He Came Back – A Sermon on John 20:19-31

Sermon, Resurrection, Easter, Believing, John 20:19-31
Duccio di Buoninsegna - The Maesta Altarpiece, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)
Sermon, Resurrection, Easter, Believing, John 20:19-31
Duccio di Buoninsegna – The Maesta Altarpiece, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

John 20:19-31

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

It just sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia. It was the highpoint of last week’s Easter liturgy. It was today’s opening acclamation and will be for the next several weeks. But here’s what I wonder. Is it really that simple? That easy? It’s our Easter profession of faith. It’s a statement of our belief in the resurrection, but it’s also a statement that is often easier said than done. It’s one thing to say the words, another to live them.

Several years ago, at a clergy conference, I was part of a small group discussion. I was the most recently ordained in the group. I had been ordained only about two or three years, so I was mostly listening and not saying much. The other priests were discussing, somewhat critically, those who do not believe in a literal, physical, bodily resurrection. Suddenly one of them jumped up, and one by one, stood in front of each of us, pointing his finger, and asking, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” He came to me and I said, “Yes!”

Have you ever been in a group discussion, something gets said, and you just tune out and begin a conversation with yourself? Well, that’s what I did. It went something like this. “Of course I believe in the resurrection. I’ve been saying the creeds and professing resurrection for more than thirty years. Besides that, I am a priest. I believe in the resurrection.” And then it was, “Well, I think I believe in the resurrection.” And then, “I want to believe in the resurrection.” And finally, “What does believing in the resurrection mean anyway?”

You may not have had that exact conversation with yourself but I’ll bet you’ve had questions and struggles with the resurrection. I think we all do. The disciples certainly did. Every gospel account of the resurrection also speaks of not believing. Last week Luke told us the disciples thought the women’s words about the resurrection were “an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Lk. 24:11). Matthew says that the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had directed them. There they saw Jesus, he says, “but some doubted” (Mt. 28:17). The longer ending of Mark says the disciples “would not believe” that Jesus was alive or that Mary Magdalene had seen him (Mk. 16:11) and when two others reported seeing Jesus “they did not believe them” (Mk. 16:12).

And then there’s today’s gospel, John’s account (Jn. 20:19-31). It’s Easter evening, the day of the resurrection, “the first day of the week.” What are the disciples doing? They are not shouting, “Alleluia. Christ is risen.” “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” No. John says they are afraid. They are hiding. They’ve locked the doors of their house. They’ve closed their minds and hearts to the resurrection. They are locked in fear. That’s when Jesus shows up, speaks “Peace” to them, shows them his hands and his side, sends them as the Father had sent him, and breaths the Holy Spirit into them.

Thomas, the one who is called the Twin, was not with the disciples when all that happened but he came back. He came back and when he did they told him all about it. “We have seen the Lord,” they said, but Thomas would not believe. Thomas, the one who is called the Twin, wants to see and touch Jesus’ wounds. Without that, he says, “I will not believe.”

Thomas has become the personification of every one who has ever struggled to believe the resurrection. We can pretty easily identify Thomas’ struggle to believe with our own. We’ve even renamed him after that struggle, Doubting Thomas. That’s how we’ve come to know him. John, however, says he was called the Twin. I wonder who his twin is. Who do you think it might be? Any ideas? Nothing in holy scripture tells us who it is.

While Thomas is often criticized and talked about as not believing, I think he has something to teach us. Thomas offers some wisdom in the midst of our struggling to believe the resurrection.

Where was Thomas Easter evening when Jesus showed up the first time? What was he doing? Was he out looking for Jesus? Did he go back to the tomb? Was he hiding somewhere else? Was he running away? Did he need some time alone to grieve by himself? Did he decide to quit being a disciple? Was he trying to make sense of it all?

I don’t know. We’ll never know. All I know is this. He came back. But why? Was he lonely and missing the others? Did he have no where else to go? Did he think there was safety in numbers? I don’t know but I know this. He came back and the others said, “We have seen the Lord.”

And why did he come back to the house a week after Easter? Was it because the others had seen Jesus? Because he had missed out? Was he looking for another appearance of Jesus? Was it an act of faith? An act of hope? An act of desperation? We’ll never know why he came back, only that he did. Thomas came back and Jesus showed up. We might call him Doubting Thomas. We might talk about him and even criticize him but let’s never forget; he came back. Maybe coming back is what we need to learn from Thomas.

Maybe coming back is how we who have not seen come to believe. Believing is not what fills the gap between a statement of faith and our inability to explain, understand, make sense of, or prove that statement. It’s what allows us to stand in that gap. Coming back is the beginning of coming to believe. Coming back is what keeps us present and open to Jesus coming back.

So let me ask you this. What keeps you coming back? Why did you come back today, one week after Easter Day? What hope keeps you coming back? What desperation keeps you coming back? What need keeps you coming back? What curiosity keeps you coming back? What are your deepest longings that keep you coming back?

I don’t know what keeps you coming back. Whatever it is, don’t stop. Maybe it doesn’t even really matter why, how, or when we come back, only that we do.

Let’s be honest. This resurrection thing is brand new for everybody; not just the disciples but Jesus too. We struggle with believing and Jesus just keeps on showing up. Our struggle to believe and Jesus’ showing up seem to be two sides of the same thing. It’s in every one of the gospels.

We struggle to believe and Jesus keeps on coming back. He came back from the dead. He came back to the disciples Easter evening. He came back to them a week later. He just keeps on coming back.

Coming back. That’s what Thomas did. And that’s what Jesus did. It’s something they have in common. When I look at it that way coming back Thomas is beginning to look a lot like coming back Jesus. Twins maybe? I wonder. What do you think?

I wonder if Jesus might be the twin of the one, anyone and every one, who comes back. Thomas comes back and Christ is his twin. You come back and Christ is your twin. I come back and Christ is my twin. I sure hope so; for Thomas’ sake, for your sake, and for my sake. It’s enough to make one want to keep on coming back.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.


  1. By no means do I consider myself a scholar or claim to know the depth of the Bible, but a thought came to me while I was reading your sermon, “Could it be possible that Thomas was considered a twin because of his faith and yet lack of faith at times – the word twin representing the duality of his faith?” And yes, I guess in a way that also represents his coming back.

    Thank you so much for your blog posts. They are inspiring and thought provoking.


    1. EB, St. John didn’t offer any explanation of who the twin is or why he even included that piece of information. It think it is an invitation to wonder and consider the many different twins of Thomas. I don’t want to limit the text but let it be expansive and inclusive. So my offering of Thomas and Jesus is just one way of seeing the twins. Your insight of Thomas’ duality of having and lacking faith is another set of twins. There’s still more. Maybe we are Thomas’ twin in wanting to see and touch, wanting evidence or proof. Maybe we are his twin when we doubt, or when we believe, or when we come back. In this way of reading Thomas has lots of twins. Which is correct? Is it this pair of twins or is it that pair of twins? I would say, “Yes, it’s all of them.”

      Thanks for your comment and for reading my blog. Happy Easter.


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