Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 8, 2018
2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35 and John 20:19-31
Easter has come and gone. Or has it? The liturgical calendar tells us that we are now in the Season of Easter—7 weeks that conclude at Pentecost—50 days for us to examine what it means to be Easter people—what it means to live an Easter life!
Our reading from the Gospel of John occurs on the first day of the week. It is still Sunday. Earlier in the chapter, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to find the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus missing. She runs to tell Peter and John. They run to the tomb and find that her words are true. Peter and John return to their homes, while Mary stands at the tomb weeping until Jesus appears. She only recognizes him when he speaks her name, “Mary.” Then Mary rushes to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”
That same evening the disciples are in the house together. If they really believed Mary’s story it has had little impact because they are still locked behind closed doors in fear of the Jews. Then, Jesus comes among them. “Peace be with you,” he says. To prove his identity, he shows them his hands and side and then, “Peace be with you,” he says again. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, transforming them, as one commentator puts it, from those who follow (disciples) to those who are sent (apostles).[i]
They will now represent Jesus to the world. Yet, a week later, they are still behind closed doors. Not much has changed except they have told Thomas they have seen the Lord. He refuses to believe them though, going so far as to say that he will need to do more than see the wounds to believe; he will have to touch them. Into their midst, again Jesus appears offering words of peace and offering himself to Thomas. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” A better translation might be: “Do not be unbelieving but believing.”[ii]
Down through the ages, Thomas has been stamped with the name Doubting Thomas, but who Thomas is in the story is not nearly as important as who Jesus is. Certainly, Jesus has every right to scold Thomas since he has been told repeatedly by Jesus himself that Jesus will return. At the very least, we might expect Jesus to show his disappointment in Thomas, and all the others for that matter. But that is not what Jesus does. Instead, he walks through a closed door to get to Thomas. Jesus meets Thomas where he is, and Jesus does what he does so well—he offers himself, in love.
The disciples receive the Easter message and they are called to respond to it. Just as he was sent by his Abba Father, Jesus sends them into the world to spread the good news. These are big shoes to fill. Are they up to the task? Not at first! A week after Jesus makes his resurrection known, the disciples remain paralyzed by their circumstances. They may have been called to live as Easter people, but they are not yet capable of doing so. But, in time, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we know that they do. Eventually, these same men who fell asleep when they should have been praying, who denied Jesus when they should have proclaimed him as Lord, who abandoned him when they should have clung to his side—these same men become so sure of Resurrection hope for all people, that most of them will die as martyrs because of their faith in Christ as the Risen Savior.
Today, some 2000 years later, how do we represent Jesus to the world? How do we live the Easter life? Do we live like we believe that Jesus has made all things new or do we celebrate Easter as just another holiday on the calendar? Do we live in hope or do we look at the state of the world and the state of the church and let a vocabulary of death creep in and push Easter out the door?[iii] Through the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s children. We are followers of Jesus, and even in our crazy mixed-up world, we are witnesses. We can be a witness by serving as a missionary in a far-away land or by serving the needy in Valdosta. We can teach a Sunday school class, sing in the choir, share our own experience of God’s love with someone who needs a word of hope…In large ways and small ways, we participate in God’s story of love for all people.
Erich, who was born with Down’s Syndrome, was in his early 50’s by the time I became his pastor. Soon health problems began to emerge so that he was frequently away on Sunday mornings due to an illness or a hospital stay. But when he returned—let me just say—he did so with flair. Bursting through the doorway with arms flung wide, Erich would announce at the top of his lungs, “I’m back!” You see, Erich loved church. In fact, his mother was convinced he would have been a preacher if things had been different. For Erich, being in God’s house was special, so special he insisted on wearing his suit coat and tie. Everything had to be just right and then, “I’m back!” By his actions, he showed his heart’s yearning to be in God’s house. Erich was a witness!
Day in and day out, we have a choice to make. How will we live this Easter life? In our modern world when there are so many choices of places to be and things to do on any given Sunday morning, one radical, counter-cultural way that we can be faithful witnesses is simply to show up.[iv] Think about it! Perhaps just being here says the thing we need to say most: Gathering as a community of believers to pray and confess and hear God’s word, and worship—it matters. Just showing up matters. And if we are away for a while, returning is important! We might even return with a little flair, “I’m back!”
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! And not only on Easter. Christ is risen every day of our lives, every day for all of eternity. We stand in a long line of saints who have proclaimed to the watching world: “Jesus has made a difference in my life and he can make a difference in yours, too. There is hope! Come and see!”
One week after his resurrection, Jesus meets Thomas where he is and provides what he needs. Neither Thomas’ skepticism nor the closed door can keep Jesus out. Finally, when Thomas recognizes him and proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus responds, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who will come to believe down through the ages. He pronounces a blessing upon us. Through God’s grace we have accepted the Easter message as true: Jesus has been raised from the dead and now life can be lived—not in fear—but in joy because nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God.
It is a messy world we live in. Wars continue; the global economy shifts from day to day, and the future of our young people causes us concern. Yet, there is hope if we take up the mantle handed to us and continue to love in the name of Jesus. As representatives of Jesus to the world, we are called to live an Easter life! And, by the power of the Holy Spirit, living an Easter life transforms us—inspires us.
Joseph T. Nolan has written a poem that speaks of the hope Christ planted in our hearts with his words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
We have not seen…and we believe
We believe in God whom we do not see
because of Jesus who was seen
and people who live by his Spirit.
We believe in God whom we do not see
because of truth and beauty,
love, goodness, and integrity,
which makes the divine a part of human life.
We believe in the Spirit we cannot see
because we see the Creator Spirit
at work in our lives
and hear the Spirit’s voice in our silence.
We believe in the earth and its people
in spite of the evil we see
because we have shared their goodness.
We believe in the church we see
with its saints and sinners
because it has given us the Word
and gathered us in the breaking of bread.
We believe in a providence we do not always see
because God made us,
and here we are,
with [countless] years behind us.
We believe in the resurrection
in spite of the death we see
because we have been raised up many times,
and passed from death to life.
We believe in God whom we do not see
because of the One who said,
“He who sees me sees the Father.”
We have seen him in our humanity,
in his risen body,
and we believe. [v]
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] Ibid, D. Cameron Murchison, 402.
[ii] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol.2, Beverly Roberts Gaventa
[iii] Feasting on the Word, Gail R. O’Day, 405
[iv] A prophetic word shared by Father David Teschner during Lectionary Group
[v] Joseph T. Nolan, Let the Earth Rejoice: Scripture, Prayers and Poems for the More Abundant Life, Thomas More Publishing, 2002, pp.23-24.
*Cover Art “Christ Shows Himself to Thomas” by Rowan and Irene LeCompte from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54879