We had a guest preacher this morning, Rev George Samiec, who (in the course of an excellent sermon) made an interesting point concerning the resurrection accounts in John 20.
Taking as the theme “seeing isn’t believing”, Rev Samiec argued that for each appearance (or non-appearance, in the case of John), what is crucial in bringing John, Mary and Thomas to faith is not what they see, but the word:
- For John, the word of the scriptures: seeing the linen wrappings from Jesus’ body would not in itself lead to faith in the resurrection, but for John it lead to the “penny dropping” about what the scriptures had been telling them: “for as yet [i.e. until this point] they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead”.
- For Mary, the crucial moment came when Jesus spoke her name: “Mary”.
- For Thomas also, it was not seeing the risen Jesus that prompted Thomas’ confession of faith (“My Lord and my God!”), but Jesus’ words spoken to him: “Do not doubt but believe.”
The point is that it is the same word by the same risen Jesus that brings us to faith today. Even though we cannot see him, Jesus is still present and still speaks to us, above all through his ministers in the preaching of the gospel, in baptism and in the Lord’s Supper.
I wonder if we can go a little further, though, and see specific allusions in John 20 to the word and sacraments as testimonies of the resurrection:
- For John, the reference to the role of scripture is clear: as we’ve already seen, the sight of the abandoned linen wrappings makes him realise what the scriptures had been telling him all along about the Messiah: “that he must rise from the dead”.
- For Mary, I wonder if we can see here an allusion to baptism. There are four references to her weeping, and perhaps one reason she was unable to recognise Jesus was for the tears in her eyes. And then Jesus addresses her by name, just as baptism is the sacrament in which Jesus addresses each of us by name as individuals. The water of Mary’s tears was not enough without the word of Jesus, just as baptism is “not just plain water”, but the water “combined with God’s word” (Small Catechism).
- Then for Thomas, the emphasis on Jesus’ sacrificed-and-risen flesh and blood calls to mind the Lord’s Supper, where we “reach out our hands”, not to put our fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands, but as an act of faith (“My Lord and my God!”) to receive Jesus’ body and blood under the bread and wine.
Scripture, baptism and the Supper – word and water, bread and wine – remain for us, as for the first disciples, signs given:
…so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.