Text: John 20:19-31
So, to begin, a few jokes in celebration of God’s gift of humor and laughter:
One day a doctor in a large city was wondering why his practice was decreasing. He consulted with a physician friend who agreed to spend a few hours in his office and observe his methods. After an hour, his friend had the answer. “Wilbur, you’ll have to stop humming Nearer My God to Thee when writing out a prescription.”
And then there was the very rich man who “wanted to take it all with him” when he died. He prayed and prayed until finally the Lord gave in, but on one condition – he could only bring one suitcase of his wealth. The rich man began to worry, “What kind of currency should I bring – the dollar, the pound, the yen, the mark?” He finally decided that the best thing to do was to turn it all into gold bullion. The day came when God called him home. St. Peter greeted him and told him he couldn’t bring his suitcase in with him. “I have an agreement with God that I can take it with me,” the man explained. “That’s unusual,” St. Peter said. “This has never happened before. Mind if I take a look?” The man opened the suitcase to reveal the shining gold bullion. “Pavement!” the amazed St. Peter exclaimed. “Why in the world would you bring pavement?!”
For our gospel reading this morning, I would like to share with you a version written by the Rev. Dr. Jim Moiso. It is written from the perspective of the disciple Thomas, with apologies to Dr. Seuss.
Well, we had all gone hiding
and we wondered what to do.
Our lives, our dreams all broken
and his God seemed absent too.
Now saviors are not s'posed to die,
but save us with God's power.
Least that is what I used to think
before that strange encounter.
Absent was I the night he came,
I don't remember what doing.
We had not trusted Mary's word,
"The Lord I've seen," proclaiming.
How could she believe such things?
She's just a woman, that we knew.
In grieving, to him she clings.
And then he spoke, here's what he said,
"Peace be with you, my friends."
They must have looked all startled then
'cause "Peace" he said again.
Amazed, remembered they his word
the night before he died:
God's peace he'd bring to us in life,
our joy'd be multiplied.
But then a strange thing happened.
Why, Jesus appeared once more.
He came right up before me,
without even op'ning the door.
No condemnation in his eyes,
no judgment on his tongue.
No halo, overwhelming light,
just presence, wounds and love.
My knees they shook, my eyes were blurred,
a realist I always had been.
In his presence I blurted out
"My Lord and God," who'd risen.
In our gospel reading today, the disciples were not finding any humor in their situation. They were feeling fearful and that all was lost. Also, they were full of doubts – perhaps even wondering if Jesus was the real messiah. They had seen the empty tomb, and heard Mary Magdalene's testimony that she had seen the Lord. But still they were afraid of what the Jewish authorities might do to them, so they remained locked up in that upper room. Then, unhindered by the locked doors, Jesus appears to them and says “Peace be with you.” Notice that Jesus does not say “I am so mad at you for what you did last Friday! What kind of friends are you ~ denying me and abandoning me when I needed you the most!” No, Jesus simply says “Peace be with you.” Jesus gave to the disciples, just as he gives to us, peace for the past and the present ~the peace of forgiveness and the unconditional love of Christ.
Then Jesus shows the disciples his scars. He shows them that he is the true messiah, acting on behalf of a wounded world and rising again as a wounded savior. Jesus did not come as a perfect, powerful conqueror, but rather as a peaceful shepherd bearing the wounds of a hurting world. He is the Word made flesh.
Now this brings us to Thomas. Where was Thomas when Jesus appeared to the others in that locked room? What was he doing? Scripture does not tell us where Thomas was, and over the years Thomas has gotten a bad rap with the nickname Doubting Thomas. After all, the other disciples didn’t believe Mary when she testified to them that she had seen the risen Lord. They needed to see Jesus for themselves. Now Thomas also needed proof. He simply was not going to believe his friends. He needed to touch and see the wounded Jesus. When Jesus next appeared, he again greeted the disciples with “Peace be with you.” As soon as Thomas touched Jesus’s wounds he proclaimed “My Lord and my God” This proclamation was the beginning of a renewed community of disciples. It transformed them from being inward-focused-locked-up-in-fear, to outward-focused witnesses sent out into the world to proclaim the gospel with their lives and their words.
In some ways, I think Thomas is the easiest disciple to relate to. Most of us have experienced living in that space between faith and doubt. It is in this space that our faith grows. These spaces between faith and doubt are where we are taking our relationship with God seriously enough to be honest with God, while at the same time continuing on our journey of faith without being entirely sure about where we are going.
Once there was a woman in her thirties who had an overwhelming spiritual experience. She knew God was calling her to do something new, scary, and hard. She followed that call, and for the next 50 years she did some amazing things. But frequently she doubted. Her journey of faith frequently took her into this space between faith and doubt. This woman was Mother Theresa. She was a lot like Thomas. She was a lot like us. We all doubt, and that is a good thing. Doubt is what pushes us along on our faith journey. It pushes us out of our comfort zone and helps us discover God at work in our lives. It helps us take the next step down the mysterious path of our lives of faith.
On this Holy Humor Sunday, the cross is a reminder of the good news that God suffers with those that suffers, and that when we face suffering and death, love and life will have the last word. This is the source of our joy. Therefore, let us not lock up our faith within the walls of the church, but rather, let us take it out into the world. And while we are at it, let’s do it joyfully! Celebrate Christ’s resurrection by going out into the world and continuing the work that Jesus has begun ~ comfort and heal the sick, advocate for the marginalized, serve the poor, and love our neighbors. Proclaim God’s great love for the world and celebrate the mysteries of faith. And even though we are unable to worship together in our church building sanctuary right now, we remember that the whole earth is God's sanctuary. The music we make, and the prayers we lift up don't need to wait until we regather.
In Psalm 150, the psalmist writes:
Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!