John 20:25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe."
The Story of Easter is the story of forgiveness - or why seeing is not believing - because faith is about believing what you cannot see. So where do we begin, with the story everyone seems to know as doubting Thomas. And it is customary to chide Thomas, because he had to see in order to believe, and those who do feel justified by the text, they think Jesus is chiding Thomas, "Stop being faithless, but be believing. The problem with this, is that it makes faith something we do, so that the answer to doubt is to just believe harder - have you ever tried that? Did it work very well? Usually the only thing that happens when we try to believe harder is that we doubt more - why? Because faith comes from God, and basically we've left God completely out of the picture, remember, we just tried to believe harder. What did we forget? We forgot to pray to God, to bring him our problem, that is the doubts that we have, and ask him to strengthen our faith. You see, that's what Jesus did, he went to Thomas to strengthen his faith, he went to Thomas so that Thomas could see that Jesus is faithful, he keeps his promises, he is risen from the dead, and we can trust in him because not only does he keep his promises, he forgives our sins, and gives us eternal life.
So, lets think about it, who chides Thomas? Not Jesus, not the other disciples - there is no - I told you so - because the chief message in this text is a message about forgiveness. And this is where I want you to remember the 5th Petition of the Lord's Prayer - Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I want you also to remember the words that come right after the Lord's Prayer, words that are repeated several times - if you do not forgive your brother his sins, neither will your heavenly father forgive you. This is important, this is the explanation to what we see in our text, so lets look at it once more.
Its Easter Evening, the disciples knew that the tomb was empty, some had seen Jesus, but they are still terrified, hiding behind locked doors, they are afraid they are about to die. What is this? Its unbelief, a sin that needs forgiving. So what does Jesus do? He appears in the room, and he says peace he with you. That's important, its more than just a greeting, sin separates us from God and removes peace, in forgiveness the sin is removed and the peace restored. Because its important, he says it again, and he shows them his hands and his side - so they can see and believe - Jesus comes to strengthen their faith and forgive their sins.
And having forgiving their sins, Jesus breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit (which strengthens their faith even more) and then he gives them the power to forgive sins. Jesus gives the forgiven the power to forgive. Jesus gives the power to forgive others just as God has forgiven us, and remember dear friends in Christ, this kind of forgiveness does not come from us - it comes from God, so don't look for the power in yourself, rather look to God.
Back to Thomas, he missed Jesus and all the excitement, but the disciples told him what had happened - but he didn't believe. Do you suppose the other disciples ridiculed him? No, because they had just been in the same situation, they hadn't believed, they were frightened, Jesus forgave them, and they would forgive Thomas just has Jesus had forgiven them - and they could pray, that Thomas could see Jesus, so that he too could believe, and be forgiven, and have peace.
And so Jesus comes and Thomas is forgiven, he sees and believes. And then we can hear the word that was spoken especially to us - blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe. Our faith does not rest in the time when we saw the risen Jesus, nor does it depend on our experience of Easter. For us, we see Jesus in the word, and we meet him in the sacraments. In word and sacraments Jesus still comes to us, to forgive our sins, and strengthen our faith, and give us peace. Jesus comes to us in Word and Sacraments and gives us the Holy Spirit, so we can believe, but even more, so that we can forgive others as God has forgiven us.
And that is always the story of Easter, a story of the forgiveness of sins, life peace, and salvation that are ours in Jesus Christ out Lord.