April 8, 2018

Easter 2   April 8, 2018   Psalm 33, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

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Shalom, Jesus says, Peace be with you.

Shalom, he says a second time, adding now –

Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father has sent me so I send you.

If you forgive the sins of any they’re forgiven. If you hold onto them they’re held.

As disciples huddle together that first Easter evening, lamenting the absence of Jesus… Here comes Jesus, walking through locked doors, saying Shalom – Hebrew for Peace be with you.  And as God breathed life into Adam in the beginning, now Jesus breathes new life into his disciples… As God has sent Jesus into the world to save the world, so too now Jesus sends his followers…

Thomas, one of the original first-round-draft-choice twelve apostles, was away that night. When Thomas returns, the others tell him We have seen the Lord. Thomas tells them Unless I see and touch for myself I will not believe.

Now here we are again, a week later, gathered in the same place, doors again shut tight against the outside world. And here comes Jesus again, entering without knocking, saying again Peace be with you. Shalom. Turning to Thomas, saying Put your hands here. Touch and see. Don’t disbelieve but believe. (The word Jesus uses isn’t doubt – it’s disbelieve.)

Thomas blurts out My Lord and my God! The best Jesus one-liner in the bible. But Jesus doesn’t seem impressed – he just says Do you believe because now you see? Blessed are those who don’t see but do believe.

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Which has had me pondering this week… Is there really anyone – who has ever really believed… entirely without seeing?

Of course it depends on what we mean by seeing. Remember, in John’s gospel seeing rarely means seeing with our eyes. In John seeing nearly always means realizing – getting – what it’s all about… Not meaning fully understanding – but realizing… Jesus is who he says he is – Son of God – Messiah – Christ (same word in two languages). Getting it – that God is good and God is love. Realizing –  trusting in God and in Jesus is the way. Getting who Jesus is – is the seeing that matters.

Though for Thomas – seeing with his eyes and being invited to touch with his hands – sure seems to be what gets him on to getting it – that Jesus really is alive. Which, in fairness to Thomas, is also what our first reading from First John says is the church’s basic proclamation about Jesus – we’re testifying to you about Jesus who we have seen and touched. And Thomas doesn’t seem to me to need to see to believe any more than all the rest of the Jesus crew… All of whom except for him have, by now, been able to see and talk with Jesus, alive and risen.

And when it comes to faithfully following Jesus, Thomas, if anything, has been above average.  When Jesus tells disciples earlier (in John 11) he’s heading back to metro Jerusalem where he’s almost been stoned to death a little earlier, Thomas is the one who says lets go with him so we can die with him

And of course we remember – all the apostles (or maybe all but one) flee when Jesus goes to the cross… Thomas’s faith is at least no weaker than that of all the others. Maybe even a little stronger. So why is Jesus picking on Thomas – telling him alone to stop disbelieving?

I guess one way to understand Thomas is to see him as a transitional character – who takes the hit for all of us – as he (unwittingly) helps Jesus take us from the first stage of faith, in which we believe because we’ve seen and heard Jesus – transitioning now with Thomas, into our present age – where now we all have to believe without physically seeing Jesus.

Which may help explain… But doesn’t leave me feeling any better… About life after Easter… in a world that still doesn’t seem to have received the news. A world in which many Christians still seem to be disbelieving – not meaning doubting – but dis-believing as in dysfunctional belief. Dysfunctionally dis-believing – believing in a Jesus who’s nothing like the Jesus of the gospels. A culturally-created Jesus who lets us dis-regard the poor the needy and the dispossessed while doing whatever we like – as long as we say we believe.

Call me Thomas. That is actually my real name. Tim’s the nick-name given by my parents because my dad was Tom already. Call me Thomas – because I still have a hard time believing – unless I see Jesus – as we’ve seen and heard and known him in the gospels – alive among us…

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Call me Thomas – but – listening to our gospel and looking at our bulletin cover art – what has been helping me see Jesus better this week… has been noticing… how, even a week after his resurrection… Jesus still bears the wounds of the cross.

