Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 12, 2015

2015.04.12 “Which Side of the Door Are We On? – John 20: 19 – 31

Central United Methodist Church
Which Side of the Door Are We On?
John 20: 19 – 31
Pastor David L. Haley
The 2nd Sunday of Easter
April 12th, 2015

The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” – John 20: 19 – 31, the New Revised Standard Version

Many years ago, I went to visit a man in the hospital. As timing had it, I arrived at his room moments after he had gone into cardiac arrest. The staff had called a code, and they were in the process of performing CPR. A nurse told me that the family was in the waiting room down the hall, with no idea what was happening

I put on my best face and went down the hall to wait with them, knowing the bad news they were about to receive. I did not think it my place to deliver that news, which was – ethically, their doctor’s job – and after all, though the outcome was probable, it was not certain. So I sat there burdened with my secret– a secret that would soon devastate them – engaging in small talk while knowing what awaited them on the other side of the door.

Our Gospel for the second Sunday of Easter also hinges around a door, a door we might call the Easter door.

Thanks to what we have learned in the first half of chapter 20 in the Gospel of John, outside the door, it is Easter. There is the story of Jesus’ empty tomb, and Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene. Her report to the disciples – immediately preceding this story – is: “I have seen the Lord.”

For us, it’s a week past our celebration of Easter, which seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? By now – a week later -you’d think everybody has heard the good news; after all, surely it’s been on CNN and Fox News and 60 Minutes. Given that we had 211 people here last week to celebrate, I would have thought for sure now that by now the news has spread, such that we’d have at least 500 in attendance today, for the 2nd Sunday of Easter. (Maybe by the end of the service?)

In the Gospel, however, on the other side of the Easter door, it’s not been a week, it’s only the evening of the resurrection, and even though Jesus’ disciples have heard the news, they don’t believe it. Behind locked doors they sit, hiding out in doubt and fear. They’ve heard rumors, but there was no way it could be true. Jesus was dead and buried, they’d seen it with their own eyes. Yes – some women – including Mary Magdalene – had reported Jesus’ tomb empty and even that she had seen him, but that just not possible, there had to be some other explanation. Maybe it was a plot to draw them out, that they too might be arrested and executed as followers of Jesus.

So – as in my introductory story – there’s quite a different reality on the two sides of the door. On the one side – as we have heard – Jesus is alive in the world and everything is changed. On the other, fear and doubt rule, and nothing has changed. What we must ask ourselves on this 2nd Sunday of Easter is, “Which side of the door are we on?”

For most of us, on most days, the answer could go either way; maybe even both sides, if that is possible. For – like Jesus’ disciples – though we have heard the news – long ago, and repeatedly – most of us still struggle to believe, for so much of life remains the same. As I said last Sunday, we’ve all been to church on more than one Easter and heard the Easter story, sung our Alleluias and gone home, only to find nothing changed. Work was still a challenge, relationships remain troubled, and the people we love still die, as will we.

May I ask: When you went to work this week, did anybody act like Jesus is alive? When you went to the supermarket, did anybody say, “Christ is risen?” When you went to school, did they say, “Take the week off to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection?” Did your Jewish and Muslim non-churched friends congratulate you, glad with you to hear that Christ is risen? They did not. Because for all practical purposes, the world remains unchanged.

I have to say last week – the long-awaited “week-after- Easter” did not go as I expected.  Monday, I took the day off. Early Tuesday, I got a call from the Deputy Chief of the Des Plaines Fire Dept. (where I serve as Chaplain), asking if I could come do a blessing on a new ambulance they wanted to put into service.  I agreed, and headed over.

After the blessing, while still there, I got a call from the police (never good). That morning at Ft. Knox, a soldier committed suicide. His family lived in Des Plaines. The Army was looking for a Chaplain who could accompany an Army officer to make the notification; could I go? Of course I said yes, even though – as anyone who has ever done a notification knows – we all hate doing it. For confidentiality’s sake, I won’t go into details, but it was a sad duty; an experience that it takes awhile to process and get over. Even the commanding officer said he has seen battle-hardened, decorated soldiers break down and cry during the notification of next-of-kin.

The next day (maybe because of the hit on my immune system), I came down with whatever epidemic the choir is spreading, which took me out of action for a couple days. Like I said, not what I anticipated for the week after Easter. I hope your week after Easter went better.

Which raises the question, so how do we break through the Easter door and move beyond fear and doubt, to experience the presence of the Christ, in a world that appears to be unchanged?

