Sunday, April 11, 2021
1 John 1:1-2:2
Who is Jesus? That is the question we’ll be thinking about this season of Easter, as we wonder along with Thomas this morning about who the risen Christ is and if he’s actually who he says he is. I want you to think about your earliest memory of learning something about who Jesus was. What did you learn about him? What image comes first to mind? In the congregation where I grew up, there is a large, carved wooden cross hanging in the front of the church from the ceiling. It looks very realistic, like the kind of cross that Jesus may have been crucified on. That is one of my first memories of Jesus – I remember thinking as a little kid that the cross hanging in my church actually was THE cross Jesus died on. My church was pretty special to have it, I thought! Jesus was very real for me at an early age. What do you remember thinking about Jesus?
Whether you believe that Jesus was the son of God, crucified and risen or not, Jesus still fascinates all kinds of people still today. As I mentioned earlier, this Easter season, we’ll be looking at the different aspects of Jesus mentioned in scripture – it’s hard to contain a full description of Jesus the Christ in just a few words. In our scriptures for today alone, we hear many different descriptions of Jesus – the atoning sacrifice for our sins, the word of life, the righteous, the advocate, the Lord, the Messiah, the Son of God. There are other ideas that people believe about Jesus that are not true within the Christian understanding, in scripture or according to tradition: mainly, that Jesus was just a nice guy who was really, really good, or even as that Jesus was as great as a prophet, but not more than a prophet. I want to also encourage you all to think about who Jesus is for you, personally, and which titles and characteristics resonate most with you. How does Jesus draw you close to him and help you keep the faith, in spite of your doubts?
Our gospel this morning tells the famous story of “doubting Thomas,” who greets the news of the risen Christ with skepticism. “I gotta see this to believe it,” Thomas basically says. And when he does see Jesus, not only sees him but gets to touch the wounds in his hands and side, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” From the witnesses who saw Jesus after his resurrection, we hear how Jesus was not just a really good, moral person, but God himself. And Jesus is not just a disembodied, effervescent spirit, but a wounded, crucified God in the flesh. Along with Thomas, we may bring our questions and skepticism of who Jesus really is, and what God is up to through him. There may be points in our lives when we find it easy to believe and other times when we feel like Thomas, that we need to see to believe, to truly trust that Jesus is who he says he is. Flannery O’Connor said, “It is much harder to believe than not to believe…You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.” Faith is trust, not certainty. As a questioner myself, I have always appreciated this reminder that I don’t have to be certain to have faith as a Christian.
I want to turn our focus for a moment to our second reading today from 1 John. We’ll be reading almost all of this letter (which is pretty short if you want to read it in one sitting at home) throughout the Easter season. The early Christian community John is writing to is also wrestling with factions who have different ideas of who Jesus is. Mainly, there are people who are called “Docetics” who are arguing that there is no way that God would choose to die, especially on a cross. They are trying to convince early believers that Jesus just seemed to be human, but wasn’t, really – that he was more of a spirit or ghost who only appeared to suffer and die. The whole letter of 1 John is arguing that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine – that Christ’s death on the cross matters deeply for the atonement of the whole world’s sins and that same death brings us into fellowship with God and with one another. It’s pretty heady stuff. But there is another, simpler, reason for John to write this letter. John is concerned not just with who Jesus is, that those who claim to follow Jesus understand that Jesus is fully human and God at the same time. John is also concerned about who Jesus’ followers as Christians are, and what they do. The docetics are promoting hate toward those who think differently than they do. Christians are called and commanded by Christ to love, because Jesus is also love, John reminds them and us. “Walk in the light as he is in the light,” John urges us. What does it mean to walk in the light of Jesus, especially if we often feel like we are struggling to find our way in the darkness of uncertainty?
I would bet that some of your first memories of Jesus or at least being in a church may have something to do with candles at Christmas Eve, lights lit in memory of someone at a Catholic church, a baptismal candle or singing “This Little Light of Mine” in Sunday School. Light illuminates, helps us see when it is otherwise dark.
Light doesn’t just help us see or provide guidance for our path. We talk in terms of light when we understand something more clearly – “thank you for illuminating that for me, or for shedding light on the issue” we might say. In talking about Jesus as the light, we understand him to be our guide but also One who reveals a way of living for us that we may not have understood before.
Our four year old daughter is learning to sleep without her lamp on at night – it’s hard for her to sleep in the dark, even though we still keep a nightlight on. We’re encouraging her by telling her she is safe, mom and dad are in the room next door, and God is always with her at night and in the morning, whether it’s dark or light.
We all make our way through the darkness, as Flannery O’Connor notes. Christ’s light shines for us in the night and during the day, as we strive to walk more and more in his light. Pretending we’re enlightened and we have it all figured out, that we’re not ever afraid and don’t need any help from anyone keeps us in the dark instead of drawing us to the light of Christ. Thomas is honest with Jesus and the other disciples, his friends. He confesses that he can’t fully trust that Jesus says who he says he is until he has more information. As he keeps asking questions, his trust deepens so that he is able to “see the light” and affirm that Jesus is his Lord and God. Jesus sticks by Thomas, and Jesus sticks by us, listening to our questions and encouraging our belief.
Jesus our light gives us hope when we feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts, consumed by being “in the dark.” And for the community John is writing to in his letter, Jesus the light turns us as believers towards love and life and away from hate. John’s letter encourages believers over and over to place their trust in the true God of light, life and love. Walk by faith and not by sight, and may Jesus continue to draw you close and lead you by his light. Amen.