Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 1, 2011

2011.05.02 “Every Sunday is the Sunday after Easter” – John 20: 19 – 31

Central United Methodist Church

The 2nd Sunday of Easter

Every Sunday is the Sunday after Easter

John 20: 19 – 31

May 1st, 2011

“Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.

The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

   But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.” – John 20: 19 – 31, The Message

 

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Easter is over!

Pastors all around the world are rejoicing, that is, if you can find them. I got a call from former pastor Bob Burkhart last Tuesday morning, soliciting attendance at an upcoming Bethany event, and he said that in his calls, I was the first pastor he’d been able to reach. I told him I was sorry he’d reached me. 

Although, in truth, Easter is not really over.  There are 50 great days of Easter, including seven Sundays, during which we return to the church’s earliest stories, in order that we might continue to explore and reflect upon what it means to live as Christians in a post-Easter world.   

Which is not to say that even though this is the second Sunday of Easter, it’s not a repeat of last Sunday.  In fact, some go so far as to call this “low” Sunday. The Easter crowd is gone, it’s a little less festive, and one by one, even the Easter Lilies are disappearing.  Indeed, on this Sunday, many pastors disappear also.  (Except this one.)

To be in worship on this the second Sunday of Easter is like showing up late at a party after most of the guests have left, and those who remain report what a great party you missed by coming too late. 

On such a Sunday it may be helpful to remind ourselves that we all missed Easter, not by just a Sunday, but by about 1,978 years. We have never lived at any other time other than after Easter. We can hear the stories, but we were not there. We did not see and touch and get a chance to experience it for ourselves. So this is for us, in a sense, an important day: for us every Sunday is the Sunday after Easter.

Perhaps one of the reasons many pastors disappear for this day is because according to the lectionary the Sunday after Easter is always the same text each year, the same story: John 20: 19 – 31, the story of Jesus appearing to his fearful disciples, hiding behind locked doors.  If Jesus is the main character in the story, the supporting actor is always the same also: Thomas, Doubting Thomas, as we most commonly know him. 

So we have to ask ourselves, why did the lectionary do this to us, preachers and congregation? Maybe because the question we may be asking on the Sunday after Easter – after the grand celebration has begun to fade – is the same question we find Jesus’ disciples asking in this story: “If Christ is risen, how can I know for sure?”  I can tell you right now in a sneak preview, the answer is, “You can’t, you have to take it by faith.” As we’ll see, that’s not so bad.

Remember that up to this point in the story, the disciples are no better off than we are today. Only Mary Magdalene has encountered the risen Jesus, and come back from the tomb telling the story.  Peter and John have seen the empty tomb, but what are they to make of that?  And what are they to make of this nonsense Mary is saying, “She has seen the Lord.” So far, they haven’t, so they’re all wondering what’s going to happen next.

Surely one possibility was that if the authorities had come for Jesus, wouldn’t they be coming for them next?  So there they were, in what they hoped was a secure room, shades drawn, door locked, brows furrowed with worry.

Do you think at this point they were more confused, worried, or hopeful?  After all, they had all fled and abandoned Jesus, and despite all he had gone through, none of them – not one – had stood up for him or tried to help.  So if Jesus was back, don’t you think they were a little anxious about what kind of mood he would be in?  (“I’m back, and I AM NOT pleased!”)

Which is why what happened next was so unexpected, so startling, so amazing. Suddenly, mysteriously – despite the locked door – Jesus was among them, speaking peace.  In John chapter 14, Jesus had promised, “Peace I give to you, not as the world gives, do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled nor afraid,” words we still read at almost every funeral.

As it turns out, it was true.  After all that had happened, all that had been done to him, not only by the authorities, but by them, here was Jesus as he had always been, speaking peace.  No wonder it says, “The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant,” putting it mildly.

        But you know the story. Except for one.  Thomas, the Twin, Doubting Thomas, we call him.  Thomas had come late to the party, and now it was his fate to hear how great the party had been:  “We saw the Master.”

        “What?”  he says, saying the same thing they must have said to Mary Magdalene which she said, “I have seen the Lord.”  “Sorry,” says Thomas, “unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

        Poor Thomas.  Because of this story, he has ever after been labeled the doubter.  But I don’t think he was so much a doubter as a realist. After all, all he wanted was the same privilege the other disciples had gotten, which was to hear, see, touch, and thus know that this new Jesus was not a hallucination, not a ghost, but the same Jesus they had known and loved.  Perhaps, after all the ups-and-downs they had been through, as a realist, Thomas was determined not to get his hopes up, only to have them trampled into the mud once again.

