Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 7, 2013
St. Paul’s-on-the-Hill, Ossining, NY
There is a marvelous consistency to the accounts of Jesus resurrection in the New Testament. It’s not, as you might expect in documents trying to promote a movement, that the appearances are the same with similar evidences in each, proving the miracle. They aren’t consistent in that way at all. What’s marvelous, is that all the appearances are a surprise, and usually the believer doesn’t even recognize Jesus at first. Today, the Gospel of John reports two appearances. Please note: last Sunday, the previous 18 verses of the Gospel of John were read—Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, who thinks he’s the gardener, then she sees who he is, (Teacher!), and he sends her as his apostle to tell the disciples.
So she told them she had seen the Lord, he was arisen, and what was their response? They continued to cower in their room. Just like a bunch of guys, isn’t it? So Jesus comes in to them and explains it himself…
Put yourself now in Thomas’ shoes. He comes back from taking care of business, and these guys… What? They seem to be saying they saw a ghost and had a ‘spiritual; experience. So to paraphrase Thomas, “I knew Jesus, and he was no ghost, he was real. Being with him was when this world was the most real. The last time we saw him, he had the marks of violence on his body and I’m not trading in the real Jesus for any sweet-bye-and-bye ghost. You can have your ‘spiritual’ stuff, I want to see the marks in his hands and his side.”
I like Thomas. Because he’s forthright and not afraid to say what he feels.
You can imagine that the following week was a bit uncomfortable between him and the others. At the end of that week they are still in the same place and Jesus appears again: “Peace be with you.” And Thomas sees that it is the same Jesus he has known. The one who taught, and fed and healed. The one who Thomas saw crucified and pierced with a spear. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” It is not some ghost of another world, it is Jesus, resurrected and alive in this world, teaching and feeding and healing his people. “My Lord and my God!”
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples…But these are written so that you may have faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through this faith you may have life in his name.” It is life that we are talking about here. Everything that Jesus taught, and shared and did was about abundant life for everyone. He was crucified because he healed and gave life abundantly in the midst of an environment of violence and death. Though the marks remained, Jesus in his body returns alive. “Peace be with you.” Though the reality of violence gets our attention, and our fear, the Peace of Jesus overcomes it, because he is alive.
How often are people afraid to live and be generous and joyful in their life because of fear? How much is lost because the negative and the violent are accepted as having the final word?
Even when a person’s life does not have much likelihood of violence or other major drama, the forces of death can still get the upper hand. People often feel unable to speak the truth or constrained from doing things they know they should because they fear the “consequences.” There are always consequences, sometimes gossip or social rejection, sometimes manipulation. It’s easy to give up and let the negative forces take control. But at the expense of vitality and the ability to share and give freely.
Jesus brings life—and believing in him incorporates us into that life, despite the fact that we don’t always see. We don’t always see the way to triumph, or the way to our goal, or the way to avoid pain. The Resurrected Jesus is the most fully real and realistic of anyone “…see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
Lest there is any confusion—the Abundant Life, is the actual life we live—generous and loved, confident and forgiven. Able to live in this troubled world and contribute to its healing.
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”