3 April 2016
Eternal God, who sent your only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this world, that we might know your love for us, and so that we might believe in him and join with you in eternal life, Amen.
I really disliked math when I was a kid, for one very specific reason. Math teachers never seemed to explain why things were the way they were. We learned all sorts of equations and ways to do things, but they never explained why they worked or why things were done that way. It wasn't until I hit college mathematics that they started explaining why. And then I became hooked. I always wanted to know why. I know I drove my father crazy asking him why so often. Why? Why? Why? So when I looked at the gospel passage from John this morning, I was immediately struck by the fact that he explains why he is including this story about Thomas and Jesus. "These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John sets out the end goal of his gospel narrative: so that we might have life in his name. But what is life in his name? What does John mean by saying that? Since I couldn’t just call John up to ask him, I scoured the passage for clues. John is really good at leaving literary clues. What I found was that Jesus specifically points out three aspects of life with him. Peace, forgiveness, and belief.
Peace. Both times that Jesus walks in on the disciples in their locked room, he starts by saying, “Peace be with you.” (Shalom Aleichem) ‘Peace be with you’ was a normal greeting at the time, but John makes note of it because in this context, it means something greater than simply hello. For John, Jesus is the living Word which brings peace. The peace that Jesus offers is not the peace we talk about on the world stage where no one is fighting. It is the peace that comes upon you when you know in difficult situations that all will be well. It’s the peace that you cling to that allows you to get through difficult times. The kind of peace that is able to walk through anxiety and tension and not give into it. It’s a kind of peace that is inner and not always outside of us. It’s peace in the midst of conflict, because you know that all things are possible with God. It is the peace of knowing that you are loved by God and that nothing can stand in the way of that love. The disciples are locked in their figurative tomb, waiting, worried, and afraid, but Jesus offers them peace and reminds them of their mission. They are sent into this world to share that peace with others.
After Jesus reminds the disciples of their mission, that they are to be apostles, those sent out, he tells them that they have the power of forgiveness. If they forgive anyone, that person is forgiven. Jesus specifically tells the disciples that when they forgive, it will be forgiven, but if they don't, it won't. And that is a scary thought. We need forgiveness and we want forgiveness. We all do things we wish we hadn't done. We all mess up and we need the grace of forgiveness to mend our broken relationships and to live out our lives. The disciples are specifically reminded of this part of their mission because we all need this forgiveness so much. In the literary workings of John, this clause about forgiveness also comes after all the stories of the disciples deserting Jesus during his trials of the Passion, during Holy Week. I bet a few of them could have been feeling guilty about that. But here was Jesus both offering and reminding them of God’s forgiveness.
Then, of course, we come to Thomas and belief. Poor Thomas is hardly ever known as the Twin anymore. He is known as Doubting Thomas. But I think he should be known as Courageous Thomas, because he asks the questions. He asks how and why and where. One of the only other stories we have of him is when Jesus says to the disciples, "I go before to prepare a place and you know where I am going." Thomas points out the obvious, we don't know! Where are you going? How do we get there? And Jesus gives that great line, "I am the way, the truth and the life." We wouldn't have that without Thomas. Thomas makes such a good literary foil for John to highlight the need to believe in Jesus. Thomas wanted proof of what the disciples were saying when they said they had seen the lord. And when Jesus shows up the second time, he gives Thomas the proof, but he also highlights the necessity for belief in things that cannot be seen. Jesus blesses those of us through the ages that believe in him without seeing him.
We still have our doubts of course. It’s not easy always believing in things you cannot see. That is part of the reason we come together in communities. To support to each other when we are doubting and questioning. Our doubts and our questions make our community stronger when we support each other in finding the answers in God. The disciples took their job as witnesses sent to share the story seriously, and we ended up with the books and letters of the Bible, to help us build our belief. For that we can be truly grateful.
Life in his name is characterized in this passage as peace, forgiveness, and belief. John tries to teach us that being followers of Jesus involves accepting the gifts of peace, forgiveness, and belief that we have been given from God. And how do we live out these aspects of life in His name? We pray. We wait. We live in the tensions we find ourselves in. We work towards peace in relationships. We forgive ourselves and others. We trust God. We trust Jesus. We strive to live fully into who God is calling us to be.
Life in His name isn't easy. Sometimes that is all we want: life to be easy. Life in His name means we have to face our fears, face yourself, face the world and its pain, suffering, and sorrow. But in the midst of all that tears at our hearts, we know that God is worth it. We may never know all the answers to the questions of why. We are surrounded by the mysteries of God and only God can provide the answers to why. But that does not mean that we cannot have life in His name. Because we too are sent as the disciples were, to share the peace, forgiveness, and belief that we have from Jesus.