        After all, aren’t we like that too?  Aren’t we realists?  Isn’t this why we love this story of Thomas so much?  We live in the modern world, a world defined by empirical and scientific truth, repeatable through experimentation, truth we can hear, see, and touch.  Most of the time, we are like Thomas:  “Convince me.”

 

        For Thomas, Jesus does appear again, and offers to Thomas the opportunity he asks for, as portrayed in this 17th century masterpiece by the Italian artist Caravaggio.  Few of Caravaggio’s paintings are so physically shocking; this drama of disbelief seems to have touched Caravaggio personally. The classical composition carefully unites four heads in the quest for truth. Only Christ’s head is largely in shadow, as the person least knowable.  Even then, he looks on in commendation, not rebuke. And then Thomas says to Jesus what no one else in any of the Four Gospels say: not only “My Master!” but “My God!”

What about us, modern day Thomases? We can’t do what Thomas did; how can we know for sure? The answer is, we can’t, we have to take it in faith. If we want empirical, scientific, “hear, see, and feel” evidence, there isn’t any, we can’t, it’s perpetually the second Sunday of Easter, 2,000 years too late.  It is the same problem Christian believers have had whether it’s the year 60, 600, or 2011. And it was exactly for this reason John’s Gospel is written. 

Like a preacher at the end of his sermon, at the end of this story John leans over the pulpit and pleads: 

“I could have written a lot more about Jesus.  I could have preached all night.  But I’ve done all I know how to do.  What I have written I have written not that you might have the facts, but that you might believe, and that believing you might have life in his name. You don’t have to put your fingers in his hands or your hands in his side. You don’t have to see him standing before you. Anyone can believe.  Anyone can experience the difference it makes to live life in Jesus’ name.  “Won’t you? Won’t you?”

It’s like this. Rachel Held Evans (http://www.rachelheldevans.com) is a blogger who describes herself as a writer, skeptic, and Christ-follower from Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Her first book, a spiritual memoir with the provocative title Evolving in Monkey Town, was released last July.  She says, “When people ask, Why can’t you just have more faith?”  I say, “Because I’ve seen the rabbit.” 

Have you seen the famous optical illusion of the duck and rabbit? How many of you see a duck?  How many see a rabbit? Well, says Ms. Evans, let’s say that the duck represents a faith-view of the world and the rabbit represents a chance-view.  

She says:

“For most of my life, I could only see the duck. I interpreted everything that happened around me and within me as acts of God.  God was the only explanation for how the world came to be, how people managed to be good to one another, how believers had religious experiences, how things always worked together for good, how the Bible spoke to me, how the day after I prayed for this or that I just happened to received this or that. I looked at the pattern and saw only a duck. How anyone could see anything else was simply beyond me. It was a duck—plain and simple.” 

“Then,” says Ms. Evans, one day I saw the rabbit. It happened rather suddenly and it startled me. In one shocking moment, just as clearly as I could see the duck, I could see another pattern that explained the world: chance, wishful thinking, self-delusion, self-centeredness, superstition, fear, projection, science, psychology, coincidence, power plays, politics. It’s not that I stopped seeing the duck. It’s just that once I saw the rabbit, the picture made sense both ways.  In day-to-day life, I tend to switch between the two. At one moment I see the duck, at another I see the rabbit—two creatures in one pattern, two explanations for whatever just occurred.”

        I believe, as second Sunday after Easter Christians, it’s the same with us.  As we look out upon a post-Easter world, we can see the duck, or we can see the rabbit.

To be sure, there are events in life that compel us to see the rabbit. If I lived in Alabama this past week, where 250 people died from ravaging tornadoes, including the elderly, and women and children, many of whom were likely God fearing, church going people, I’d be sorely tempted to see only the rabbit. 

In spite of this, through our tears and despite our doubts, by the grace of God we still see the duck – we choose to see the duck -choosing to believe that even amidst the realization of our worst fears, God is with us. By the sheer grace of God we find – unexpectedly, amazingly – that even behind the closed doors of our hearts and minds, even when we are paralyzed with fear and anxiety, Christ comes to us speaking peace, just as he did to those frightened disciples so long ago.   

Blessed are you, Thomas, because you believe what you’ve seen. Blessed are you, Sunday after Easter Christians; even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.

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