A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
April 8, 2018
The Second Sunday in Easter
Lections: Psalm 133; Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
How was your Easter? You ate well, I hope…and maybe had visitors or went visiting? It’s a feast day, after all …
A kick-off, one might say, for Easter season. Well, we’ve got to do this one more time, ok? Ready? Let me hear you:
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!(3x)
I am wondering, was anybody unusually frightened last Sunday? No? No one went home and locked the doors and stayed inside where they couldn’t be seen? I’m asking, because that’s what John tells us the disciples did. For the disciples, as it turns out, Easter Sunday was a truly frightening day. The disciples were scared, weren’t they? After all, fresh on their mind were pictures of their beloved teacher being arrested, tried, stripped, flogged, paraded through town, and tortured to death on a tree. Then, as they grieved, came the improbable news of the empty tomb.
Peter and John and Thomas and the rest of the disciples were stunned by events and how quickly Jesus had been taken from them. They couldn’t help but think it might be their turn next; Roman soldiers might come for them at any moment. To be safe, the disciples went back to their house and locked themselves inside and kept out of sight.
The contrast between our comfort with the Easter story and the trepidation it provoked for the disciples shapes today’s reflection. I want us to ask, now that we have come through Lent and Holy Week and seen the empty tomb, will our faith make so few demands on us that we can see ourselves living as Christ’s disciples easily in the world?
The short Psalm 133 throws down a quick challenge.The Psalmist celebrates, “when kindred live together in unity.” At first, we might take “kindred” to refer to our families, until we recall being born “of water and the Spirit” means we are no longer natural, but spiritual beings, not as a preference, but with every breath we take, like it or not.
How else are we to understand this Psalm, but as God’s word for the church? The Psalmist celebrates, “when kindred live together in unity,” for this is how God calls his people to live. It is “very good and pleasant” with our soul when the brothers and sisters in Christ “live together in unity,” because in unity “the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” Conversely, if even one of us brings about division, then we all lose our blessing.
Gossip, quarreling, and ill-will are all to be avoided. However, unity is more than an absence of discord. In the church the apostles led, Luke tells us the believers were “of one heart and soul,” and “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” Those born of the Spirit do not strive to make themselves great; instead, they cultivate humility. Likewise, the reborn do not seek to put themselves first; instead of policing ownership claims, they share what they have, so that everybody gets what they need. An unequal distribution of wealth and property, especially of land and houses, causes division; the power and grace with which the apostles “gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” is attributed by Luke to the fact that “there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
1 John 1:1-2:2
We see how rubbing against the world can damage the moorings of the church. In fact, the challenges we face as brothers and sisters in Christ are so difficult that John offers assurance; if we do not deceive ourselves, and confess our sin, “he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In the context of the Apostle’s example, sin is a great matter: we transgress God’s one commandment when we acquiesce to a social, political, and economic system predicated on ownership of private property, which is always divisive.
A full day has not yet passed, since the stone closing the tomb Jesus was placed in was rolled back, and Mary Magdalen found the tomb empty.
Imagine how we might have felt if we were seated in the upstairs of a locked 1st century Jerusalem house, and Jesus, who we last saw placed in a tomb, suddenly appeared in the middle of our gathering. I don’t think we could be any more frightened! So, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” His greeting, a simple expression of love, is intended to comfort us.[i]Then, as we relax, he shows us his hands and side. The fear we had felt goes away, and everyone is “overjoyed” as we recognize the Lord.
But Thomas was not with us. Thomas was out and had not yet returned. Afterwards, he will not accept our word for what we have seen; he must see for himself. When he learns that Jesus showed us the nail holes in his hands and the spear-wound in his side, he vows to put his finger in the nail holes and his hand in the spear-wound, before he will believe.
