Quasi Modo Geniti
April 8, 2018 A+D
St. John 20: 19-31
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At first, when the Lord appeared to the Ten in the Upper Room on Easter evening they were not glad. They become glad only after He showed them His hands and His side and spoke peace upon them. Then they were glad. They were glad because the Lord had been crucified and was alive. He sought them out as He had sought Adam in the garden, coming not for vengeance but in peace.
They were not glad because the Lord had escaped death. He had not escaped death. He had not tricked the guards or only seemed to die. They are glad because His hands and His side prove that He died and that by crucifixion. He did not escape death but suffered it and then overcame it. That is why and how He came in peace. Atonement had been made by His death. The sacrifice and ransom were complete on the cursed tree become the tree of life. The Law had been satisfied. This is eternally memorialized in the marks on His hands.
If you want to see Jesus, look to His hour of glorification on the cross. That is how He wants to be known, that is where His heart is laid bare, that is how God loves the world. There He draws all men unto Himself.
I like the translation “disbelief” in today’s text for Thomas’s state when he keeps himself away from the fellowship. He is not merely lacking belief. Instead he is believing something false, something evil, and he is stubborn in it. He insists that Jesus stay dead and not come back.
It could be that Thomas is throwing a temper tantrum. He is acting like a cat whose owners have returned home after a vacation. He feels that he was mistreated by Jesus in the terror of Good Friday. He wants to strike back. He doesn’t want peace from Jesus. He wants an apology. He is afraid. Lacking faith, he lacks peace. He is at odds with Jesus. Therefore he is also at odds with his brothers.
What is a bit amazing is that Thomas rightly discerns what it will take to convert him back to faith in Christ. He will not believe unless he sees the place of the nails in the Lord’s hands and side. He is exactly right. I don’t think Thomas figured this out on his own. Rather, without even knowing it, the other apostles have catechized him in their report. They told him what Jesus did: He showed them His hands and His side. He spoke peace upon them and bestowed the Holy Spirit upon them to send them forth with the forgiveness of sins. Thomas is trying to save face or protect his heart, but the Apostolic Word is working on him. He is thinking about the implications of how and why Jesus died.
In his disbelief he didn’t want Jesus alive. He was broken hearted and mourning. He didn’t want to go through the whole drama again. It was too terrible to consider. He wanted to move on. But now he begins to see Jesus’s resurrection in a different light. It isn’t that Jesus escaped death only to die again or that Jesus is coming to shame them for their failure. He comes showing that He really did die and that He died for their peace, that He is alive as one who has passed through death and has overcome death.
The demand that Thomas makes is bold but it also reveals his secret hope. It is a prayer. Thomas says: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” And he really means: “Lord, let me be an apostle. Give me another chance. Do unto me what you did to the other ten. Please, let it be real. Be alive, out of death. Show me your hands and side and give me the peace I so desperately need. Show me your hands and your side, show me how You died, and I will believe.”
The Lord is remarkably patient with Thomas. He puts up with imperfect prayers. He comes back on the eighth day, one week later, seeking Thomas and again He come in peace, bringing peace. He meets Thomas’ demands. He answers the prayer. He invites Thomas to put His finger into the scar left by the nails in His hands and to put His hand into the place from whence came water and blood.
As John reports it, Thomas responds immediately: “My Lord and My God.” John does describe for us whether or not Thomas actually made an investigation of the marks. Did he probe the marks with his finger and hand? He might have. The Lord does not make fake invitations. Thomas could have done this without sin. But, in the end, it is the Word that converts Thomas. It is the bestowal of peace and the offer of intimacy. It is also the admonition and rebuke: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” It could well be that those words and the sight of the Lord who was crucified but was alive converted Thomas so that he did not invade the Lord’s space or probe the marks but simply fell on his knees immediately in amazement, gratitude, and peace, and confessed: “My Lord and my God.” Or maybe he did investigate. Who knows? What we know is that the Lord spoke and Thomas believed.
Jesus is speaking of you, of course, when He responds to the confession of Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” What don’t we see? We don’t see the Lord’s risen Body with our eyes. We see bread and wine. We don’t see the marks. We see instead reminders, crosses, that celebrate and confess the kind of death that Jesus died. We see an altar upon which nothing was ever sacrificed and we make it a table from which the Lord feeds us His risen Body and Blood. What then do we believe? We believed that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of His Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the virgin Mary is our Lord, that He was crucified for us to be Our Lord, in our place, as a Substitute for us, to be our Redeemer, and that He finished death on the cross and overcome death by His resurrection to be our Bridegroom. Therein He declares us to be blessed, righteous, and holy. We believe that He who lives loves us and has reconciled Himself to us, that He is patient with us and seeks us and speaks to us in His Word, hears and answers our prayers.
So we are glad. We are blessed. And we confess that Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, is our God and our Lord.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.