As usual the first Sunday after Easter is the story of "Doubting Thomas." John writes the disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews. But let make one thing clear especially in light of the shooting at Chabad Community Center in Powawy yesterday. The Jews, as John calls them, are not responsible for the death of Jesus, the Empire was. By the Empire I mean all of those powers who work for evil instead of good. The groups who do not like to see the status quo upended. Rene Girard writes the reason for Jesus' death on the cross is his very presence and new way of thinking upended the old ways. Balance needed to be restored and a scapegoat had to be found. Jesus in Girard's theology is the scapegoat and his death order is in place. The people John was writing for were living in the diaspora and felt persecuted by the synagogue. What do we do when feel left out we look for someone to blame and this is exactly what John is doing, blaming the synagogue for their ills.
But on to Thomas. It is rather sad that Thomas is not present when Jesus appears in the Upper Room, isn't it? The question I have always had is this: If Jesus is all-knowing why didn't he wait for Thomas to return? Who is Thomas mad at? More than likely himself. If only I hadn't hung around in the marketplace flirting with that girl. He thinks. When he gets back to the ten, they exclaim they have seen the Lord. Thomas crestfallen, lashes out that he won't believe until he does the unthinkable. Touch the nail holes and put his hand in Jesus' side. Well a few days later Jesus shows up and tells Thomas to do that very thing. Thomas exclaims,"My Lord and My God." The only person in the gospels to exclaim this.
What does Thomas mean for us? I think it means faith is meant to be questioned. If we didn't at some point wonder what it was all about it would be rather one sided. Faith is meant to be examined and wrestled with. This what makes it so exciting. To ponder the big questions of life and to wonder about our place in the cosmos is what most of us do at some point or another. Courage is what is called for in examining our questions. Thomas is very brave, he has the wherewithal to say no and to question what at face value is so strange.
Instead of using Thomas as a cudgel, we should thank him for his bravery and his courage to have an open mind and in turn, an open heart.
He is Risen!
Welcome to Easter here at St. Thomas. For whatever reason you find yourself in this place today I am glad you are with us. So many of us hear the stories of Jesus’ resurrection and are puzzled or amazed or yes even skeptical. I have always felt a bit melancholy on Easter Sunday. I know the women are thrilled to know that Jesus is alive, just as he has promised. But I can’t help but feel a little sad, that it all had to happen in the first place. Whatever your theology is regarding the crucifixion, it is still a sad thing that Jesus had to die.
But over time I have realized my problem is the one so many others have, which is the Jesus of the cross. The Jesus who we focus on during Lent is Jesus crucified. The reason our cross is empty today is that we believe in a risen Christ. We believe in the empty tomb because it means death does not have the last word. Jesus kingdom will have no end. Today is a beginning of life, not the end.
What does it mean though for those who question? And there is nothing wrong with let’s not say questioning but rather wondering. They run to the Upper Room where the men are hiding and gasp out the good news. They have seen an angel who has told them Jesus has risen. Even going so far as to ask them why do they seek the living amongst the dead. Standing in front of them still panting, they stare at them and then they tell the women what they are saying is garbage Lros is the Greek term and it is the only time it is used in the Bible. We translate it to mean nicer things “idle tale” or “nonsense.” 'Women' the disciples harumph 'hysterical women.' The women stand there confounded by the men’s disbelief after all don’t they remember Jesus’ words about rising to life again?
The only who believes them is Peter. He runs out, all the way to the tomb. His footsteps beat out the rhythm of please let it be true. What is Peter looking for? Peter is hoping Jesus is alive because he will feel redeemed. His denial of his friend has weighed heavily on his heart. He has spent countless hours since the Passover dinner of chastising himself, afraid to go to the others for what they might say. The blame and anger heaped upon him. Rightfully so he knows. When he gets to the tomb he is overjoyed marveling to himself as he went home of what has happened.
It is marvelous, isn’t it? The promise Easter holds for us is the same as it was long ago. The promise that Jesus is with us. Jesus will always be with us no matter how anxious or sad or hopeless we feel Jesus stood up and walked out of that tomb forever changing how we see death. Christ has walked out of the tomb, grabbed us by the hand to join him in this life-changing moment. We are asked by him to live a resurrection life. A life that is not spent focusing on Jesus hanging on the cross but rather one which is eager to embrace the good news of the empty tomb.
