- Sunday, April 23, 2017
- By The Reverend Dr. Marilyn Hames
Easter 2—23 April, 2017 Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
You don’t really believe in resurrection do you? Someone asked me that on a crowded bus last week. My answer—You bet I do! Through life’s ups and downs I have explored many layers of its meaning and discovered that new life is possible in many different ways that affect me personally—in the delight of renewed, half -forgotten friendships, the miracle of restored relationships after a major disagreement or misunderstanding, in the fresh energy that encouragement provides, in times when I have faced my fears, failings or negative feelings but with God’s help survived to become stronger and perhaps wiser.
But what about the Biblical stories? You think I’d be standing here after sixty years of studying them, if I didn’t believe in the Risen Christ? However, I confess I’d describe my encounters with Christ’s presence differently. Just last Sunday right here, yet another door to perception opened, and something profoundly life-giving spoke to me, as if I awoke from life’s many distractions to be Surprised by joy as C.S. Lewis put it. I will admit I was a bit sleepy having been up super early to attend our sunrise service, sunlight was streaming through the windows creating a kaleidoscope of dancing colours, the music had put me in a good mood, and reading aloud Mary Magdalene’s words I have seen the Lord from the Gospel touched me deeply, but then while John was preaching and mentioned how it was Mary who first interpreted her experience of the Risen Christ—bingo! There it was—no need to theologize, explain or apologize for believing, just a reminder that we are each called to interpret how we recognize Christ and experience resurrection. It may be in the help we receive or our response to the needy, in beauty, in the cycles of nature, in love, understanding or forgiveness offered or received, in a line of poetry or word of encouragement, even in truths that challenge and transform our own opinions and ideas, opening us up to other possibilities.
Have you believed because you have seen me? Jesus asked Thomas, adding ...Blessed are those who have not seen, yet come to believe. According to John ...through believing we may have life in Christ’s name,... new life ...new birth into a living hope through his resurrection as the Letter of Peter puts it, ...an inheritance that is imperishable... and unfading because by ...loving and believing in Christ we can experience indescribable joy,... the outcome of faith being the salvation of our souls—full of gladness in God’s presence as Peter quotes David prophesying about the promise of resurrection life.
Christians are called resurrection people—people who embrace new life in all its wondrous possibilities—new life in Christ, because through his love, acceptance and forgiveness if necessary, we can enjoy a fresh start anytime in fact whenever we need, hopefully learning from the past. What do you look for in resurrection? Something physical? Something mystical? Something spectacular? Something personal? Something, or someone who can penetrate the walls and locked doors of scepticism, self-sufficiency, bad memories, trauma, or fear perhaps?
There have been plenty of self-help books written about fears suggesting we confront them, name or befriend them. I am scared of spiders and last Fall we had this humungous, hairy one that kept making its web across our path to the carport. After repeated attempts to relocate it, I gave up, and befriended Butch greeting it every time I slid past, studying its habits, watching it do running repairs after heavy winds or rain, telling it to do some clean-up, when the web looked dirty. It helped to face my fear, but spiders are trivial compared to the big bullies—real people who use their power to intimidate, exploit, hurt or kill others, persecuting folk for their beliefs or whatever, often through ridicule which can also hurt.
Persecution of Christians is nothing new—the letter of Peter refers to their suffering, and in today’s Gospel the disciples were so scared after the crucifixion they hid together behind locked doors—all except Thomas. Apparently he missed out on that wonderful experience of Christ’s peace and gift of the Holy Spirit that first Easter evening—the same day Mary had encountered the Risen Christ. And what’s the first thing they are commissioned to do?—go out and spread the Good News of the Kingdom and knowledge that new life is possible. Christ sent them as he was sent, so they had to confront and overcome whatever fears held them back, and they obviously succeeded with Peter soon preaching openly. Whatever he had experienced changed him from being a coward, denying any association with Jesus, into a vocal, bold witness of resurrection. What about Thomas? Had he been holed-up somewhere else, out on a recce, or run even further away because he had even more to regret or fear?
He sounds a bit petulant, perhaps feeling left out, yet having demanded tangible proof before he’d believe, he was the first to recognize his experience of the resurrection as the very presence of God up close and personal. My Lord and my God he cried, but maybe this leap of faith was not a sudden flash of insight—maybe he had considered this possibility long before the others, so had a lot more to fear in abandoning Jesus, in effect turning his back on God. Yet look at the lovely gracious way Christ responds without any hint of reproach, inviting Thomas to touch him, to feel the marks of suffering and power of new life beyond it, so he could believe.
Most of the disciples had to face fear, loss, grief and shame, but maybe Thomas also feared divine retribution for not being there when Jesus needed a friend, so really regretted not being there when the others experienced the peace of Christ through his life-giving presence, reassurance and commission to go and do something meaningful. He must have noticed the difference that had made, because just a week later although they still met behind a closed door it wasn’t locked. Nothing can keep Christ out except the barriers to belief we set up, but as the story of Thomas proves, Christ is ready to help us dismantle them by being there for us too. Even if we don’t see Christ in the same way as others do, if we’re willing to believe we can enjoy new life, because thro believing we open the door to all that God can teach and offer.
Have you ever heard of the Prayer of the Examen? Done before bedtime, it is simply a reflection on the day in which you ask yourself two questions, firstly: Where did I miss Christ today? After being honest about moments that blocked Christ out of your life, just say Sorry! Next ask yourself where did I meet Christ today? After running through the possibilities, just say Thank you! Over time, you will be surprised how many times and places you come in contact with Christ, and how joyful, how life-giving it becomes. Do I believe in resurrection? You bet I do!
Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!