This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on April 8, 2018 (Year B Easter 2) the Gospel reading was John 20:19-31.
Have you ever heard of the word FOMO? It’s an acronym to describe one of the most prevalent anxieties in our society today. It means the fear of missing out. We now have unprecedented access to one another’s lives—at the touch of a button, I can scroll through a tidal wave of information about what my friends, family, and colleagues are doing right now.
But, that makes me ask myself… what am I doing right now? Am I on a trip? Out to brunch? Am I living my best self? Am I at that party, or concert? Am I missing out?
A January CBC article on the fear of missing out pointed to a pair of studies from UBC which “examined the mental health effects that FOMO can have.” The first survey showed that 48% of survey respondents felt that their friends had more friends—more social connection—than they did. The second survey linked these sentiments to “a lower sense of belonging and overall well being.” The research shows that we’re now spending more time, and more money, on trying to combat this anxiety—with trips, meals and experiences. We’re trying to combat that sense of “lack”.
It’s an emptiness that tells us our worst fears—that we’re not as special, or popular, or wanted, or loved, or smart, or capable, as everyone else.
Now, when I was preparing for this Sunday I laughed aloud while reading the gospel text because I could not stop imagining Thomas, sitting in his dusty robes and sandals, at a computer. I imagined him scrolling through selfies that the other disciples had posted of themselves and the risen Christ. They had big smiles on their faces as they celebrated together. And then, there was poor, poor Thomas—at home alone.
Of course, that’s not how it happened in John’s story. Instead, Jesus’ closest friends were gathered at a house following his death. And, I say his closest friends, because earlier in the story we hear of how many of Jesus’ followers deserted him. But, these Twelve (or eleven in this case) stayed faithful. So, his closest friends were gathered together, and they were filled with uncertainty and anxiety. And, a question hung in the air: What now?
What do you do with yourself when the revolution fails? When the king who road into the city with a parade the other week, is dead and buried this week? Rome hasn’t fallen.We are changed, but how do we return to how things were before?
So, they gather together—unsure and terrified of the Temple officials.
Then, suddenly, Jesus is there with them. They recognize him. They recognize his tortured body. They see, but don’t touch—this is a very important piece for John’s gospel—they don’t touch but they see his scars. And… it’s him.
So, they celebrate! Their friend isn’t dead, the revolution isn’t over, Rome and even death, can’t defeat him!
Jesus then gives them an important gift—a calling. He tells them the game plan, he gives them a mission and authority to carry it out. Their reward for their faithfulness is to receive his same spirit. …wow!
But, who isn’t there? Who doesn’t get to see, to celebrate, to receive?
Thomas isn’t there. Maybe he’s working, or picking up groceries, or visiting other followers somewhere else. In any case, he’s not there.
Instead, Thomas gets the leftovers—second-hand accounts from everyone else. And what is his response? I need to see too… I want to get what you got… I want closure… I want to see my beloved friend and teacher too!
Can we blame him? Should we really call him names, like “Doubting Thomas”? Is that fair? Would we have felt differently?
Jesus hears Thomas and comes back for him. When they’ve gathered in the room again, Jesus appears and offers for Thomas to see and touch his scars—so that he too will believe. Now, of course, Thomas doesn’t actually touch Jesus, instead, he recognizes him immediately and cries, “My Lord and my God!”
The resurrection, in John, is relational: Jesus appears first to Mary, then to the disciples, and then Thomas. This resurrection story is not possible without witnesses who knew Jesus, who recognized him. So too, God’s promises, in John, are relational—it is through Christ that we come to the Father. By seeing, hearing, and knowing Christ we come to know God and are transformed.
It is also relational, in the sense that Jesus comes to meet people where they are—waiting at the tomb, huddled together, or feeling totally alone in a room of friends.
Returning to our story, we then see Jesus address the reader, as he asks Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
If this was a movie, this would be the part where Jesus swivels and looks directly at the camera.
This text is our ‘Thomas moment’, a way of having the risen Christ in front of us—to see and hear, but not touch.
The author of John and the other gospel writers have made available the risen Christ to us in their works. So that we don’t miss out so that we can know him—his life, his message, his death, and his transforming power.
This theme of transformation is integral to the Christian message. These people we’re reading about were transformed by their relationship with Jesus; and, so too are we.
Jesus offers us the Easter promise of new life—new life made available through relationship with him. We are offered the same new life as the Samaritan Woman at the Well, of Mary Magdalene, and of Thomas. This offer is particular, to our circumstances and our pain.
He may call us out of shame, out of oblivion, or out of rejection, but it is always into new life. Paul tells us that we die and are raised with Christ, and so we find ourselves part of this Easter story, resurrected and liberated from death—transformed through faith and made alive again.
What a great mystery to be part of. My prayer is that, over this Easter season, with the budding trees and other early signs of spring, you will reflect on your own resurrection story, of how God has called you into goodness and life abundant.