Sermon on John 20:19-31 (by Martin Damašek)

Dear brothers and sisters,

I started writing this sermon on 20 March, the first Spring Day. What does this time mean for you?

One funny but true perception of this Spring/Easter time was shared with me by Pastor Dale Kaster: “When the Spring comes, the Czechs dig up the sidewalks and start having casts.” Funny and true. What does this mean? Why do we behave in this odd way? Having been restrained behind the closed doors for the fear of cold, ice, wind and darkness for half a year, the Spring/Easter days is the time of a release when we gladly leave our homes and run outside in a joy. We can get busy outside again, enjoy the world and break our hands and legs again. The Spring/Easter time is a time of a warm weather again and longer day light, again green grass, sprouting birch trees, painting and finding eggs, and a new life. After all, that is, what the Czech word for March means, to be ready to mate. It is the time of joy and new life to which we all have been looking for, right?

Perhaps, the leaders of which the Gospel text speaks were looking forward to such a joy too. Perhaps, they were looking forward to a joy that they do not have to deal with the troublesome and scandalous man and His dregs, to a joy that they can, again, enjoy their lives and justify themselves by their proud claims of keeping the law. 

This year, I heard the singing birds through the window of my small flat and did not smell the Spring air, because I was bound to stay behind the closed door of my flat in order not to infect anybody with the Covid. Not only I had to stay in my flat for a month and was kind of forced to see the days pass by in a depressing mood, but also, every night, before going to bed, I was praying to wake up the next morning.  I must confess, while staying in the cell of my tiny flat, I had a fear of suffocating or getting a thrombosis. What a different Spring/Easter for me this year! Waiting behind closed door and having fear. No chance of helping myself, just waiting in fear and trusting to wake up the next morning. 

This experience is a true human one, as well as the experience of the fearful disciples behind the close door. Man fears when encountering the Holy One in front of whom man sees his brokenness. When Adam and Eve broke the only commandment of God, they were fearfully hiding, knowing their sin, their brokenness according to the law and trembling when being found and meeting the Holy One. Now, the disciples, they are hiding behind closed door because of the Jewish leaders. They do have a strong reason to hide in fear. Not only they are afraid of the Jewish leaders, but above that, they are overwhelmed by what they have  witnessed: All the evil, all the hate, all the  despise, all the mocking, all the pain, all the loneliness, in short, all the sinfulness poured out on their beloved Lord whom the bloodthirsty mob yelled to be crucified. The disciples are in fear, they are afraid of the Jewish leaders to press on with their human sinfulness and to harm them as they harmed and killed their beloved Lord. Fear gets hold of man when man realizes that the pain, suffering and death (the wages of sin) justly belong to him according to the law, to each of the disciples, to me, to each of you. I deserve it, you deserve it, not the Truth on the cross. The wounds of Christ belong to the disciples, they deserve them according to the law, I deserve them, you deserve them as sinful men and women. No wonder the disciples are trembling since they have just witnessed all these sins and just wrath to be poured out on the Holy One bleeding on the cross.  Do you not fear face to face your own sinfulness? Then, in the morning or in the evening, look at yourself in the mirror of the law and see what an ugly wretch you are and smell what a stinky bag you are. 

To this fear and misery comes Jesus to meet His disciples after everything seemed lost and comforts them with His word: “Peace be with you!” And the One, who was despised and mocked on the cross, shows this fearful band His hands and side. Look, you deserved them! But “peace be with you!” The disciples were overjoyed. This is the good news, the gospel that the disciples witnessed and received: Christ´s wounds belong to them, to the disciples, according to the law, since the wages of sin is pain and death, but their risen Lord has brought them the good news from His cross. Like with Adam and Eve or like with Moses or Abraham, God did not leave their fearful and suffering children, He did not let the broken cane to break, but came to and among us, prepared the way of help for us and saved us – on the cross He did it all. So, fear not, “peace be with you”, the Lamb has paid for your and my sin on the cross. Now, the disciples can find comfort looking at His wounds. There is no greater love than these wounds out of which the Lamb´s blood washed away your and my sins. So, do not fear!  “And though this world with devils filled…we will not fear…” for the Lamb has won the battle for you and for me there on Golgotha. 

