'Jesus addresses [Thomas,], not with anger, but with love. Jesus comes to him not in overpowering strength, but in weakness. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ The one who inherits the earth, the Lord of all, is meekest of all. He comes to Thomas and he makes himself vulnerable, just as he’d made himself vulnerable to the lepers, to the disciples, to the crowds, to the religious leaders and the soldiers, all the way to the cross. He invites Thomas to see and touch and to believe.'
I’m going to begin the sermon with an apology.
You all know what an apology is, don’t you? I looked up the definition before the service on my magic phone. Here it is: Something that is said or written to defend something that other people criticize.
I’m sure that’s not the definition you were expecting: You were expecting something like this: an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret; or even, an expression of regret at not being able to do something.
But neither of these is what I mean by apology right now. The meaning that I am talking about was much more common in the ancient world. Somebody offering an ‘apology’ was not saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ they were defending an idea or a person, explaining it, answering objections.
At the turn of the first century, a man named Justin wrote two ‘apologies’ for Christianity. He wasn’t saying, ‘I’m sorry for being a Christian,’ but he was defending the faith, answering its philosophical and religious critics. Evidently the apologies weren’t accepted, for he is now known as ‘Justin Martyr,’ executed for his faith in Christ.
In the sixteenth century, Roman Catholic theologians prepared a confutation of the Augsburg Confession, which was prepared by the Evangelical theologians as an explanation of their interpretation of the Christian faith. In response to the Confutation, Philip Melanchthon, a theological colleague of Martin Luther’s, wrote a response which is known as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Again, it’s not ‘I’m sorry I’m a Lutheran,’ but ‘this is where you’ve gotten us wrong.’
What we see in the reading from Acts is Peter offering a ‘defense’ or ‘explanation’ or an ‘apology’ of the resurrection. It is the day of Pentecost, and he is explaining to the crowd that Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised from the dead. He goes on to say that this was prophesied in Scripture, and quotes Psalm 16, which was just sung: ‘For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your Holy One see corruption.’
Now the people whom Peter was addressing all knew that Psalm 16 was attributed to King David of one thousand years before. But, Peter argued, David could not have written this about himself, for David had died, as everyone knew. But since God had promised that David’s line would last forever, David was writing about his successor, the Messiah, God’s Holy One. And, said Peter, the prophecy had come true in Jesus.
When we in the Church read the Psalms, we must always first understand them in their historical context. Then we also read them Christologically, that is to say, that they are about Christ. We can even read them with Christ as the subject, as Christ did himself from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
But this is a far more joyful reading today: Jesus saying, For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your holy one see corruption. And indeed, we can also read them in the voice of the Church. And since the Church is Christ’s body, then the same thing that applies to the head applies to the members. We too may say with confidence that God will not abandon us to death, but will raise us with Jesus to eternal life.
Peter gives an ‘apology’ for the resurrection, saying that this is what was prophesied about the Messiah all along. He defends the idea of Jesus’ resurrection. If someone were to ask me to give an apology for the resurrection, I might do so in a few ways.
So they met in the Upper Room, and maybe it was a farewell meeting of sorts. But there were to be no farewells, at least not that day. For Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ Jesus was still to be present among them to make and keep them one body. The disciples were not judged by God for their failures. They were forgiven and would be sent to proclaim Jesus’ message.
If we need an apology for the Resurrection, we can also look at Peter’s behavior on Pentecost. Remember, this was the guy who had denied knowing Jesus the Galilean three times. Even after he’d been called out for his hick rube northern accent, he still tried to bareface his way out of it. He denied Jesus out of fear – it wasn’t that he had no faith, but he was acting out of his fear. But after the resurrection, he started acting out of his faith.
Then we have the idea that the risen Jesus caused his joy to be known in the Church. In the second lesson, we see that Peter is writing to a congregation of Christians in an unknown city. Though they themselves have not seen Jesus or touched him, Peter can say that they love him and know him and rejoice, just as the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord in the Upper Room. This is another apology for, or defense of, the Resurrection.
Now this to me is the most appealing apology for the Resurrection. Because when Thomas is with the disciples, and Jesus again came to them in the Upper Room, he said, ‘Peace be with you,’ and then turned to address Thomas. I can imagine the other disciples going, ‘Ummmmm.’ What would Jesus say to the one who had doubted him?
And Jesus addresses him, not with anger, but with love. Jesus comes to him not in overpowering strength, but in weakness. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ The one who inherits the earth, the Lord of all, is meekest of all. He comes to Thomas and he makes himself vulnerable, just as he’d made himself vulnerable to the lepers, to the disciples, to the crowds, to the religious leaders and the soldiers, all the way to the cross. He invites Thomas to see and touch and to believe.
I have this feeling that if the resurrection stories were fakes, they would be written in a far different way. Jesus would not have come to Thomas with mercy and patience but in wrath and fury. At the very least he would be disappointed with Thomas. But no, this is the same Jesus whom they knew from the days in Galilee, the one who always was for them, even when they weren’t for him. Christianity has an inner coherence which makes it not only plausible, but very attractive. And this is my apology for it, my defense of it; its coherence and its vulnerability.
So, I’ve made my apology. It’s a little different than what you expected when I started the sermon. But even though it’s not what you expected. I hope that you can accept it.