(Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2)
John 20: 19-31
(watch here: https://youtu.be/zhvhvBzidmk)
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.
For those of us who aren’t familiar with Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” comic strip, there are two returning characters that appear in several of the strips—Linus and Lucy. Linus and Lucy are brother and sister and their relationship models a typical sibling relationship. Lucy is the older of the two and she is continuously annoyed by her younger brother’s antics. She hates how Linus is so attached to his “security blanket” and repeatedly tries to get him to give it up. She thwarts all of Linus’ attempts at creativity whether it’s building a sandcastle, a house of cards, a pile of blocks, or making drawings. In effect, Lucy is a terror to her good-natured yet immature younger brother. She believes she’s more important than Linus and constantly bosses him around, forcing him to get her ice cream and even salute her every time he sees her. Once when she makes him toast, she makes him say, “Thank you, dear sister, greatest of all sisters, without whom I’d never survive!”…just your average older sister/younger brother relationship. I recall one strip that had Lucy demanding Linus change the TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his finger and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”
Aside from the observation the strip makes on older sister/younger brother relationships, there’s an important message underlying the banter between the two kids. When the fingers of a hand try to accomplish tasks by themselves, they are quickly overwhelmed because they are weak on their own. But when they work together, clenched to make a fist, the fingers become a threatening weapon. A hand is most useful when all fingers are functioning and working together in unison. No two fingers perform identically when working together and yet their combined efforts meet whatever task is set before them.
This is not unlike the body of the church. We gather together, each with our own strengths and weaknesses, to accomplish tasks set before us. As a united body, we are collectively stronger than we are when we set about tasks on our own. For many of us, we gather each week during this time for Sunday morning worship. For most of us, we have chosen to get out of bed, clean ourselves, throw some good clothes on, and come to this building to offer our praise and thanksgiving to God for all the blessings we received in the prior week. No one makes us come here to worship each week. God certainly doesn’t demand that we gather each week to worship and praise Him. In the grand scheme of things, coming to worship each week doesn’t directly put food on our tables, clothes on our backs, and roofs over our head. We hold jobs or find other means to provide for our basic physical needs. Not that weekly worship won’t help put food on tables, clothes on backs, and roofs over heads. The results are simply a little more indirectly achieved. No, we could choose to stay at home, stay in our beds, stay unclothed and unclean, and still offer God our praise thanksgiving…all from the comfort of our beds! So why do we choose to pull ourselves out of bed, to clean ourselves, to clothe ourselves, and to drive or walk ourselves to this building during this time each week for a time of worship? Because we realize there’s something more powerful, more meaningful, with collectively worshipping God as opposed to worshipping God by ourselves. Our collective worship feels stronger and more focused. We have a sharper feeling of God’s presence when we gather and share in God’s love. God wants us to share His love with each other and not hoard it to ourselves. The task of worshipping God is most often best accomplished when we gather together to share IN God’s love and to share OF God’s love.
Our readings assigned for this week help us see the strength of being a unified body. In our reading from Acts, we hear Luke describe how Christ’s earliest followers were a unified body, “of one heart and soul.” Luke described how the followers gave up private ownership of personal belongings for the common good of all those in the community. They sold their lands and houses and gave the proceeds to the leaders of their community for distributing to others in the community. This was a radical approach to living as a united body of Christ that has both strengths and weaknesses. We won’t weigh the pros and cons of giving up personal possessions for the common good. What’s important to glean from the witness of those early Christian followers was that they understood the importance of unity and community. They understood that having personal possessions can lead to envy or pride or any number of sins and sin is a great enemy to unity. Sin keeps us from fully loving God and each other. Sin keeps us from living in peace and harmony with God and each other. Yes, by getting rid of personal possessions there is greater likelihood for united communities to exist. However, it doesn’t get rid of sin. We invariably find other ways to sin even without any personal possessions. Therefore, unity can crumble even without personal possessions. But the intention of living in unity and harmony of those early Christian followers was good-natured.
In our rather short psalm, we also hear David sing of the goodness of unity: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” David likens the goodness of unity to “precious oil on the head” and “the dew of Hermon,” a reference to Mt. Hermon, the highest peak in all of Palestine. From its snowy cap, when all the surrounding country is parched, the refreshing dew descends upon the mountains of Zion. All of God’s blessings come out of Mt. Zion so the dew that parches its dry land has a particular goodness to it. David was a great leader of many people and he highly valued his people living in harmony with each other. David saw great benefit to a united, harmonious people.
Our reading from 1 John expounds on our gospel reading from John. John’s followers strove to reveal Christ to the people of the world as he was revealed to be the Son of God to his faithful disciples. John writes, “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Fellowship is similar to unity. To be in fellowship means to be in harmony with each other, to be in unity with each other. John’s followers lived in unity as followers of Christ and worked to convert others into Christians.
Our gospel reading also stresses the importance of unity though in a different way. This second Sunday of Easter we lift up the witness of Jesus’ disciple, Thomas. It is a unique witness because it comes on the heel of great doubt. Thomas wasn’t living in unity with his fellow disciples. Jesus had appeared to them in his resurrected form but Thomas wasn’t with them. It was only after a second visit from Jesus that Thomas came to believe in the resurrected Christ. Thomas was united in witness and belief with his fellow brothers. But not without first living in disunity and disbelief. This state of being was completely unique to Thomas. The disciples to whom Jesus appeared in his first visit never experienced disbelief. They believed what everyone believed—Jesus had died, never to be seen or heard again. When Jesus appeared to them, they were still united with each other in belief. But Thomas…Thomas had a time of disbelief, of disunity with those closest to him.
Thomas serves an important role for believers and nonbelievers around the world. Most of us have experienced times of disbelief in our lives. Our faiths have been tested and we wonder if Christ is alive, walking among us. At times, our belief and faith has been like Thomas’. But Thomas boldly reclaims his belief and faith after a visit from the resurrected Christ. He proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus IS alive and walks among us even to this day! We have times of disbelief and disunity to help us boldly reclaim and proclaim our faith and belief. A tested faith is a strengthened faith. An untested faith is a weak faith. God wants us to “search our hearts” and the scriptures. When God is eventually revealed to us, our faiths are only stronger for having doubted. We are once again united in faith to go out into the world and reveal God’s love to others.
Seven days into our fifty days of Easter, it is important to lift up Thomas’ unique witness. His witness, strengthened by seeing, made for an even more powerful testimony. Our testimony to the risen Christ, perhaps also strengthened by some degree of doubt, is what this world needs. This world needs a risen Christ. This world so desperately needs God’s steadfast and gracious love. Let us go through this Easter season sharing God’s love with each other and the world through…a shared testimony.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.