Sermon for Easter 2
Readings: Acts 4:32–37; 1 John 1:1–2:2 & John 20:19–31
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29b)
These are the words attributed to Jesus, by the author of the Gospel of John, to refer to people who believe the stories about Jesus, but who didn’t witness firsthand the events described in the stories.
These same words could be applied to anyone who believes what is recorded in ancient history. Because much of what is recorded, was often written hundreds of years after the events being recorded had actually taken place and, in most cases, the sources of the information recorded were not eyewitnesses to the events, but rather oral tales that supposedly originated with people who had witnessed the events firsthand. So we might ask how is this any different to the stories about Jesus in the New Testament, such as today’s story of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples?
Many scholars believe the author of John’s Gospel was one of the 12 apostles, while others suggest he was either an early disciple of Jesus (but not an apostle), or he was a student of one of the apostles. In any case, this person either witnessed for themselves the events described in the stories about Jesus, or worst case, they received the details from people who had been firsthand witnesses. So we could argue that their account of the stories contained in the Gospel of John, is likely to be more reliable than much of what has been recorded in ancient history. Yet we find ourselves in the situation where people are happy to accept that the events recorded in ancient history actually took place as described, but they are less likely to accept many of the stories involving Jesus, particularly those in relation to his resurrection.
The author of John’s Gospel writes in today’s passage that “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.” (John 20:30– 31) The purpose of the author in writing the gospel wasn’t to provide a detailed biography of Jesus’ life, but rather to give witness that God had revealed Himself to humanity in and through Jesus.
We actually see this in our second reading this morning from 1 John, which is also believed to have been written by the author of John’s Gospel, where the author writes, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life . . . . . the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.”
Like the people Jesus referred to in today’s gospel passage, we have not seen and yet we have come to believe. When we recite the words of the Nicene Creed every Sunday we are saying that we believe that God was incarnate in Jesus, and that Jesus was raised from the dead following his crucifixion. We haven’t seen it with our own eyes, but we have come to believe it. Is it believable? Is it any less believable than some so called ‘modern day miracles’ that we hear of?
For example, in March 2015, four police officers helped rescue a baby from an overturned car in a Utah river, and all four claim that they heard an unexplained voice calling from the car. The accident happened after a car driven by the baby’s mother ran off the road and into the river. Her 18-month-old daughter, Lily, was found in her car seat upside down just above frigid river water and had been there for a least 12 hours.
First responders on the scene, including police officer Tyler Beddoes, told a news crew that “someone said, ‘Help me!’ from inside that car.” “It wasn’t just in our heads,” officer Jared Warner confirmed. “To me, it was plain as day. I remember hearing a voice that didn’t sound like a child, just saying, “Help me!'” Firefighters said they heard it too.
All were emphatic the voice came from the vehicle. It looked as though no one could have survived, but the voice “prompted us to lift the car between the three officers and firemen,” Police Lt. Matt Johnson said. Johnson confirmed the voice could not have come from the 25-year-old mother and driver, who was already dead and most likely had been killed on impact.
The baby was in a car seat in the backseat on the passenger side. The water was so cold that the rescue crew members could only stay in for short periods of time. After a firefighter jumped into the river to cut the infant free, the first responders formed a relay and handed her from one person to the next until she was on shore and able to get care.
Authorities don’t know how the girl survived hanging upside-down for 14 hours in freezing temperatures with no food or water and skimpy clothing, let alone how to explain the voice that all the rescuers heard.
Little Lily made a full recovery and was reunited with her family. “It’s a miracle,” Officer Beddoes told the news crew. “She was needed for sure elsewhere.” This comment from the police officer, is an indication that, in his mind, God had other plans for this little girl. Who knows what sort of life this little girl will lead, and how her life might influence her family, friends and other people that she comes in contact with throughout her life? As we have heard before, God works in, and through, people and events to bring about outcomes, the purposes of which are known only to God.
God became human in and through the person of Jesus, who died on the cross so that all of humanity could be reconciled to God. Jesus was raised from the dead so that we might also be raised from the dead to eternal life with Him.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”