Jesus Appears to His Disciples
Scripture Reading: John 20:19-29
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
“No Gloom In the Tomb”
Some of you know that I’m easily startled while working in my office. It’s easy for people to catch me by surprise. A few of you, I might add, make it a point to scare me, just because you like watching me jump six inches straight up in the air.
However startled I may get, it’s nothing compared to what the disciples went through in this morning’s gospel lesson.
They’re hiding behind locked doors, afraid for their lives, when suddenly, “Poof!” There’s Jesus! No wonder he said, “Peace be with you.” Half of them were probably picking themselves up off the floor because they’d fainted dead away.
That’s just one example of humor in the Bible. There are many more. If we start in the Hebrew Scriptures, we find the story of the recently freed Egyptian slaves grumbling, as they were wont to do, in the wilderness.
“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)
God hears their whining, all right, and God tells Moses to say this:
You shall eat [meat]—not just for one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—you’ll eat meat until it comes out your noses and you can’t stand the sight, smell, or taste of it. (Numbers 11:18-20)
After that, God covered the ground with quail—a LOT of quail. Scripture says they were 40 inches deep over a 35-mile-wide circle. By the time they were through, the Hebrew people just might have had quail coming out of their noses.
Of course, Jesus, an expert storyteller, was no stranger to humor, either. Who would light a lamp and hide it under a bushel basket, or build a house on sand instead of bedrock?
You must admit that the mental picture of someone criticizing a splinter in their neighbor’s eye while a two by four is poking out of their own is pretty funny.
Then, of course, there’s the notion of letting hogs munch on granny’s prized pearls, or straining out gnats while swallowing a camel.
We’ve heard Jesus’ stories so many times we don’t realize how funny they were to the people who first heard them—or how funny they still should be to us.
So many Christians are so very serious. They lose the infectious joy of Jesus’ stories and ministry, burying them in boredom and routine, as this clip shows.
Look, not everyone feels like being funny all the time. Believe me, I know. Still, though, somewhere deep down, we long for joy.
That’s because we’re made in the image of God, you and I. Alone of all the creatures in creation, we have a sense of humor. Laughter is the gift God gave us the day we were born. While that gift may fade with the passing years, it never goes away.
The Rev. Susan Sparks, a standup comedian who went to seminary and became a pastor, wrote the book Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor.
In it, Rev. Sparks says:
A smorgasbord of joy and happiness surrounds us. With every new day, there is the miracle of life and energy and spirit. Yet we march through life missing most of it, allowing ourselves only the few insignificant morsels we believe we deserve.
If we focus on ourselves and our problems and everything that’s wrong in our life, we’re an Eeyore. He’s the pessimistic, whiny donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories who trudges along with his head down, his ears drooping, and the most forlorn expression on his face.
Eeyore is always negative. He has low expectations for others and even lower expectations for himself. Eeyore doesn’t think he can do anything right.
Tigger is Eeyore’s opposite. Tigger goes through life bouncing on his tail, looking for joy no matter what. Amazingly, he finds it. If you looked at how you act for a full day, would you be closer to Tigger or Eeyore?
In Genesis, so the story goes, God saved humanity and all the creatures of the earth in a great ark. Joy and laughter, God’s precious gifts, are our ark, especially in times of crisis.
They carry us through the waters of loss, pain, or illness. They guide us through the guilt-tossed seas of mistakes and missteps we wish could undo but can’t. Most importantly, joy and laughter remind us that there’s more to us than either our pain or our regrets.
Here’s a short clip from that great theological film, Kung Fu Panda.
Even though Po is an overweight panda, his true destiny is to be a great dragon warrior. As Zen master Oogway told him, “Our destiny is usually found on the road we take to avoid it.”
However much we may try to avoid it with lives mired in grousing, grumbling, and negative thinking, our destiny, our calling, is to follow Jesus Christ, accepting both the “cost and the joy of discipleship.”
On this Sunday after Easter, we embrace the joy, the hope, and, yes, the laughter that are God’s gifts to us in Jesus Christ. Whoever we may be now, those gifts have the power to shape the people we’re yet to be. Here’s how Rev. Sparks put it.
Ask yourself: “Do I want to be a resentful, angry, exhausted human being?” Then give priority to the “to-do” lists and the failures and money and power and the multitasking and the need to be right all the time.
Or if your answer is that you want to leave a legacy as a loving, compassionate, peaceful human being, then show it. Give priority to compassion and patience and peace. Err on the side of Tigger. Smile. At the end, there is only one question each of us has to answer: Did we leave the world a better place?
Have you? Will you? If you aren’t satisfied with your answer, there’s no better time to change course than today.
Remember, we’re made in the image of God, a God who gives us the gift of knowing both laughter and joy. If we dare embrace that gift as God intends we should, we’ll live lives of grace and hope.