The risen Lord´s meeting the disciples is another reason for joy and comfort. Christ does not only bring His peace and comfort to them, but the risen King of kings and the Lord of lords mandates them: “As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” This commission is a wonderful joy for you, me and the whole world: The good news of Christ bringing peace and comfort by His nailed hands and pierced side is not only for those who saw Him in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, but the Lamb is bringing His gospel of forgiveness of sins from His throne of the bloody cross to all human beings to whom the Lord is sending the Church to preach this gospel of suffering and redemption. Now, there is no greater joy and no more important and noble job than to receive this mandate to preach the gospel and to bring the forgiveness of sins. For you and for me, for the salvation of our fearful hearts and broken lives, Christ has established and sent His Church to bring us His gospel. What a joyful history of salvation that the Lamb still carries on through His Church. 

Christ showed the greatest ever seen love by lowly and silently accepting the bloody cross, while forgiving the soldiers who were putting the nails into His hands. Even the Roman soldier collapsed under the cross and gave his testimony who this man suffering on the cross is. Christ came to the fearful and shattered disciples and brought them not only the peace and comfort of His resurrection but also established His Church and mandated them to carry on His gospel that they have just witnessed in His wounds. And this gospel of forgiveness are the disciples to carry on to all the world. There is no greater love and no more wonderful news than this! The disciples and we can exclaim together with Simeon: “…you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Luke 2:29, 30).

And now, Tomas! He refuses the good news and comfort, the gospel, with these shattering words that bring despair: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Let us not underestimate the statement of Thomas or let us not water it down or make it nicer! Thomas is not asking for any theoretical prove and he refuses to believe the testimony of the disciples. Thomas refuses to believe and asks the most straightforward prove: Put Jesus in front of me and let me stick my hand into His broken body, let me put my hand into His flesh! That is not a gentle talk and everyone had to be shocked by Thomas.

What is this doubt? Let us not condemn or do away with Thomas! Thomas speaks for us, he expresses your doubt or my doubt. Christ´s cross and His resurrection and the gospel of His forgiving Church was and is such a scandal, that I would have probably done even worse than Thomas, I probably would have ran away or taken offence. The doubt is a refusal, a separation or an empty distance. Kierkegaard describes doubt as a hunger in his book Fear and Trembling: “He who has a conception of what it means to live upon spirit knows also what the hunger of doubt is, and that the doubter hungers just as much for the daily bread of life as for the nutriment of the spirit.”  I know of no man who does not get hungry. From the refusal of Eve and Adam who ate, since then, hunger separates us from being content. Just imagine how hungry for any help or support Abraham must have been when climbing the mountain with his son Isaac and with the wood for the sacrificial fire, how large and deep separation or an empty distance there must have been, what a terror of doubt Abraham must suffered! For fearful Abraham and for you and for me when being shattered and torn apart by doubt, Thomas is shouting through the history of salvation: Jesus, show me your wounds! And while we tremble under the terrors of doubt, there is a merciful solution and comfort provided to Abraham, to Thomas and to us: To Abraham, the deliverance and comfort came from outside, the animal was provided for to be sacrificed instead of Abraham´s son Isaac. And to Thomas, to the disciples and to you and me, Christ comes and says: “Peace be with you!” and specifically to Thomas Christ says: “Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:26). Thomas, overwhelmed and moved not by any abstract reasons, but by the very bodily presence of Christ, exclaims his confession: “My Lord and my God!”  The doubt of Thomas is turned into joyful and great confession of who Jesus is. He is the Lord and the God and this encounter of doubting Thomas with Jesus is recorded by the apostle John,  “…that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30) The hunger and terror of doubt of Thomas is turned into the confession of joy and comfort of faith. Thomas is an instrument of great love and grace that Christ extends to His church and to the world when He speaks these words: “Because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Brothers and sisters, Christ is speaking about us, about you and me. The hunger and terrors of doubt are ours, but in the confession of Thomas, Christ has given us the comfort of certain faith that He is the Son of God and the Messiah and that in Him we have forgiveness of sins and life, so, brothers and sisters: “Peace be with you!”