Which in a strange sort of way I see and hear as good news… Good news, because I can identify with the wounded Jesus… when I’m feeling inadequate for not feeling better about life after Easter… brooding about what a lousy believer I am…I’m not saying my wounds are at all like those of Jesus, but – here I am, a week after Easter, still feeling stuck in Holy Week… Still feeling part of me’s at the Last Supper, part of me’s watching Jesus on the cross on Good Friday. Even though Jesus is risen from the dead.

Again, my feelings are no ways comparable with what Jesus suffered – but even little things like the snow falling again, and yet again this week – have had me appreciating Jesus, in our gospel and our bulletin cover art, showing the signs of his wounds from the cross… Making me feel less out of place…

Reminding me also of a poem by pastor friend Carol Borland, who writes about tapping trees for sugaring – making maple syrup with her husband, a now-retired dairy farmer, in Glover Vermont. Carol’s poem describes the drilling and tapping with a hammer the so-called tap through which sap flows into a bucket or tubing for collection. (Carol writes:)

My husband runs, tapper in hand, from tree to tree drilling holes for the spouts…

I follow behind, putting in the spouts.

Tap, tap, tap, check again to see if it’s loose…

I am a talker and so as I go along I apologize to the trees for hurting them.

I ask them if they understand what is happening to them….

Their wounds – the taps, that is – interest me.

How differently each tree carries its stigma!

The young, thin-barked and smooth, readily show their wounds so that I have no trouble finding the place to put the spout.

More often than not, with the young ones, sap-tears are already flowing by the time I arrive.

The older trees are another story.

Their bark is rough and thick and gnarly.

They hide their wounds between the overlaps of their thick covering or amid the moss that grows on their North side.

I stand and look for several minutes at some of these Veterans before I can find the tap hole.

No tears yet to trace upward –

It takes longer for their sap-tears to start flowing…

Is it pride – or that they have already endured too much to show their feelings easily

Her poetry, perhaps, is not polished… But Carol sees – the way pain scars trees as it scars people. The pain of birth, suffering, crucifixion… is built in to the design of the universe…. The ebb and flow of life…

And with classic Vermont under-statement – Pastor Carol knows…  better than I… how to leave some things barely implied….

Like the taste of maple syrup… poured on a cup of snow in a steaming sugar-house…shared with eager children…

Like the joy of noticing… the presence of Jesus…  when least expected.

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And not just to be fair to St Thomas, but to be really honest – Don’t we all still need to see Jesus alive – to sustain our faith? Not to prove he’s alive – most of us can accept that on faith – but to remind us – he really is still with us. Don’t we still need to see Jesus in this sense?

Which is one of the main reasons we need to be among other believers… Believers who make Jesus visible… for the eyes of our hearts to see.

Which is our job description (of course) together as members of the body of Christ. We’re called to live by faith… not just for ourselves, but especially so others can see and believe with us. We’re called to live all of life believing in the love of God;  practicing Christ’s commandment to love one another. This is our job description as Christians from the get-go – something we say yes too again every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer and ask to be included in God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven….

A job description that may sometimes keep some of us awake wondering – did we really sign up for all this life of faith? This life that always seems to keep pushing our boundaries beyond where we thought we could keep them safely posted. This job description of being Christians in a hurting world will have us feeling like old maple trees some days… Tapped out… and tear-stained..,,

Yet the same job description (of course)… is what makes life worthwhile… day-after-day-after-day-generation-after-generation… As we realize more and more… The good news that – not only do we not need to do this life of faith all by ourselves – the good news is that there’s no way we can ever begin to do this by ourselves – and God’s never going to ask us to try.

The good news is that Jesus – scars and wounds – blessings and joys and peace altogether – is still walking through locked doors to remind us – he’s alive. He’s with us. And he will be with us all the way. As we walk together by faith  with him and one another. Singing our Thanks be to God – Alleluia! Christ is risen – Alleluia! He is risen indeed.

Amen.