In the Name...
One Easter Day, a priest decided to give a special children's sermon and gathered all the little children around him at the chancel step. He asked them, "What is fuzzy, has a long tail, big front teeth and climbs trees?" No response. "It jumps around a lot and gathers nuts.” he added. More silence. Finally, one little boy said, "It sounds like a squirrel, but, I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus."
Today's Gospel focuses us on St. Thomas who found himself in a situation similar to that of the boy at the children's sermon. Thomas had not seen the risen Christ. The others told him they had, but, he doubted. You can imagine his frustration as he heard them. You can imagine him wanting to say, "Look, guys, I know I'm supposed to agree with you, but what you're describing sounds like a ghost."
Jesus wasn't a ghost, of course. He was the physical risen Christ, as Thomas later found out. Still, the seven days in which he stood alone must have been difficult for him. Imagine the pressure to conform. And haven't we all been there at those times when we struggle with matters that seem clearer to others or seem to vary from accepted norms.
Thomas' honesty and courage, though, tells us in our moments of doubt that we don't have to accept what everyone else says is the expected answer or view. Thomas tells us it's o.k. to be confused and doubtful if that's how we really feel. And honestly, who isn't these days?
Ours are troubling times and we are bound to be affected. For some, the fear of political instability is uppermost in their minds. For others, the economy. For others, family issues. The point is that we all have reason to doubt the future and in that sense, we're not that different to the disciples that first Easter evening.
It wasn't just Thomas. All of the disciples were tired, emotionally drained by the events of the preceding days. The heady joy of the entry into Jerusalem, the sombre tension of Passover night, the shock and horror of the Crucifixion, the depression of the Sabbath Day, and the confusion they now experienced at the reports coming in of strange events at the tomb of Jesus. Huddled in their upper room, they had never felt more isolated, more leaderless, more fearful. It is even noted for posterity that the doors were locked.
Contrast that with the scene described in the reading from Acts. There we find these same people, standing out on the street, gathered with Peter, who has found a new confidence and boldness, and preaches what can only be described as a no-holds-barred sermon.
What an amazing transformation! What made it happen? I submit that what happened was not what took place on Easter morning, but, what took place on Easter evening and which transformed Thomas a week later. "Jesus came and stood among them".
By itself, the empty tomb is an enigma, a great big question mark. An empty grave says nothing conclusive. The enemies said the body had been stolen and that would seem the obvious explanation. But, the enemies never produced the body, and the friends died for the conviction that he rose. And, while people may have followed Jesus the teacher, the healer, the miracle-worker while he lived, it is a well-established fact that only Jesus' followers, in all of human history, say the reason they still follow him is because he is still alive. And to what do we owe this conviction? "Jesus came and stood among them".
Personal experience. Personal experience of the Risen Christ is what it's all about. There's no substitute for it. And it's the reality of that experience which empowers our faith. Never mind Thomas, none of the other disciples was convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead until he actually stood in front of them.
So, what about us? Why do we believe Jesus rose from the dead? Why don't we doubt? Because we read the book, or saw the movie? No. I think we believe for the same reason that Peter and Thomas did. Jesus has stood among us. We've heard his voice say, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you". We've seen his miracles. We've performed his works.
Every time we've offered a prayer, comforted or encouraged someone in distress, provided for another’s needs, or had our needs met, received comfort or counsel, or had prayers offered for us, we have felt the presence and power of the living, Risen Christ. And that is how the powerless become powerful, the poor in spirit become rich beyond measure, the tongue-tied become eloquent, and miracles are performed.
The first disciples knew this experience and it changed them from being disciples – followers - into apostles - those who are sent out. Imagine what would have happened if Peter and Thomas and the others had continued to meet quietly in the upper room, gone about their daily business, but never revealed that Jesus had appeared to them. What would have happened? We wouldn't be here. The Church would have died with them. They would have been privileged to know the greatest event in history, the resurrection, but, if they hadn't told anyone, they would have robbed that empty grave of meaning.
Fortunately, they couldn't keep quiet for the same reason we shouldn't. Like them, we know the power of the Risen Christ. It moves us beyond doubt and fear and anxiety and psychological paralysis. We see that through the power of God, the things we might doubt possible can come to reality. Dreams can be fulfilled, forgiveness offered, obstacles overcome, pain relieved, sickness healed, hunger fed, good brought from evil, love experienced. And that is something we must feel we have to tell others about.
So, who have we told lately that Christ is risen, alive, and at work in our lives? That's not an optional extra. People are not just going to walk off the street into this church, look around and say, "Wow! What I have missed all these years." People walk into a church because they have been invited, and it is our job, to not only invite, but to guide them, not only through the service and building, introduce them to other members, stay in touch and bring them back, but to guide them until they not only feel comfortable in these new surroundings, they also feel comfortable in a new attitude to life, an Easter attitude.
Easter is about moving from doubt to faith, from fear to joy, from death to life. The journey we make is the same journey Thomas made through his honest questioning. He wasn't sure what tomorrow would bring. He resisted the pressure of his peers. But, when he saw Jesus for himself, he responded with words which none of the others said, "My Lord ……. and my God."
The story of Easter evening is the story of tomorrow, the story in which we say, with Peter, "This Jesus, God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses."
All of us are witnesses.
In the Name...