We Worship in Hope (Sermon)

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached today, the Second Sunday of Easter. The gospel reading was John 20:19-31.

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter. In the church year, Easter isn’t one day. It’s a seven-week season. The resurrection of Christ is so big that we celebrate for seven weeks, a week of weeks! So we don’t call today the Sunday after Easter; we call it the Second Sunday of Easter. But of course, there’s also a way in which we celebrate the resurrection every week, not just on the Sundays we call Easter. This congregation has been gathering to celebrate the resurrection every seven days, almost without fail, for over fifty years. Go back sixty years, and you’ll find the church gathering each Sunday in East Bangor, and North Bangor, and in the little church right here in Johnsonville. Go back a few hundred years, and you can follow our Lutheran ancestors back to Germany, and see them worshiping every Sonntag. And go back another thousand years, before the church even reached northern Europe, and you’ll find the church even then was gathering for worship each week, on the first day of the week. Without fail. Oh, there have been local exceptions, when one particular congregation didn’t have worship. But the church was always worshiping somewhere. Even during the lockdown three years ago, we still gathered for worship in a different way, every Sunday. That’s almost two thousand years of weekly worship. That’s 103,835 Sundays. And counting.

And it began in that locked room we heard about in today’s gospel. John tells us that on the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, his disciples were gathered in a room. They were scared, so the doors were locked. Nonetheless, Jesus appeared to them. Alive and resurrected, he appeared to them, and said, “Peace be with you.” They were shocked, terrified, overjoyed. And they all disciples rejoiced! Well, all of them except Thomas. He wasn’t there.

A week later, it was Sunday again, and they were gathered in the same room. It was the original Second Sunday of Easter, and Thomas was there this time. Fun fact. This may have been the only time in the history of the church that attendance went up on the Second Sunday of Easter.

And Jesus showed up again! On the second Sunday of Easter, the disciples gathered together, and Jesus showed up. Now what I find interesting is this. Why were they there huddled in that room the second week? Why did the Second Sunday of Easter even happen?

I get why they were there the first week. They were scared, didn’t know what to do. They tried to keep themselves safe. But when Jesus appeared to them on Easter Day, didn’t that change everything? What did they have to fear now? So why, one week later, were they huddled up again, scared, behind closed doors?

And also, why was Thomas with them the second week? He made it clear that he didn’t believe them. He didn’t believe Jesus was alive. So why did stay with the other disciples at all? Why not just go home?

And also, why was Jesus there again? He already appeared to them. Why come back again?

I have a guess why they were all there, Thomas, the other disciples, and Jesus. And my guess is this: Hope. It all came down to hope. First off, Thomas must have had hope. He stayed with the other disciples, and made sure he was there that second week, because he had hope. Maybe just a little, but that’s all it took. He had some pretty huge doubts about the resurrection, but he wondered. He wondered, and he thought maybe, just maybe, there was something there. He had just enough hope to give it one try, just enough hope that maybe Jesus was really alive.

Now Thomas wasn’t the only one with doubts. All the disciples were unsure. They had seen Jesus on Easter Day, but as that first week went on, they weren’t sure what it meant that Jesus appeared. He was alive, but what did that mean? They argued with each other all week about what they were supposed to do now. One of them, may have said, “You know, maybe Thomas was right. Maybe we all just dreamed it.” These disciples were tentative, confused, wondering, and still scared. But they still gathered there because they had hope. They were hopeful that something would happen again this second Sunday. Hopeful that it would become more clear.

So there they were, Thomas and all the others, gathered together with so many emotions, so many thoughts. But all bearing hope. And so they were there on the Second Sunday of Easter, ready to worship.

They may not have known they were ready to worship, but they were. Because that’s all it takes to be ready for worship: hope.

Worshiping God doesn’t require perfect faith. It doesn’t require knowing every line of the Apostles Creed, or a deep understanding of the Bible. It doesn’t require having money for the offering plate, or food for the food pantry. It doesn’t require a certain dress code, or a certain personality. It doesn’t require knowing the people you’re worshiping with. Those things are all fine, but they’re not required for worship.

All that’s required is hope.

I’m not sure why each of you is here today. Perhaps some of you wanted to feel the presence of God. Perhaps some of you wanted to see your friends, your church community. Perhaps some of you felt a need for spirituality. Perhaps some of you came out of a sense of guilt. Or a sense of duty. Or a sense of gratitude.

I don’t know why you are all here. But I believe that for each one of you, there is also a sense of hope.

Hope that God might be here too. Hope that God might be worthy of your worship. Hope that your life is more than just one day after another. Hope that the words we say and the songs we sing in this place, that the bread and wine we share in this place, that the relationships and love we nurture in this place, might just be blessed by God, and that they might just be holy.

We don’t know any of that to be true. But we hope. 

And on the Second Sunday of Easter, Jesus came again. He said, “Peace be with you.” He came again to bring hope.

And he went to Thomas. Not to scold him. Not to reprimand him. But to bring him hope.

And Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.” And Thomas worshiped.

And the disciples went out and began to do ministry. And every Sunday, they gathered. Every Sunday, every first day of the week, the day on which the Lord was raised, they gathered. In hope.

They gathered in hope and worshiped on the third Sunday of Easter, and the fourth Sunday, and the fifth.

By the hundredth Sunday of Easter, they were welcoming many new converts, teaching them about Christ. By the thousandth Sunday of Easter, there were churches popping up all over the known world, filled with all sorts of people, rich, poor, slave, free, believers, doubters. By the ten thousandth Sunday of Easter, the church was thriving in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

And now, we gather here once more on the 103,835th Sunday of Easter. And we still come in hope. We come to worship God, to sing our praises and offer our time, our talents, our treasure, and ourselves to God in praise and thanksgiving to the God of all steadfastness, the God of all mercy, the God of all compassion, the God of all holiness.

And we come in hope. It’s okay if you’re not sure about all this. It’s okay if you’re confused by some of this stuff we do. It’s okay if you’re questioning, or if you’re just not all that interested. However you are today, it’s okay. Have hope. Have hope. Because it may just be that Jesus will breathe the Holy Spirit on you today. Whatever that might mean. I’m not completely sure myself what that means. It may be that Jesus will appear to you today, like he did to Thomas.

And if not, well then let’s gather again in hope next week for the 103,836th Sunday of Easter. And let’s keep gathering in hope, worshiping the God who gives us hope. Worshiping the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Worshiping the God who says, “Peace be with you.”

Featured image: Thomas the Apostle, detail of the mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, 6th century
Usage terms:Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/prof_richard/48798403803/ | Richard Mortel

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