Opening Day

The Second Sunday of Easter
Indian Hill Church
Cincinnati, OH
Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29
John 20:19-31
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Caine

20:19 “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.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.” 26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 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.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 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, NRSV)

Let us pray: Living God, you raised your son Jesus long ago, and faithful women proclaimed the good news of his resurrection, and the world was changed forever. Teach us to keep faith with them, that our witness may be as bold, our love as deep, and our faith as true. Amen.

Today is Opening Day for major league baseball, the day when the entire league, for one brief moment, is tied for first place; when even the Cubs and the Brewers still believe they can win it all. When the Astros fans can still say this might be our year. When the Marlins and the Cardinals are actually tied in the standings. Our beloved Reds don’t start until tomorrow so we have one more day of high hopes before the harsh reality of a rebuilding year sets in.

Opening Day of baseball is filled with hopefulness. Opening Day once again offers us the joyful gift of possibility. Opening day when hope springs eternal.

Last Sunday was Easter, the original day of hope and possibility for Christians. How quickly we forget. Remember, it was the women that came to the tomb, and they found that the stone was rolled away. In spite of the eye witness reports of an empty tomb and Mary’s personal interaction with the Risen Christ, the disciples have locked themselves in a room out of fear. This is significant, that the good news of the Risen Christ is generally met with doubt and disbelief. The reality of the Resurrected son of God doesn’t necessarily take away the disciples fears and doubts. At least not at first. Truly good news takes time to believe, to sink in, and to trust. All the disciples except for Thomas, who was missing, were in for a huge surprise, when Jesus himself enters their fear filled gathering and joins them in their safe room. Jesus offers them peace, he blesses them and then he commissions them, sending them out into the world just as he was sent. Jesus visited his disciples and offered them a future and a purpose and they are joyful. Which is, I think, quite important, as we discover that the absence of fear isn’t comfort, it is purpose. Jesus blesses his disciples not with rest and relaxation, not with security and safety, but rather with peace and purpose.

Thomas, the disciple who missed out on Jesus appearance in the safe room, get a bad rap. He is tabbed as a doubter, when in reality he was much more a realist. Think about it. Everything we know about Thomas up to this point suggests that he is forthright, genuine, and even courageous. Thomas was the one who urged the disciples to go with Jesus to raise Lazarus. He was the one who didn’t understand Jesus’ metaphorical speech about the place he is going to, so he calls Jesus on it: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way.”

Thomas is at heart a pragmatist, one who likes his truth straight up and who likes to assess the whole situation before making a decision. So, when Thomas is confronted by the risen Lord he makes the first of two confessions in our reading for today.

His first confession is disbelief and doubt. But when the risen Jesus comes and meets him in his disbelief, Thomas is moved to a second confession. Christ turns his disbelief and doubt into a confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas now joins the other disciples in witness to the one who has come to forgive and offer us new life through him. Jesus presence turns fear into joy, doubt into faith and death into life.

The risen Christ came to Thomas in the flesh, and Thomas sees for himself and affirms his faith. Thomas doesn’t change but what does change is his understanding of what is possible. His concept of what God can do. All things are possible now.

Jesus shows himself to Thomas in the same way he did to the rest of the disciples. Just as he shows himself to us. He came to offer abundant life to a world that holds on to the measly substitutes for life that we have scrounged for ourselves. He came to offer grace and love to our world that is more interested in the certainties of our bank accounts and social status and rankings.

That is the beauty of opening day: anything is possible and hope springs eternal. Being a baseball fan means living this faithful paradox that embraces the hopefulness of the new season while fully comprehending the disappointments of last season. No matter who your team is; on opening day the possibilities are sky-high; today, at least, every team believes this could be our year. You never know. Anything could happen! That’s the miracle of opening day there’s still hope! Being a Christian means knowing that with God all things are possible. With God light can come from darkness, healing from brokenness and life can come from death…

Let us pray. Gracious and powerful God, whose authority rests above all things, have mercy on us. We have heard promises of newness and recreation, but it’s so hard to change. It’s so hard to let go. It’s so hard to believe. Give us the gift to hope and to love as you have loved us. Amen.

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