In the Name...
A fellow went to work on Monday and his boss asked him. "Tell me, do you believe in life after death?" "Yes", the fellow replied. "Well, I'm glad to hear that", said the boss, "because after you left early on Friday to attend your grandmother's funeral, she called for you."
Well, here we are on the Second Sunday of Easter, unofficially known as "Doubting Thomas Sunday." I've always wondered about Thomas, but then something hit me. Scripture records that he had a nickname - "the Twin" - and I remembered back in my Army days we had identical twins serving in our battalion and a lot of us could never figure out which was which.
So, when we read that Thomas didn't believe the others, he probably had some first-hand experience on how people could be wrong about who was who. Maybe some of the disciples had confused him with his brother in the past. No wonder he insisted on proof. He wasn't going to take their word for it.
But, Thomas had two virtues. First, he refused to say he understood what he did not understand and second, once he was sure, he gave it all he had. Sure, the other ten were excited to see Jesus, but none of them called him, "My Lord and my God!" That identification was for Thomas to make and that's how his faith, not his doubts, put them to shame.
Jesus was, of course, pleased that Thomas figured this out, but, he also said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That would be us. We didn’t make it to the empty tomb. We weren’t in the upper room. Our faith is built up over time from reading the Bible, from attending worship, and from interacting with others who share this faith. And, most of us have probably wished for an experience like Thomas' - an unequivocal hands-on experience of Jesus in an unmistakable way.
We should note, though, that Jesus did not come to the disciples in a blaze of glory, surrounded by angels, accompanied by trumpets. No, he came quietly and he always seems to surprise them. When you read the Gospels, everyone seems to be caught off guard by the Resurrection. The disciples don’t know how to describe the experience. Yet, Jesus comes to them in their confusion and greets them, each time, with the words, “Peace be with you.”
And he comes with his wounds. The marks of his humanity. As humans, we all carry wounds - physical and emotional - and we try to hide them. We should note, then, that the risen Christ displays his as a sign of victory, a sign that no suffering, not even death can overcome his power. More than his risen body, his risen wounds are what give us hope - hope that, despite whatever it is that is wounding us now, in the future they won't matter. Resurrection life means a life without fear or shame.
Our lesson from Acts tells us what happens when wounded people find this life. On the face of it, the disciples were ordinary men, born and raised in a hierarchical society. They were on the bottom; others were on top. By locking them up, the Sanhedrin probably thought they had scared them, reminded them who was in charge, and shut them up. But, once God's angel opened the jail door and set them free, instead of heading for the hills, as might be expected, they went right back to the Temple and picked up where they left off. "We must obey God", they defiantly say, "and not any human authority.” And, these were the same men who once huddled behind locked doors out of fear of what those human authorities might do to them.
Some years later, St. John was also in prison, but, while there, he was given a vision, a Revelation, and, because of what he saw, he wrote, as we heard, to seven churches telling them things they needed to change or improve in order to be sure they were, in fact, living a resurrection life, living in the fearless power of God.
Like them, we also need to examine ourselves and make sure we are living that same way.
Because, when we live that life special things happen. We are given insight and wisdom we did not know we possessed. We are given strength and commitment we could not otherwise muster. Whenever we practice forgiveness, whenever we overcome the power of death in its many forms—hatred, violence, indifference—the spirit of Christ is alive and well and resurrection life is expressed again in this time and this place. Two thousand years after Jesus, we can’t “prove” the Resurrection, but, we can be the evidence that it happened.
A contemporary theologian uses the metaphor of the sun to help think about this. She says, “We cannot look directly at the sun, for the brightness would blind us. Yet the sun, which we cannot see directly, illumines all else, and in its light we make our way in the world.” That’s a beautiful image. The Resurrection illumines the way we live in the world.
Our job is not nearly as hard as that of the disciples. We do not have to spend time in jail for our beliefs and we can go about safely telling others of the risen Christ. It's a great freedom and a great advantage. But, how do we use it?
Because, the old adage is true. Seeing is believing. Thomas needed to see in order to believe. So, what do we show others about our faith and our walk with the risen Christ that brings others to believe? We all have something special to share.
So, on this April morning, when the world outside our doors has moved on and put away the baskets and the bunnies of secular Easter, we are challenged to live as though the Resurrection really does illumine our lives. We are challenged to reach out and embrace the future in faith. And most of all, if we look at ourselves and worry if we’re up to the job, remember what God sees when he looks at us. Beloved children, faithful friends, and spirit-filled partners in the on-going work of new life. New life for the world in Christ.
In the Name...