Eugene Peterson tells the story of his friend Brenda who went to visit her daughter’s family in Chicago. Brenda was especially excited to see her granddaughter Charity. Charity is a bubbly precocious five-year-old. Brenda was arriving on the heels of Charity’s paternal grandmother who was a very devout Christian. She took her mission of bringing Charity up with a religious grounding very seriously.
The morning after Brenda’s arrival Charity came into her room at 5 am and climbing into bed looked into Brenda’s eyes after peeling them open and said, “Grandmother, let’s not have any God talk. I believe God is everywhere. Let’s just get on with life.” I like Charity, Peterson writes. I think she is on to something.
So many of us tie ourselves up in knots about whether the resurrection happened. The bigger question is what does the resurrection mean to us? How does hearing this story shape how we think and act in the world today? What does it mean if we believe or don’t believe? The bigger question is this: does it really matter? The resurrection tells us to get on with life.
The resurrection story is not one day in the year it is every day of every year and if we miss that we miss the point of Easter. Each of us here today is to live out the resurrection story to believe in something bigger than ourselves and to put into practice those attributes that form a resurrection life. A life which is not separated from God but rather a life which is so interwoven with God’s presence, we are in perfect sync with what he desires for us.
Just as the women gave witness to the disciples in the upper room that early morning, we too are here to give witness how God is present in our lives. We are witnesses to resurrection today and every day. We are witnesses and participants to what a full life in Christ can look like, feel like and be like. We will find these witnesses throughout our lives. People we work with, meet on the street unlikely people in unlikely places. Who would have ever thought that Mary Magdalene of all people would be a witness to the risen Lord? Exorcized of seven demons and one of Jesus' most faithful followers, she is witness to the Good News of a resurrected Jesus.
Her witness is a model for all of us this Easter Sunday as we proclaim Christ has risen indeed. Now let’s get on with life!
Palm Sunday Meditation
Today we begin loudly proclaiming Jesus as King. Crowds cry out "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"Palm branches wave cloaks thrown down on the rough rocky road. Jesus sits on a donkey or colt. He looks preposterous. But isn't this the point? Roman authorities show their might sitting on mighty steeds, their breastplates blind people with the sun glinting off them. But the soldiers and Jesus share one thing, their faces are inscrutable. The soldiers through might and Jesus through knowing. Knowing human nature and all it is: loving one moment, fickle and hate-filled the next.
This is exactly how Jesus life plays out. The crowd roars their approval one minute and calls for his death in the next. It happens all the time, the most popular and well-liked is suddenly hated and avoided. Ostracized by his peers. It only takes a few to change the way things are going. A couple of whispers here, the spread of gossip there. Lives are ruined and reputations are tarnished, sometimes forever.
Rene Girard names this the Scapegoat theory whereby to restore communal order someone has to bear the sins of the community and be expelled much like the biblical theory of scapegoat. The biblical theory is a sheep or goat "takes on" the communal sins of the village and is run out into the wilderness. While it does not work, communities naively believe it restores communal peace. Jesus' trial and crucifixion was how the authorities in the temple and Rome thought order would be restored to society. It is something we still do today. Society is always looking for a victim to right the wrongs of society. The hope is order will be restored, which it is for a time. Then the whole thing begins again.
In the documentary "Panic: The Untold Story of the Financial Crisis" we are reminded again how close the world was to financial collapse. The story unfolds for people wanting a scapegoat for the greed of society. The scapegoats rightly or wrongly were those who were trying to fix the system. The burdens they carried now seem almost cruel. But when it was all unfolding, the over riding thought was someone needed to pay.
History does have a way of repeating itself doesn't it? Someone needed to pay in 33AD and that someone was Jesus. Guilty or innocent. It didn't really matter, order needed to be restored, peace at any price. How many of us look for a scapegoat when things are not going as we wish they did? How many of us want someone, anyone to take on the burden of the group? How many of us say we would never be calling for Jesus' death, only to have someone whisper something in our ear and we too are calling for his crucifixion? Think it couldn't or wouldn't be you? This week I invite you to think again.