April 3, 2016

Easter 2   April 3, 2016   Ps 150, Revelation 1:4-8, Acts 5:27-32, John 20:19-31

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Here’s the disciples, after Good Friday, suddenly without Jesus. Struggling all the more with what to believe and how to believe – in the one who was their all and all – who is now… no more among them.

Til he shows up in plain clothes, looking like a gardener, unrecognized, outside the tomb on that first resurrection morning. (Where we were last week.) Chatting away with Mary Magdalene, one of the few who stuck with Jesus all the way to the cross and tomb. Yet now even Mary can’t recognize him at first – not til Jesus tips her off by calling her name in his familiar voice. Only then does she understand. Now she goes, as Jesus said to do, to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord!”

But it’s as if Mary hasn’t been heard or believed by the other disciples. Here they are, later that same day, meeting together, fearfully, behind locked doors. Not exactly acting like people excited about the resurrection.

Now here’s Jesus, without warning – (funny how he never does seem to call ahead to ask if we’re home) – greeting us, ‘Peace be with you!’ Reminding us that he promised – “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Greeting us with the most ordinary-kind-of-everyday-greeting – a greeting people gave each other every day – Peace be with you – (Shalom to you) – as if he and we were used to doing this rising-from-the-dead thing every day.

Then breathing-on-us, like God breathes life and Spirit into Adam, in the garden in the beginning. (And yes, he is, after all, the Gardener, as Mary supposed – though not exactly as she thought. He’s The Gardener – like God is The Gardener in the beginning.)

And here’s Jesus, suddenly, commissioning us – telling us to forgive, or even withhold forgiveness.  Giving us way more power and responsibility than we know how to use, would be my take. But kind of like God gave Adam power to name the birds and animals in the Garden – now Jesus gives power to novice disciples – to us, his church – to be agents of his new creation.

Here is the Word-who-became-flesh-and-lived-among-us – still bearing the marks of the nails in his hands, the scar of the spear in his side. The wounds of his life poured out for us in the dark of Good Friday are still very visible, as Jesus calls and commissions us into life and ministry with him.

And yes, at least some of this is probably still hard to believe for some of us some of the time… Jesus risen for the dead has been difficult for some to believe all along – as all the gospels make clear. That part has somehow actually not been hard for me to believe.

The part of the gospel that has at times been difficult for me to believe is the part about Jesus giving so much power, authority, and responsibility to the church. Part of me sometimes thinks, “How can Jesus trust the church with power to forgive or withhold forgiveness? How can Jesus trust the church to make disciples of all nations? Look at what a mess we humans make of just about everything! Why not leave the work to the angels?”

I’ve had my share of doubts. And my name really is Thomas. (I’m Thomas the third, nicknamed Tim because my parents didn’t need another Tom in the house confusing things.) And my personal area of doubt has been mostly about the church.

But over the years Jesus has showed up and put his wounds – the wounds of the world he loves – in front of my face enough times so that for quite awhile now I’ve been used to saying with the original Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

And what’s helped me come to believe much more robustly in the church Jesus founded with his body and blood – has been, along with the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit – the local church itself. This church. Our sister church and churches all around us…  The local church is where I most often see the love of God at work… Forgiving us, equipping us,  loving us… Even raising the dead to new life. In the daily, hourly practice of the gospel we see (again and again) Jesus alive among us… Risen from the dead.

Of course it still does take practice to believe. Believing in Jesus doesn’t mean just agreeing in principle. Believing in Jesus means getting Jesus in our hearts, our minds, our blood, our bones. Like an actor in a play learning a part – we need to be reading the gospels every day. Reading the story again and again – quietly and aloud – committing to memory as much as we can.

Imagining ourselves in the roles of various characters in the gospel drama,  especially the roles of Jesus and his disciples – but also the crowds; also even  opponents of Jesus. With the caution that I wouldn’t advise staying in the role of Judas Iscariot or Herod for long. (It’s not a good idea to internalize those roles.) Prioritize the best roles. Especially that of Jesus – remembering together we are the body of Christ… And the gospel drama comes to life with sufficient practice.

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Twenty five hundred years before the first high school musical – two thousand years before Shakespeare – the ancient Greeks built theaters in towns of any size, some of them seating up to 14,000 people.

And St John’s gospel closely resembles Greek drama, especially Greek tragedy.  Like Greek drama, John can be broken out into five acts, with a prologue and epilogue. Like Greek drama, John relies on a mix of solo voice (– Jesus’ teachings) – one-to-one conversation (– Jesus’ intimate talks with individuals) – and chorus parts (Jesus interacting with crowds). Like Greek drama, John features vivid contrasts between characters and choices. John follows the form of classic Greek tragedy closely. Except the drama of Jesus is the tragedy that subverts and transforms tragedy… into triumph…And…

John’s gospel also has serious elements of comedy. This gospel’s a comedy of misunderstanding. The stock joke, from start to finish, is– all the characters, even Jesus’ closest friends, misunderstand much of what he says, much of the time. (Been there, done that.) Til after the resurrection – when now they start to get it, some quicker than others. Thomas famously gets cast today in the role of the slowest of all the disciples to perceive. But with the exception of the Samaritan woman at the well (ch 4) and Mary and Martha of Bethany (chs 11-12) – the disciples are rarely quick to get it.

Fortunately – here, at the end of John’s last act (chapter 21 is the Epilogue) – disciples finally start to understand who Jesus is – as they encounter him risen from the dead. The Savior of the world who still bears the scars of the cross and the world.

And there’s something about the passion and mystery and depths of love at the heart of the gospel story… That makes the gospel come alive… Especially when we understand it as a drama… Drama that still retains the power of classic Greek tragedy – yet which also bears at least passing resemblance to sanctified soap opera (and even reality tv)… In that God is still directing this gospel drama every day…And in that we never know in advance… how each day’s episode will conclude.

The story of course is still always all about Jesus, who has come into the world to save the world which God so loves… And the Word who was with God in the beginning has become flesh and lived among us… And now Jesus has called and commissioned us to continue his story…

None of us are professional actors or actresses – but we can all play our roles – and together we can all help co-produce and co-direct the gospel drama. When we study the gospel together – when we study our communities together –  When we pray and study how to present the gospel story – When we accept the call of Jesus to live the Resurrection Life Drama, Live! – here and now – We’re all given good parts, everyone of us.

Maybe we’re experiencing a little stage fright? Not to worry. Just keep practicing. If we blow our lines now and then, like St. Thomas the Disbeliever today, again, not to worry. Just remember –

After his rocky start, Thomas makes one of the best come-backs in the bible – as he, of famously-little-faith, who demands to see and touch before believing, now cries out, “My Lord and My God!” –  the best affirmation of who Jesus is, anywhere in the gospels. On the rebound Thomas gets a slam-dunk. So again, why worry?

Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage. We’re all actors on it. We’re all on  stage anyway. We have no choice but to be actors. The question is really which drama are we going to be in. And the answer from Jesus is always – Why settle for anything less than playing a good part… in the greatest drama of all time?

And of course if anyone wants to be the star of this story (as one of the saints has said)– “you better look good on wood.”

But if we’re willing to share in the role of Jesus together – remembering again, together we are the body of Christ – the gospel drama will come alive anew… in this place…

The real-life drama of Jesus our Lord and our God– scorned, rejected, tormented,  crucified – buried, sealed in the tomb – now –

Risen from the dead –

Still bearing the marks of the nails.

Still greeting us – “peace be with you!

Still causing one and all of his people to say –

My Lord and my God!

Thanks be to God. Amen.