Thomas is skeptical that a dead person can come back to life, and he wants to test the facts for himself. Thomas thinks we have seen a specter, not a person; we have seen what we wished to see, not what was there. Thomas is determined, if he has the chance, to be more rigorous with his “verification process” than we were with ours. Thomas proposes to test his null hypothesis, Jesus is not alive, by probing the very body of what he sees. Thomas thinks scientifically. He insists on resolving the tension between faith and doubt objectively, by examining the facts.
Now, imagine you are Thomas. Eight days have passed since Easter Sunday, and you are with Peter and the other apostles, in the same room Jesus appeared to them a week ago, while you were out, and again, the doors are shut.
You have been uncomfortable, this past week; the others share a confidence and joy you do not feel. Once again, they are talking about their ministry, and praying in the Spirit Jesus breathed into them, so you have moved off by yourself. Then you hear a voice nearby, saying “Peace be to you,” and you look up, in recognition and in shock.
You try to speak, but can’t.
Then Jesus says, “Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
What you are hearing doesn’t sound possible. You have said, before you believe, you would do the very thing Jesus himself now tells you to do. You have imagined this moment, questioned if your finger and hand could tell apart a rabbi and its specter. Might your finger prove too large to fit into a nail hole? Or would a specter, conjured from the dead, have rotted? What about the spear-hole? If you reached your whole hand inward, would it be like reaching in a fish head? Would the wound be cold? Bled-out? And, after you withdrew it, would your hand smell?
Suddenly, none of that mattered. You see Jesus, you hear Jesus speaking, and you believe. You fall on one knee, looking up at him, and you exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
Your body is trembling; you are overwhelmed by awe. All your failings are now visible on the floor in front of you, between you and your Lord.
Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me?”
His reproof is mild. Yes, Lord, you say, Yes, Lord. Your words are somehow silent, arising from a deep, light-filled space within.
Then the voice of Jesus comes into that space, as if extending his hand into all your wounds; Jesus is speaking as he did in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Out of that great interior depth, you hear yourself answering, as if across an infinite distance, I belong to you. I am yours, forever yours.
Then you are once more with the church and we are united. Then we too have life.
With the same Spirit that Jesus breathed on his apostles, he gives us our ministry. He explains “what was written in all the Scriptures about himself,”[ii] and we experience God’s superabundant love for all that he has made.
Even when we insist on doubting “the way, the truth, and the life,” we can still be brought to belief. Thomas was a disciple who had nonetheless thrown down with the world, with its skepticism, scientism and empiricism. His doubt indulged darkness; but when he was most vulnerable, he turned to light, and belief triumphed over doubt.
We are being challenged constantly to believe and live as Christians. We are called to reject what makes us most comfortable: the world’s expectations and doctrines, its property rights and free market capitalism; its divisions.
You might think this is the personal opinion of one pastor, but I hope not. We are called to pass on the teachings of Jesus, not our opinions. Luke, the author of Acts, was a follower of Peter. He had the benefit of Peter’s companionship, and his testimony is clear. John, the disciple Jesus loved, writes in his first letter, “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” John says, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” We cannot “have fellowship with him while we are walking in [the] darkness” of the world’s power and might, its privileged ownership of the modes of production and its corrupt judges.
The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are a showing of his love. Everyone in the locked room in Jerusalem experienced this love, and their faith was firmly set. Settling on faith rather than comfort was a prerequisite, before the apostles could be “sent” into the world, empowered by the same breath God breathed into the face of “the first man from dust” “…and the man became a living soul.”[iii]
When Easter frightens us, and Jesus greets us with his peace, when kindred live together in unity, embracing light and rejecting darkness, then we will completely rejoice in the great saving gift of the Lord who gave himself for us, that we might have eternal life.
And all the people said, Amen!
[i]George R. Beasley-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol 36: John (Mexico City: Thomas Nelson, 2000). The author states, “Never had that “common word” [Shalom] been so filled with meaning (378).
[ii]Luke 24:25-27. The Road to Emmaus is the Gospel reading for the following Sunday.
[iii]F.F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 392