Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Here we are, one week after the Resurrection. Here we are, one week into the Easter season, with six to go. We should be singing and celebrating and giving thanks and praise for the Resurrection and all that entails.
That's what we should be doing.
But once again it seems like we return to life as it was. Once again it seems like we return to doing things as they've always been done. And, once again, as I began preparing for this Sunday, I was faced with a moment of dread. Not because I find it difficult to live into a 50-day celebration (although by week 5 it does get hard to keep up the enthusiasm), but because once again I remembered that it's this gospel. Once again I remembered that we have the gospel passage involving Thomas. This is the only gospel passage we get every year without fail, and once again I need to find a way to preach on it.
It seems like every year I need to remind people why he shouldn't be called “Doubting Thomas.” Every year we need to deal with Jesus' rebuke of Thomas' apparent disbelief. Every year it's the same thing.
But here's the thing – if we think this is the same every year, if all we hear is the same tired explanations about Thomas, if all we see is redundancy from year to year, if all we do is say, “Oh no, not Thomas again,” we just might miss something important. We just might miss a change. We just might miss Resurrection.
We really don't know what resurrection looks like. We know it's a movement from death to life. We know it involves a change. We know it's a different way of living. But the only person who knows what it is exactly is Jesus. And the only people who have seen it in bodily form are the disciples. But even they didn't fully grasp it at first, as Mary thought Jesus was the gardener, the other ten didn't grasp it until Jesus showed them his hands and side, and, over in Luke, those two on the road to Emmaus didn't recognize him until after he broke bread and gave thanks. This Resurrection thing is a little tricky.
The one thing we do know about it is that it's different. We know that it involves a change. Jesus was different and was changed on that first Easter day. The disciples were different and changed after his appearances. When we move from death to life we are changed and things are different. And this is what is happening today in John's gospel – Jesus is initiating a fundamental change that, if we aren't paying attention, we just might miss.
You're probably thinking that John's gospel is different enough as it is. And you're right. Everything from a cosmic beginning, very few miracles, a different time-line and long, confusing speeches by Jesus are part of its different nature from the other three.
John only records seven miracles. In addition to those seven miracles, there are a few other places that I will simply call “events” that serve the same purpose as those seven miracles. That is, these miracles and events take place before people come to believe that Jesus is who he says he is. Water to wine, sickness to health, blindness to sight, feeding the five thousand, talking with people in Samaria – John records all of these events as the catalyst for belief.
This is different from the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. In those gospels, the vast number, if not all, miraculous events take the form of, “Do you believe . . . your faith has made you well.” In these gospels, belief is generally the catalyst for a miraculous event.
This is important. It's important because that form of miracle-then-belief that John utilizes is present in today's gospel passage: When it was evening of the first day of the week, and the doors of the house were locked, Jesus appeared among them. After he said, “Peace be with you,” he showed them his hands and his side – and it was only then that they rejoiced. In other words, miraculous appearing coupled with bodily proof led to belief.
Thomas is not with the other ten at this point. We don't know where he was; for all we know, he was down at the bank explaining about Judas and trying to get his name on the bank account. But when he comes back from whatever business he was attending to, the other ten excitedly tell him that they have seen the Lord. And here Thomas follows standard operating procedure according to John – he wants to see the wounds and place his hand in his side. Thomas, in other words, is not behaving any differently than the other ten disciples, Mary, the wine stewards or the blind man.
But then something interesting happens. Jesus shows up a week later in the same manner, appearing in a house with locked doors and standing among the eleven. He invites Thomas to place his fingers in his wounds and Thomas then believes, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.”
And this is where we miss The Big Event. We get so hung up on Jesus' apparent rebuke of Thomas, we get so hung up on dealing with “Doubting Thomas,” we get so hung up on having to get through this gospel yet again that we miss The Big Event.
That Big Event is this: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.
That's it. That's the Big Event.
That's the Big Event because, up until this point, everything in John has been miracle then belief. But now, with these words, Jesus is changing how things have always been done. Now, with these words, belief isn't reserved for those who experience a miraculous event. Now, with these words, we and untold millions of people can call ourselves blessed.
This is good news and it happens because of resurrection. This is good news and it happens because there is change. This is good news because things are now different than they've always been.
If we think things haven't changed, if all we see is the redundancy of the same tired story over and over again, if we think this story is about Thomas, we're missing The Big Event. That event is that Jesus is no longer doing things as they've always been done. That event is a fundamental change in the format of the story. That event is Resurrection.
This Easter, don't be in such a hurry to get back to life as it was. This Easter, notice what has changed. This Easter, notice Resurrection.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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