Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma, Washington on April 27, 2014
Second Sunday of Easter, Year A
“I have seen the Lord!” we heard Mary Magdalene proclaim to the disciples just last week. “I have seen the Lord!”
And how do they respond? Do they rejoice, dancing and singing? Do they immediately run out to see if they can find Jesus? Apparently not. In the very next verse, we find them hiding in fear in a locked room. In fact, we find them exactly as Jesus finds them – all except Thomas.
Now, they have good reasons to be afraid. What would happen to them? Would they be next to be crucified? Not only that, their whole sense of reality is shaken; if Jesus really is alive, if the resurrection is real and death isn’t death, then what could they be sure of? What does all this mean?! And not only that, but what would Jesus do to them when he finds them? After all, they had denied him and deserted him.
But Jesus does find them; “Peace be with you,” he says. Now they can rejoice – all is forgiven, their relationship with him is restored.
Poor Thomas, though. He misses out. Where do you think he is, anyway? Maybe he is attending to the needs of the group and has gone to get something for dinner. OR maybe he does believe Mary and is out looking for Jesus. We don’t know, of course. All we know is that he isn’t there; he misses Jesus.
I wonder what that next week is like for him. Does he think the others are lying to him; that it’s a hoax? Is he kicking himself for having gone out? Is he feeling that Jesus loves him less than the others? That week must have seemed like a lifetime to him. So when Jesus comes a week later, Thomas’ response is relief and joy magnified by the wait, “My Lord and My God!” he exclaims. This is personal. Presence and belief and relationship are all connected.
We have now heard three of the four resurrection stories in John’s gospel. Throughout Eastertide, we will continue to hear other, similar biblical accounts. They all point to the truth that God finds us and comes to us through Jesus or the Holy Spirit or other people or in whatever way will have meaning to us. It’s personal. You see, the resurrection appearances don’t end at the ascension or with the early church. God continues to come to us; to seek us out and find us.
How do we respond? Are we like Mary, proclaiming our experience? Or are we like the disciples, quietly talking amongst ourselves? Or are we like Thomas, still waiting for our turn; wondering if it ever will be our turn? Sometimes we recognize an experience as God or Jesus only in hindsight or only when we hear others tell their own stories. That’s why it’s so important that we tell our stories; why we continue to tell and retell the stories of our tradition as we do especially during the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter.
In Janet’s homily over those three days, she said that the meaning of it all is love. Sharing a meal, washing feet, the arrest, the crucifixion, the dying and rising, the empty tomb – the meaning of it all is love.
In the gospel we heard today, John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs… but these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in his name.”
Through believing, through setting your heart on Christ, you may have life – fullness of life, relational life, resurrection life.
The meaning is love; the reason is life.
Let’s look at it a little more closely. John packs a lot of action into just a few paragraphs. Jesus begins with giving them his peace. “Peace be with you,” he says. And almost immediately, he sends them to continue the work he has begun. He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit; the Pentecost story in one line. The resurrection life is one of companionship with the spirit of God. And he tells them to forgive – free people for life in relationship with God.
Our other lessons also give us glimpses of what characterizes resurrection life. We hear a portion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon in the reading from Acts. He is bearing witness to what they have seen and experienced. The mission expressed in Acts is “Be my witnesses to all the earth.”
In Peter’s letter to the churches in Asia Minor, he encourages them in their faith as they experience trials and persecution. God meets us in our suffering. Even in, perhaps especially in the context of fear, doubt, and adversity we experience resurrection life.
So, to sum up, here are some of the characteristics of resurrection life.
Being sent out into the world in the company of the Holy Spirit to continue Christ’s ministry.
Seeking signs of the risen Christ who dwells within us and others. The signs are all around us.
Witnessing and recognizing Christ.
Proclaiming as Mary did, I have seen the Lord.
Forgiving, freeing ourselves and others for fullness of life with God.
And remembering always the meaning of it all is love.
The reason is life; life in Christ;
That our lives may be Alleluia! head to toe.
Thanks be to God.