According to John’s Gospel, the answer is, we don’t; Jesus does it for us. Despite locked doors, suddenly, in the midst of their fear and doubt, Jesus was there, speaking peace and offering forgiveness. Could this be the point of the story – a story about Christ coming to us, being with us, unseen, unrecognized, even in times of fear and doubt?

It was exactly for Christians in such situations that John wrote his Gospel in general, and this story in particular. As the last of the Four Gospels, written in the last decade of the first century, John’s Gospel addressed a time when Christians may have been persecuted, and were perhaps hiding out in fear, and dealing with doubt, since – after all – they had never seen Jesus much less touch him – wondering if Easter had happened, and if Christ really was with them in what they were experiencing, just as we sometimes wonder if he is really with us in what we are experiencing.

Encountering Jesus among them, the disciples rejoice. Except for one, Thomas, who does not because he is not there. Don’t you hate it when others seem so certain, so confident in their faith, and we struggle? That’s the way Thomas felt: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,” he said, “and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” For those of us who struggle to believe, Thomas is our patron saint.

“Doubting Thomas,” we have called him, and yet I wonder if it is not so much doubt as the fact that Thomas – like many of us – was simply a realist, which is how he always comes across.

Way back in chapter 11, Thomas was the one who urges the disciples to go with Jesus to raise Lazarus even though it might mean their deaths. In chapter 14, when Jesus says he is going away, Thomas is the one who says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”

Just two days before, Thomas had a massive dose of realty, watching Jesus be nailed to a cross, watching him die, and watching all his hopes and dreams over the past three years be sealed in a tomb. Perhaps that is why he was not there, because – being a realist – he had moved on to other things.

So when Thomas finally experiences the risen Lord and confesses “My Lord and my God,” what changes is not his realism; it is his sense of reality. Of what is really real in life. Of what God can do. And even, what God can do through him.

In these days after Easter – in all the days after Easter, isn’t this our problem too? We may be realists, but the question is, “How big is our reality?” Do we live in a reality defined by failure, or bursting with possibility? Do we live in a world marked by scarcity, or full of abundance? Do we live ruled by remembered offenses, or where forgiveness and reconciliation are always an option? Is life ended by death, or is there an invincible Life loose in the world that we cannot even comprehend?

Given the new reality set free in the world by the resurrection of Jesus, it is always too soon to give up on the relationship we are about to give up on, the disappointment we can’t seem to get over, the wrongs we have done – or had done to us – that haunt our days and nights, but never too late to turn these things over to the God of hope, who raised Jesus from the dead. The same as Thomas – and through Thomas’ story – Jesus takes us by the hand and invites us through the door into a whole new level of reality. Ultimately, whether to accept is a choice we all have to make; repeatedly, day by day.  (David Lose, “On Realities Old and New,” at his website “In the Meantime,” www.davidlose.net, April 6, 2015)

Because in the end – as this story makes explicitly clear – this story is not really about Jesus’ first disciples, or even Thomas, but about us. “Have you believed, Thomas, because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” And, “these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

owen-meanyAs I said, last week did not go as I anticipated (it rarely does). But one of the advantages of being sick (did you know there were any?) is that I got two books read. One of them was the book I quoted in my Easter letter, John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. The book begins with one of the best opening lines ever, spoken by the narrator, John:

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was an instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

As one illustration out of many, in one scene at a schoolyard, Owen illustrates his faith in a God he cannot see by pointing to a gray granite statue of Mary Magdalene as twilight falls. When it becomes so dark the statue is no longer visible, Owen asked John if he knows that the statue was still there. John says of course he knows. But Owen keeps pushing (To convey the unusual quality of Owen’s voice, Irving capitalizes Owen’s speech):

“YOU HAVE NO DOUBT THAT SHE’S THERE?” Owen nagged at me.

“Of course I have no doubt!” I said.

“BUT YOU CAN’T SEE HER—YOU COULD BE WRONG,” he said.

“No, I’m not wrong—she’s there, I know she’s there!” I yelled at him.

“YOU ABSOLUTELY KNOW SHE’S THERE—EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE HER? he asked me.

“Yes,” I screamed.

“WELL, NOW YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT GOD,” said Owen Meany. “I CAN’T SEE HIM — BUT I ABSOLUTELY KNOW HE IS THERE!” (John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany, page 451).

Such is the faith Jesus commends in this story, the faith that keeps us on the right side of the Easter door, even in our times of doubt and fear, even when the world appears otherwise.  May God give to us such faith.

Amen.

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