Second Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2012. Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin, The Very Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min., Rector
I John 1: 1-2:2, John 20: 19-31
A Hopeful Faith
If someone had said to any first century Jew, “so-and-so has been resurrected from the dead!” the response would be, “Are you crazy? How could that be? Has disease and death ended? Is true justice established in the world? Has the wolf lain down with the lamb? Ridiculous!” The very idea of an individual resurrection would have been as impossible to imagine to a Jew as to a Greek. What changed the worldview of these Jewish men and women who had actually felt betrayed by Jesus not declaring himself as their Messiah during Palm Sunday in Jerusalem? There was no hope that these followers of Jesus would ever speak with such confidence and excitement about him. They were not only grieving for the death of their Master but they were meeting behind closed doors terrified for their personal safety. The change came only after Easter when they heard he is risen, saw with their own eyes, touched with their own hands. They came to understand that this could only be the action of Israel’s God who could raise Jesus from death. Dr. Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his Easter sermon put it in these words:
Easter makes a claim not just about a potentially illuminating set of human activities but about an event in history and its relation to the action of God. We are not told that Jesus ‘survived death’; we are not told that the story of the empty tomb is a beautiful imaginative creation that offers inspiration to all sorts of people; we are not told that the message of Jesus lives on. We are told that God did something.
That something is what the Gospels call Resurrection. The story of the risen Christ from John’s Gospel took place exactly one week after Easter Day. John tells us that Thomas is not present at that first Sunday night meeting, and when told about the risen Christ, he doesn’t believe it. He makes a demand that he has become famous for: hands on proof—his finger in the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and feet. Now Jesus makes his appearance and greets the disciples with Shalom-Peace, a greeting typical in biblical tradition (e.g. Exodus 4:18, 1 Samuel 25:6). The peace Jesus offers is not something that comes from positive thinking. This peace is not something that can come from a pill we can buy at Walgreens pharmacy. This Shalom-Peace comes from the heart of God:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).
But then Jesus addresses Thomas by name, submitting his hands and his side to the hands-on proof that he demanded. Thomas does not touch the marks of Jesus’ wounds; but at once he leaps to the first confession of Christian faith:
“My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 29)
Thomas is uttering a faith statement about the deity of Jesus. “Lord” and “God” were often coupled as “YHWH” and “Elohim.” In the presence of the risen Christ Thomas reached, in exaltation of his sudden deliverance from obstinate gloom, to radiant faith. (William Temple) The Easter miracle of John 20: 19-31 is that Jesus comes not just once, but again and again to these scared and confused disciples. The point is Jesus’ offering of himself, over and over again, to people who long to see him. With no question asked, Jesus offers himself and gives the repeated gift of his presence and his peace.
The disciples who learned for the first time on Easter Sunday about Jesus resurrection still were meeting behind closed doors. It is also a chronic temptation after two thousand years for the church, too, to stay behind closed doors. Yes, there is a perennial temptation for the church to stay behind the closed door of the private and personal domain. Behind this door are found the personal, spiritual, and familial dilemmas that occupy humans in their private existence. The message of the gospel is taken seriously and with some urgency behind this door. It means keeping the joy of Easter carefully and prayerfully tucked within the four walls of Church or as one’s own private precious religious experience. If on Easter Sunday congregations are able to hold at bay all of their worries, concerns, and doubts and hand them over to the power of the resurrection, it does not take long for the vocabulary of death to creep back in and push Easter out. Easter is real, not simply in the trumpet celebrations of the week before, but as it unfolds in the lives and stories of disciples who are regularly tempted by fear and despair.
New life flows through the veins of those disciples who now are a community of the risen Christ. They dare to risk their comfortable world for the wild frontiers of mission in the local community and the world. Jesus sends such missional communities out into the world with the power of his own breath - Holy Spirit. It is the same as what God did at the time of creation; a new community with the breath of God is created. They are sent out for action. God calls us to serve, and to love in the most substantial ways: with our time, resources, and gifts to live this hopeful faith as the Epistle reminds us:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard,
What we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it… (1 John: 1)
Alleluia! Christ is risen.