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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

You Should'a Been There

Date: 04/03/2005
Feast: 2nd Sunday of Easter
Church: LHPC
James McTyre
Bible text: John 20:19-31
Theme: Thomas/Peter

In the first scripture lesson, Peter stands before the people of Jerusalem and delivers one of the most powerful sermons ever. “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.”

Peter speaks with the conviction of an apostle who has seen and heard the risen Lord. He has felt the touch of the Savior’s hand – the hand that reached to his quivering shoulder and said, “Stand up. Don’t be afraid.” The hand that reached out to him in a new life, saying, “Here, see the scars of the nails.” When Peter The Rock speaks, men and women line up to confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, to say the central creed of this gospel: “My Lord and my God!”

And, as Peter tells them, this isn’t just his Lord, his God – or even their Lord, their God. Long ago, King David, who was prophet as well as king, sang of the Messiah to come. Peter quotes Psalm 16 and puts it on the lips of Jesus:

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Did David know he was writing a song for Jesus to sing? Did he have a vision of how Jesus would be? If so, it wasn’t because he had supernatural powers. It was because in the day he heard the voice of scripture. In his dreams at night, he heard the voice of the Spirit whispering to his heart. Scripture and Spirit taught David things he couldn’t know, mere mortal that he was. Scripture and Spirit gave David vision. Not just “a” vision, but vision to see God’s plan as it was unfolding all around him, and in generations to come.

So David might have smiled when he heard Peter quoting his song. But now, more than even a sacred song, it became gospel, because Peter used the song to tell the gospel story of Jesus Christ. “Men of Judea and all (men and women) who live in Jerusalem… listen to what I say.” David looked ahead with vision; Peter looked back with the sure confidence of real-life experience. Their words and their faith came from the same cup, even though they were poured different ways, at different times.

I have this vision of David and Peter talking together in God’s kingdom. David says, “Oh, Pete, you should’a been there. I woke up and I had these lyrics running around in my head. I don’t know where they came from. So, I took my shower, because, you know, all good ideas come in the shower. It’s in Leviticus. And then I heard the music, and it all just came together. So I threw on my clothes, grabbed my harp and assembled the masses, because, when you’re king, you can do that. And I played, and sang, and, it was just incredible!”

And Peter says, “Oh, Dave, you should’a been there. You know me, I’m always sticking my foot in my mouth, but that day, that day in Jerusalem, the words just came to me. I jumped up on a rock and started preaching to everyone there. I shouted the words to your song and then it was like God just took over. I barely remember what I said. But people believed me. Me! It was just incredible!”

And then I imagine these two rocks of the faith swapping stories like two old men on the bench at Wal-Mart. “You should’a been there. You should’a been there.” Would that we could have.


The second scripture lesson today is all about someone who “should’a been there.” We know him as, “Doubting Thomas.”

The Gospel According to John (the only one with the story of Doubting Thomas) is very different from the other gospels – Matthew, Mark & Luke. According to John, the resurrected Jesus wastes no time returning to the disciples and giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Easter evening, just as the sun is going down, after Mary has discovered the empty tomb, the risen Lord appears in the house with the disciples, even though the doors are locked.

“Peace be with you,” he says. John must have skipped over some details, like, perhaps, the disciples screaming like little girls. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says. And he shows them his hands and his side, the flesh with the scars still intact. “Then,” John says, “then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

The first time Jesus says, “Peace,” to the disciples it’s the same greeting the angels gave to the shepherds, the same as the angel Gabriel spoke to young virgin Mary. “Fear not,” Jesus is telling them. “Don’t fear the people who crucified me; don’t fear me.” Not that fear is bad, or inappropriate. It’s an honest human reaction to the Lord of Lords standing in your living room. What Jesus is telling the disciples, telling us, is, “You don’t have to stay afraid.” You don’t have to stay afraid in the presence of God. You think of all the scriptures talking about fear and trembling before the Lord, and to hear Jesus speaking, “Peace,” is nothing less than earth-shattering. Image-shattering, actually. Peace in the presence of the risen Lord shatters all previous images of God. Not that the images were or are wrong; they’re just incomplete.

Then Jesus takes it a step farther. He speaks, “Peace,” again. But this time it’s not a greeting. It’s a gift. Jesus breathes on the disciples and grants them the breath of the Holy Spirit. And more than a gift, it’s their marching orders. “Here, take this,” he’s telling them. “Take this and be sent to the world, just as the Father sent me.” It’s as if he’s saying, “I’m the Father’s gift to you; you’re my gift to the world.”

