Sermon: Holding a Shaken Void

When 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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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.”
A 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.” Then 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.

John 20:19-31

My sermon from the 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 7, 2024) on John 20:19-31.


So on Friday morning, I lived my life by going to Costco. I pulled into the main lot, parked the car, grabbed a shopping cart, and headed towards the front door. Now, since I visit Costco every week, the staff don’t usually check my membership card at the door since they already know who I am. However, while I drew near, the greeter raised his hand – telling me to stop. For half a second, my hand reached for my wallet to show how I had permission to shop there. The greeter, though, didn’t want to see my card; he wanted to ask me a question. He looked me straight in the eyes and asked: “did you feel the earthquake?” I was, just a few minutes before, stuck on 17 around Garden State Plaza when the earth shook. At first, I assumed it was caused by a giant semi-truck getting a little too close to me. But Kate immediately called and wondered if I had heard the ground roar. For the rest of my drive, we talked about how different our shared experiences were. I, for example, noticed how no one on the roadway changed what they were doing while she saw all the posts online immediately wondering “what was that?” I assumed the greeter wanted to share his story of what it was like when the earth moved. But instead of telling me his story, he lamented that he had felt nothing. In fact, most of those inside the building didn’t know it even happened until family members and friends called to see if they were okay. And while it’s possible many of us had a similar conversation over the last few days, I heard in his voice something more than simply regretting missing out on some big event. There was, instead, a kind of sorrow since he was exactly where he was supposed to be when the earth shook in a very safe way but his day was completely unchanged. He – and those around him – longed for what everyone else had experienced but now carried a void within them they didn’t know how to fill. 

Today’s reading from the gospel according to John is, in its own way, a story about a similar kind of void that someone else carried within it. It began on the first night after Jesus’ friends heard his story continued. Mary Magdalene, after meeting the resurrected Jesus in a garden, returned to the city of Jerusalem to let the others know she had seen the Lord. Mary, along with all the other women who first came to the tomb, were the very first Christian preachers since they were the ones who announced Easter had come. Their testimony, while short and simple, was enough to challenge what everyone else thought and believed. And while we’d hoped that the word they shared would grant the disciples a kind of peace and joy transcending everything that had come before; it’s more likely it didn’t. They were still very much wrapped in the shock, doubt, disbelief, anger, frustration, grief, and guilt they carried within them. The disciples might have had an easier time listening to Mary’s message if she said Jesus didn’t really die or that he was merely wounded when he was placed in the tomb. But the word she shared was that everything that happened to Jesus really did happen – and even though he had been left alone, he returned so no one would ever have to live through their life on their own again. Her word is still a hard one to fully trust and believe which is why, on that first night, Jesus affirmed their message by visiting the disciples who locked themselves in a room. 

But what about those who weren’t there on that first Easter night or who didn’t have an experience like Mary did? Well, for the rest of us, there’s Thomas – the disciple who wasn’t there. Now we don’t know why Thomas wasn’t around on the first night but we do know, later on, he showed up for his friends. They, like Mary, told Thomas what had happened to them. And so Thomas, in response, put into words the void he suddenly felt inside. Thomas, most likely, assumed his experience of Jesus should match all the others since he had been with Jesus since nearly the beginning. But his friends now had an experience he didn’t have and we can hear that void form within him. His response to the other disciples wasn’t, I think, really him doubting what the others had seen. It was his way of proclaiming that he wanted his own experience that would allow him to join with the others to say “we have seen the Lord.” And while his willingness to be completely himself is something we should pay attention to; the part of the story I was drawn to this week was the fact how he, a week later, was back in the room where everything had happened. Thomas, during that week, could have gone somewhere else since Jesus hadn’t visited him. Or those in the Jesus community could have rejected him since he was unable, and unwilling, to proclaim what the rest of them did. But instead of doing what we, in our own way, have either experienced or done to others – Thomas was still there. The void he held inside wasn’t a sign he didn’t belong nor was their community defined by some kind of doctrinal position they all agreed on. Rather, this mixed community of people who had seen the resurrected Jesus and those who hadn’t; those who had experienced the divine and those who longed for it; a community filled with folks who were at peace and those who desperately needed it; they all belonged – together – with their God. We, as an Easter people, are not defined by our particular experiences of the divine – or the lack thereof. Rather, we are Jesus’ people because Jesus has called us while we were busy living the lives we actually live. This call was given to us in our baptism, when the union of water and word promised that because of Christ, our story – and the world’s story – will be so much more. This promise is often difficult to believe since we go through seasons of life when we might wonder if this faith thing truly matters. Yet the voids we hold within us doesn’t mean we don’t belong. We are made to be living in, with, and through a Savior who is manifested in a community big enough to hold all that makes us who we are. And while there are days when we will be like Thomas on the week after that first Easter evening, there are more times when we hold a void no earthquake can shake out of us. Yet during all those kinds of moments, you are still a beloved child of God. And the One who  chose to appear to those holding a void that needed to be filled – will, through His grace, His presence, the food at His table, and through the community we get to be everyday – Jesus will hold you through the voids inside of you and grant a peace that will carry you through.