You all get it. That’s why you’re here.
It’s the Sunday after Easter, and typically, everyone put so much energy into celebrating Holy Week and Easter that they’re exhausted by now and probably taking today off, or taking today to catch up on projects they weren’t doing last weekend. That’s fine, everybody has to get their rest somehow. Pastors anticipate that the Sunday after Easter will be a low church attendance Sunday. It helps us adjust our expectations.
I love the Sunday after Easter because, really, the party is over. People aren’t showing up today for the abundance of flowers or the glorious music or to show off your new spring outfit—you show up to catch a glimpse of Jesus. To see if all this resurrection business is really true. Sit alongside other believers, and even if you’re not quite a believer, you still showed up to see what happens.
This is what I imagine the disciples were doing on that first day of the week—gathering together to comfort each other, to process the events of Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion and death, to wonder together about what happens next. They were so scared of what would happen to them that they locked the doors.
Except for Thomas. Thomas wasn’t with them. Maybe Thomas was the one who was least afraid. Remember that when Jesus and the disciples were headed to Bethany to grieve the death of their friend Lazarus, Thomas is the one who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas was all-in, hardcore, ready to die alongside Jesus.
I wonder what kept Thomas away from his fellow disciples that day when the resurrected Jesus showed up, bringing peace. Was Thomas courageously moving around in public, walking the streets just daring anyone to associate him with the crucified one? Was Thomas ashamed, having spoken so boldly and faithfully in front of Jesus while he was living, but then cowering and acting out of fear as soon as Jesus was arrested?
And I wonder what it was that Thomas refused to believe unless he could see and touch the crucifixion wounds of Christ. Was he refusing to believe because he didn’t trust what the other disciples told him? Was he refusing to believe that Jesus was truly risen? Or refusing to believe that the risen Christ really showed up bringing peace?
Or was it just that Thomas couldn’t imagine a scenario where Jesus would bring peace to him? It’s like Thomas saying to the other disciples: “Oh, Jesus shows up and that’s great for you guys, but he would never show up for me.” Did Thomas believe he was beyond forgiveness, exempt from grace, undeserving of the peace of the risen Christ? It can be easy to say that Jesus died for all and still harder to believe that Jesus also died for me in particular.
When Jesus shows up again, he speaks directly to Thomas: “Put your finger here in my wounds; it’s really me. Put your hand in my wounds: you cannot hurt me, and I’m here for you. This peace is for you. You are worthy of forgiveness, worthy of acceptance. Reconciliation is real. Do not doubt that it’s really for you.”
“Blessed are those who have not seen,” Jesus says, “and yet have come to believe.” Blessed are the ones who keep showing up even when their faith is dwindling. Blessed are the ones who keep showing up even when they don’t believe. Blessed are the ones who can’t explain what drew them together but they just knew they had to come to worship. Blessed are the ones who ask God clearly for what they want—“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands…”
Blessed are you who believe Christ’s wounds really are for you, Christ’s peace really is for you, Christ’s welcome and acceptance really are for you.
Because this is the really life-altering, world-changing stuff. When we can see that Jesus returns with peace for even the disciples who were closest to him, whose denials and betrayals and abandonment must have stung the most…then who can be exempt from God’s grace? Luke’s Gospel even quotes Jesus from the cross, seeking God’s forgiveness for his own executioners because “they don’t know what they’re doing.”
We’re here today, however few we are, gathered together for worship, because somehow, we get it—the peace of the risen Christ has changed us. God will stop at nothing to reconcile the whole creation, to bring everything back together in harmony, and we are included.
This is what Pastor Dave Whetter, our synod’s assistant to the bishop, was saying to our church council leaders earlier this week, talking about congregational purpose, getting really specific and clear about why God needs Gethsemane Lutheran Church in this particular place in the world at this particular time in history.
Pastor Whetter said the church has a bold purpose: reconciling all of creation with God! Jesus has done his part in that reconciliation, that healing of brokenness, and the rest of us have yet to see the fullness of that healing. But we are part of that mission of healing, bringing everything back to God, announcing God’s reign of mercy and justice and grace.
And friends, I believe this is why we get so specific with our welcome statement—it’s lengthy, and it could be even longer and more specific, but years ago, whoever put together these words and named these groups, they thought of all the ways people imagine they must not be welcome in a Christian house of worship. They thought of the groups who have been uninvited from other spaces, whether explicitly or implicitly. They thought of the categories rejected by other communities who claim faith in the same Jesus Christ.
There are people who have been harmed, who have experienced trauma because of Christians. The harm and trauma are still happening.
How can we be part of the healing of God’s creation?
How can we show support for our transgender siblings and defend their dignity?
How can we repair the relationships broken by racism and colonialism?
How can we bring healing and harmony to a creation choked by pollution and waste?
How can we bring honor to God in the calling and ministry with which we have been entrusted?
How can we show up in person, as real as the resurrected Christ, bringing peace to those who have been harmed?
The risen Christ doesn’t hide his wounds but invites us to touch his wounded hands. Christ is not ashamed of his wounds, and he doesn’t heap shame upon your wounds either. Instead he brings peace, even for you. Especially for you.
But I don’t need to tell you this. You already get it. Blessed are the ones who keep showing up.