “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) While the disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews, they probably were afraid to see Jesus too. It was not just Thomas who was skeptical. None of the disciples were expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. The last time most of them had seen Jesus, they were running away from him as he was being arrested. They had not been as faithful as they had boasted. No doubt, they were plagued with guilt.
But Jesus came to them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) And while they marveled and inspected the wounds which were inflicted on Jesus to pay for their sins, Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:21) He did not come to bawl them out. He was not angry. And he did not regret going to the cross to pay for their sins. Instead, he proclaimed peace to people who were not as faithful as they should have been.
He still does. Jesus Christ has set us apart to serve him, to follow God's word, and to love our neighbor. We have not done as well as we ought. Our commitment to God's word gets shaky when the world notices that living according to God's word sets us apart. We have believed that life is too hard to adhere to every part of God's word, and that we are too important to have to stop to help our neighbor with his problems. Our words and actions have cause others to mock God's name because we have not acted as even unbelievers know we are supposed to act. When we recognize how much we have failed our God, we expect God's word to be harsh. We are certain that our Lord will rub our noses in our shame. We are inclined to stay away from him as Adam and Eve did in the Garden, or like frightened disciples locked in an upper room. We are not surprised that God would be disappointed in us. We are disappointed in ourselves, too.
But Jesus has not come to put you to greater shame. He does not regret the wounds he incurred for you, and he is not angry with you. His peace goes out to you. And he has even commissioned sinners to go and proclaim it. To those disciples whose guilt was covered, Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23)
While you know that Jesus suffered and died and rose again for your salvation, the blessings of Jesus' work are delivered to you through the words of absolution. The Lord knows that you need to hear these words again and again. Since Satan will never quit reminding you of your guilt and accusing you of your sin, you will always need to hear Jesus speaking through his ministers, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” These words are spoken in the stead of Christ—“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) These words are spoken with the authority of Christ—“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:23) These words do not merely impart information; they actually bestow on you the forgiveness Jesus won for you.
You do not need to envy Thomas who got to touch Jesus' wounds and see the side from which flowed blood and water. The water which has been poured on you has cleansed you from all sin. The blood which was shed is given to you for the forgiveness of yours. The word of the Lord absolves you of all guilt. You have the word of Jesus whose blessing rests upon you: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) Thomas has not received any forgiveness which is greater or salvation which is better than you have been given. Blessed are you—not for what you have seen, but for the faith you have been given which saves you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.