2nd Sunday of Easter, April 12, 2015
Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133
1 John 1:1- 2:2, John 20:19-31
The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg
Easter – From Doubt and Fear to Joy
Allelulia, Christ is Risen- the Lord is risen, indeed, Alleluia! This triumphant acclamation has rung in the Church over the centuries, from tiny congregations in remote rural areas to majestic cathedrals in our great cities- from chapels in country villages to urban storefront churches, by people of every culture and ethnicity and station in life. We join the unbroken chain of Christians across time who have proclaimed that this Jesus, who was crucified, died, and buried, is gloriously alive, is risen, and because he is risen, we, too have new hope, new life.
We continue to celebrate Easter these coming Sundays, because Easter is not just one day, but a season. Over the next 50 days we read and reflect on the Scripture accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances to his followers, and the new life, hope, and power for living in the Kingdom of God that he brings. During the Easter season we gather to tell the stories of transformation and hope that we encounter in our experience of the Risen One. We are healed, we are strengthened, by the presence of Jesus in our midst, and we are empowered to live lives of love, mercy, and justice in the world. For as a church- that is what we are called to do- to be bearers of the resurrection life in the Body of Christ and in the world- to seek to draw all people into the wide circle of God’s love.
Today’s Gospel is a rich account of transformation of the disciples and of their call to continue on with Jesus’ work of healing, restoring, and forgiving. A discouraged, frightened band of disciples become filled with hope and the power of the Spirit, ready to live as the newly born church, the body of Christ, and carry on his saving work. In their encounters with the Risen Christ, people began to sense that he and God were somehow one, that Jesus was the human face of God. And in this passage, we find that we, like Thomas, need to put our hands in the wounded side and hands of Christ, to worship in wonder and awe, and let him draw us out of our places of fear and doubt into lives of freedom and joy.
By way of background, the Gospel of John was written last, probably between 90 and 100 AD. Like the other 3 gospels, its story reflects some of what was going on in that particular Christian community at the time. At that time, there was division and strife between the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christans and the Jews in the synagogue who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, Many of the Jewish Christians had been banished from the synagogue. So the section in the passage about being “locked in the house for fear of the Jews” could have referred to the situation this community found itself in. It is certainly not meant to be a condemnation of Jews now- but a reflection of the situation at the time.
When Jesus reveals himself to the disciples, he breathes on them and imparts the Holy Spirit, and commissions them to carry on his work. The theme of the church as the living body of Christ which is his hands and feet in the world is more developed in John’s Gospel than the earlier ones. Also, the writer of John’s gospel is very much concerned with Christology- or who Jesus is in relation to God. He understands Jesus to be equal with God, and present from the beginning of creation. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is referred to as the Son of Man, or Son of God. In John he is the Word who was with God from the beginning, and in the words of Thomas, “my Lord and my God.” So the author of John’s gospel is drawing out some new strands of faith and tradition that were developing in the early church.
Something very powerful happened to those disciples who were locked away in fear on that first Easter day.. Mary Magdalene had told them that the Lord had risen, and she had seen him. Yet it seemed they just could not believe it, and they hunkered down in fear and hid from the authorities. Then Jesus came to them and said “Peace be with you, and showed him his wounds, the marks of his humanity, his suffering and death. And as if it wasn’t enough to be reunited with their Lord, to touch him, and hear his voice, he blesses them with the invocation of the Spirit and entrusts them with the work of building the beloved community of his followers, the Church!. What joy they must have known! He knows their weakness, their doubts, their denials and betrayals, and still calls them to minister in his name. They are called to teach others in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, to build up the life of the Body. And Jesus is standing in the midst of that room calling us, here today, telling us to be at peace, not to fear, to receive the Holy Spirit, and share with others the glorious good news of new life, of repentance, of walking with the Risen Christ in the way of freedom and joy.
When the disciples encountered the Risen Jesus, they did not experience him as some vague heavenly spirit, but a real, flesh and blood person, fully human, fully physically present, and somehow more himself than ever, glorified. They sensed they were in the very presence of God himself. With joy and awe, they are coming to get a glimpse of a great Mystery—that Jesus, who ate with them and taught with them, laughed and wept with them and walked along the shores of Galilee with them, who suffered and died, and then rose, was one with God, the Holy One. And this Jesus, alive forevermore, was calling them to share the good news of salvation, of new life in his name, with the world. This is the faith that has sustained the Church through the ages, and that is still our hope today.
Like Thomas, we, too, need to touch the mark of the nails and put our hands in the wound in the side. Like Thomas, we need to let go of our fears and doubt and let ourselves be embraced by the Risen One. Like Thomas, we need to fall at his feet and proclaim with wonder and joy, “My Lord and my God! We can believe with our minds that Jesus is the Holy One of God and that he is risen, but unless he is risen in our lives, unless his cross and passion are taken into our hearts, we cannot experience the joy of the resurrection, He has died and risen that each one of us will know new and glorious life. As the tomb could no longer contain him, so he longs to free us from whatever entombs us. What locked and confining rooms do we hide away in, afraid to dare to believe in the power of the love of God? Are we locked in a place of hopelessness, of despair? Are we trapped in the confining space of festering resentment, of unforgiveness, of mistrust? Are we entombed by addiction, or guilt, or anxiety?. Or maybe our tomb is a place of apathy, or boredom. I know that I lock myself in a room of fear and bolt the door tight, afraid to let others see my weaknesses, afraid if they knew what I was really like, they could not possibly love me. The good news, friends, is that we are not alone in those dark places. No lock or tomb can keep him out. He comes to us not in judgment but in compassion, with peace, loosing the bonds that imprison us and making us his own. He loves us, and as we are healed and made whole by his wounds, we are called to bring his healing and salvation to others.
And just as his wounds are now glorified, signs of healing and joy, so our own wounds and brokenness, part of our humanity, can be a source of joy for us. They remind us that we are dependent on God for wholeness, and that in our weakness the divine strength is revealed. Jesus has shared our flesh, so God and humanity are forever joined. Our human nature has been taken up with his and been restored, renewed, redeemed. The great good news of Easter is that Christ is risen, and with him death and darkness have been defeated, and all of creation has been restored to glorious, resurrection life.
So let us rejoice, and live and love in the light of the Resurrection. Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.