Yes, things move fast in this gospel. Fast for us, and just as fast for the disciples, of which Thomas was one. “Doubting” Thomas is misnamed. His fault wasn’t doubting. His fault was being late. I think Thomas has gotten a few centuries of bad press. Once the media grabs onto something everyone takes it as gospel. Think about it. All the disciples are huddled together in a locked house. Thomas is the only one brave enough to be out on the wicked streets of Jerusalem at nightfall. He might well have been feeding the homeless. Or getting food and supplies for the disciples. He isn’t doubtful; he isn’t inept. He’s just late.

Recently saw a sign on a person’s desk. All around her desk were photos of her family. Four kids, maybe more. After two or three, everyone loses count. The sign on her desk said, “I’m the mother of four children. Therefore, I will never be on time for anything again.” Maybe Thomas had four kids.

Legend has it that Thomas was taken as a slave to India. After obtaining his freedom, he became the great apostle to that country. In the church’s history, Thomas is the patron saint of architects, construction workers, stone masons… and theologians. Funny how it worked out that way.

Thomas says to the disciples pretty much what the disciples must have said to Mary Magdalene when she burst in the house that Easter morning: “Get outta here.” “Unless I see the mark of the nails, and his side….” Thomas isn’t asking for extra guarantees. He wants equality. Equality.

“Oh, Tom, you should’a been here.” Well, he wasn’t. OK? And he doesn’t want more faith than anyone else. He wants that a person who wasn’t there should have equality with those who were. Thomas wants Jesus to be more than the exclusive possession of a private club. We ought to fall down on our knees and thank the Lord for the Great, Late Thomas, because Thomas unlocks the door – Thomas unlocks the door of that house – for us.

We know how the story goes. Jesus appears again the next Sunday in exactly the same way. They’re still huddled in the house with the doors locked. Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” a third time. But this time, Thomas is present. He cries out, “My Lord and My God.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Which is good news, perhaps the best news of this scripture. Because unless you’ve been privy to some miraculous appearance that the rest of us have missed, a David or Peter-type experience, you and I are right there with Thomas. Only later. We are the sometimes-Great, very-very Late disciples of the Risen Lord. And you know what? We’re still blessed. By the words of the resurrected Lord, we are equal, even to those who did see, and did place their fingers in his hands. Does that make you go, “Wow”? Or something more biblical? Like,

"You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.

For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Sing it, David. Preach it, Peter. Catch up to it and take it to the corners of the known world, Thomas. And you. You and me. We chronically late, blessed little disciples… what do we do with it?

If we see Easter as the finish line, we’re not reading our Bibles. Easter is the STARTING gate. As far as we’re concerned, at Easter, God is just getting started. Not that all that came before isn’t just as important. It is most certainly crucial. Equal in its own way. But what comes after Easter, that’s where God picks up with folks like you and me. By amazing grace, we are granted equality in God’s eyes. By the mercy of Christ, we stand in the garden with Mary, we unlock the door with Thomas, we get to tell the story, and be the disciples to a whole new world.

So, someday, when we’re sitting on the great bench inside the automatic sliding doors by the vending machines of heaven, listening to the great saints of faith swap their stories, we’ll have the chance to say too, “Oh… you should’a been there.”

Or…. God gives us choices as well as the Spirit and as well as scripture. It could be that the saints will look our direction when it’s time to tell a story, and we’ll say, “Uh, I think they need me over in Layaway.” Well, maybe so. But in God’s kingdom, the saints locked up in Layaway are just as important as the ones by the pearly gates.

Chances are, you feel more like one of the disciples who have locked themselves in the house, than one who’s out saving the world’s second-most-populous nation. The truth of scripture is, they’re one and the same people. No better, no worse than the ones who touched the hands. No better, no worse than the ones who showed up late. No better no worse than the person sitting beside you. No better or worse than you.

Have you believed because you have seen? Good for you. Very good for you. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Belief takes time. More time for some than others. Belief takes work. More work for some than others. Belief takes the Spirit of the one who appears in our locked rooms, when we think we’re safe, but when we know we’re still afraid.

In the celebrations of our Easters, in the sadness of our tombs, our prayer to Jesus is, “Oh Lord, you should’a been there.”

And our Lord’s prayer for us is, “I was. And I will be. Come, take my hand. Let’s get started.”