A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney in the evening service on 24 April 2022.
One of the distinctive things about the resurrection appearances in John’s gospel is that they come across as intensely personal.
Every Easter Day we hear the story of Mary Magdalene mistaking the risen Christ for the gardener and accusing him:
‘Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where
you’ve laid him.’
To which Christ responds with simply her name:
Next week we’ll hear about Peter, the disciple who passionately protested his devotion to Christ:
‘Lord, I am ready to go with you, to prison
and to death!’
But Peter had then gone on to deny knowing his Lord three times – and when the cock crowed, the Lord had turned and looked at Peter. After the resurrection Peter is again looked in the eye and asked by the Lord three times:
‘Do you love me?’
Peter’s restoration by the risen Christ, the forgiveness he’s offered, enables Peter to acknowledge:
‘Lord, you know everything; you know
that I love you.’
Tonight we’ve heard of the risen Christ appearing to another of the disciples – this time it’s to Thomas.
There are two particular moments elsewhere in John’s gospel involving Thomas besides this resurrection appearance.
One occasion was at the last supper when Thomas, bewildered by what Jesus was saying, asked in exasperation:
‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how
can we know the way?’
And earlier in Jesus’ ministry when he set off to go to see Lazarus who’d just died, the disciples were uncertain whether to follow Jesus into such a volatile situation. But Thomas said:
‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
The resurrection encounter with Thomas is distinctive because of the importance attached to Christ’s wounds. Christ stands in front of Thomas and invites him to touch those wounds. The wounds aren’t wiped away by the resurrection. Rather it is the wounded Christ who is risen and present to Mary in the garden and now to Thomas in the upper room.
Thomas responds with total devotion:
‘My Lord and my God!’
Read Matthew and Mark and there’s nothing quite comparable. Luke’s account of the Emmaus Road is the only resurrection story with a similar intensity.
But these resurrection appearances don’t last, because their purpose is to gather the disciples back to form a community of faith – for Peter to know that he’s forgiven, for Thomas to have his doubts laid to rest, for Mary to have her love restored.
Once this has been achieved, the appearances come to an end – faith has been rekindled in the hearts of Christ’s disciples.
But even though the intensity of these encounters passes, their impact remains because they speak of something universal – the life-changing presence of the wounded but risen Christ.
They tell of moments of recognition; of relationships restored; of denials forgiven. They tell of doubts laid to rest; of faith rekindled by love.
They speak of a kind of life, a kind of love, a kind of unconquerable joy that is the very essence of Christ’s identity and that is even now alive, life giving and life changing. May this be our experience too.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!