The Overcomer

Sunday April 11, 2021 The Second Sunday of Easter (Cycle B)

Psalm 118:2-4;13-15;22-24, Acts 4:32-35, 1 John 5:1-6, John 20:19-31

The tie in between today’s readings: Out of This World Faith.

That first Easter was a tumultuous day for the disciples. Starting from the crack of dawn with the women’s fantastic stories about rolled away stones, angels, and…a resurrection. An excited Peter and John race to the tomb to investigate. They examine the grave clothes, survey the scene and each return with a different conclusion. The only thing that anyone can agree upon is that something happened. Jesus was gone. Fears mount when they hear that the Jews are hunting them as perpetrators of the “Great Messiah Body Snatch”. Speculations and arguments fly like mid-winter snowballs as they grapple with the meaning of the empty tomb and brace for what’s coming from the authorities. Each man stands on a different point of the spectrum between the hope and joy that the resurrection might actually be true on the one side against those who are sticking to the cold hard fact that dead is dead. Probably the disciple most set in that latter camp is Thomas.

Once willing to die with Jesus (John 11:16) and having abandoned the Lord in His time of need, I can see Thomas struggling with the sting of his cowardice. His guilt and grief frustrate him as he fights for a clear mind to figure out what they should do next. Dealing with this resurrection hysteria is the last thing he needs. So, at the end of that turbulent day, when their two friends from Emmaus come pounding on the door with the exciting news that they spoke and broke bread with Jesus, I imagine that he had had enough. Not able to stand it anymore, it would not be a stretch to see him unbarring the door while shouting something best not recorded in the scriptures and vanishing into the night. Upon his return, when he discovers that he missed out on his Jesus time, he does the emotional double down that we read about in today’s gospel and declares that he will not believe any of this until he touches the holes in the Holy One. The risen Christ gives him eight days to settle down and then settles him down with another visit. Thomas is reunited with His Lord and his God, but Jesus adds that a blessed faith does not require tangible proof.

And it’s a good thing that it doesn’t because in a few weeks Jesus makes His bodily ascension up to heaven. There won’t be any more walking through walls, surprise appearances, or finger poking. The disciples wait prayerfully, as instructed, in Jerusalem where the Holy Spirit comes upon them mightily at Pentecost. Gale force winds, tongues of fire, the language barrier broken, and the greatest miracle of all…the power of the gospel. Peter boldly stands up and proclaims the good news of salvation modeled in our reading today in Psalm 118: Christ was the stone that the builders rejected, God saved the dead Jesus from the grip of the grave, and everlasting mercy is available to the repentant who call upon the name of the Lord in Baptism. Three thousand respond. The Holy Spirit keeps adding to their numbers daily. Thomas is in the middle of it all.

Every day he encounters new believers with transformed lives. He observes in them the very faith that they, the Apostles, have. He understands that, as it says in today’s reading in 1 John 5:1-6, the Holy Spirit has revealed to them the truth evidenced from Lord’s baptism to His crucifixion that Jesus is the Son of God. I can see Thomas marveling that most of them have never met Christ in this life. He remembers the Lord’s words to Nicodemus when He said that God is Spirit and worshippers must approach Him in spirit and in truth. Perhaps, living with the Jesus these last three years obscured this fact from him. He has gained a better appreciation now that physical proof may strengthen your faith but on its’ own, will never bring you to THE faith. Belief in evidence from your five senses limits you to this world. Seeing is not believing. Believing is seeing. The eyes of saving faith comes from the spiritual dimension and gives you a knowing about things unseen. Its focus is toward the eternal kingdom of God. It transcends the grip of this earthly life’s attractions. In Christ, these new children of God have become more than conquerors over the cares, the fears, and the woes of this existence as their faith gives them the victory that overcomes the world.

Thomas sees this victory of faith play out in the unity and love displayed in the new congregation. From our reading in Acts: 4:32-35 we learn that believers selflessly sold their possessions and laid the proceeds at the Apostle’s feet for distribution to the needy. The Apostles continuously proclaimed the gospel in great power and grace flowed abundantly. In the near future the all-conquering faith of the Church will preserve it through dispersion, persecution, and martyrdom. It will turn the world upside down with its witness to the resurrection, until eventually Christianity will stand over the ruins of Paganism. The good fight of faith goes on today. God has a part for each of His faithful overcomers to play. I hope you are engaged in it.

What eventually happened to Thomas, the Apostle who overcame his doubts and won his own victory of faith? Legend has it that he preached the gospel all the way to India. There he was speared to death and died a martyr. You can almost see him transported and kneeling before the throne of Christ. Jesus stands and comes down to him. Lifting Thomas up He embraces His friend and puts His finger in the fatal spear hole left behind. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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