Stations of Resurrection: Trusting Thomas 4-7-13

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Remember last Sunday? We were saying that with some enthusiasm. Last Sunday, I teased the congregation a little bit about our reluctance to say “Christ is Risen” with conviction.  I asked you to suspend your disbelief and take in the truth of the resurrection, the truth of God’s conquering of death, the truth of God’s grace that brings us all back to life. We are going to continue this conversation for the next month in this sermon series, Stations of Resurrection. Just like we do in Lent with stations of the cross, we will create stations where we can reflect on the resurrection appearances of Christ, and deepen our trust and understanding in God’s presence even when death comes. In this way, we may find in the resurrection a window into ourselves, our fears, our doubts, our hopes and dreams for life and for death.
John 20:19-31     Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” 20 Then he showed them his hands and side. The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. 21 Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” 22 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. 23 “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” 24 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”  27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.” 28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!” 29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” 30 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. 31 These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

April 7, 2013

Stations of Resurrection: Trusting Thomas  

According to tradition, the first appearance of the risen Christ to the disciples, happens to Mary in the garden. She thinks he’s the gardener, but when he says her name, she falls at this feet in awe and worship. Christ next appears to the disciples in the gospel of John, as they gather, afraid, possibly in the same upper room where they had the last supper with him. In the gospel of Luke we have the story of Jesus appearing to other disciples on the road to Emmaeus. They recognize him when he breaks bread with them and their eyes are opened and Jesus disappears.
Today’s appearance is the third appearance to the disciples, as Jesus comes back again to shame, it seems, the apostle Thomas for his unwillingness to believe without seeing, and feeling proof of the risen body of Christ. (Commentators today say that the community of John probably had some kind of dispute with the followers of Thomas and Peter and told stories to make them look bad in comparison to John, their trusted leader.)
I’ve come to appreciate Thomas over the years. I trust his inquisitive, questioning mind. I trust his willingness to question the consensus of people around him and buck the tide. In fact, this is where we have to start our investigation of resurrection, with “doubting Thomas” leading the way, affirming our ability to ask questions and test our assumptions. Thomas shows that even the earliest witnesses of the resurrection had serious doubts and questions about what they were experiencing. How much sweeter for us, 2000 years later to be able to experience the power of the resurrection beyond our doubts and questions!

In the newsletter you receive today, I introduce this series with Thomas Long’s assertion the earliest religious traditions of our ancient ancestors seem to have originated in their questions about the mystery of death. They created rituals and traditions for people in their tribe who died, burying them with gifts, food for the next life, symbols of who they were. It seems that the rituals and mystery of death helped to create religion and then religions have shaped ever since the way we deal with death.
In a similar way, early Christians developed their growing religious traditions, distinguishing themselves more and more from their Jewish roots, by how they changed their rituals and understanding of what happens when you die. The earliest Christians believed that Jesus would return within their lifetimes and abolish death and perfect the world around them, establishing the kingdoms of God in this world.
When their loved ones started to die before Jesus returned, they wondered what would happen to them. How would these loved ones be included in that great and glorious day of Jesus’ return? Would they come back when Jesus returned or would they miss out because they died too quickly? These were difficult questions for the early church, and we can see that see that they come up with a number of different answers.
Today, folks have even more different beliefs about what happens when you die. Even within this community, we have no kind of uniformity. A number of people have serious questions about any kind of life after death. Since the Enlightenment and the rise of a scientific mindset, these kinds of questions have become much more prevalent, in fact, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, scientific questioning of the doctrines of the church have led to a de-emphasizing in some parts of the church, of doctrines of resurrection and life after death. To the point where people don’t know what to say about it and therefore don’t say much and don’t know what to believe.
There are plenty of people in the church still with traditional beliefs and understandings about resurrection. Even among them we may find a wide variety of belief – people who believe they will meet God, Jesus, loved ones and famous people in heaven when they die; people who believe they merge in some way with the Spirit and live on in a different form; a few who actually believe in the resurrection of the body, which I hope to talk about in one of the sermons in this series, and a few outliers who believe in reincarnation or other kind of coming back or living on.
My intention with this series is not to tell you what you should believe about resurrection or life after death. I’m hoping more that we can accomplish a couple of things. First, I would like to open up the conversation a little bit, validate that there are different valid ways to think about God’s presence in the midst of death. It’s ok for Christians to have different ways of understanding resurrection. That’s the main goal of today’s sermon.
Second, we will look through the window of life, that the Christian doctrine of resurrection provides for us, to confront the reality of death and the amazing Christian hope that we have in the face of death.
Third, we will look at how important the church’s understanding of resurrection is to the rest of our faith. The largest growing belief in the US these days is that of the “nones.” They say they “spiritual but not religious.” Many of my best friends fit into this camp, and I’d like to reach out to them to show them the richness of the faith tradition that they are willing to throw away.
When the church remembers and celebrates those who have gone before us – through communion, the Book of LIFE, through naming and remembering, we witness to the power of God’s love over the reality of death. We witness to God’s conquering of death. We testify to the mystery that God’s love is more powerful than death itself, and that our lives in and through God’s love are not limited to this brief life span. – that we are all gifted with God’s resurrecting love, that brings us back to life each and every day, and causes us to live as people prepared to die, and to die as people prepared to live .

2115 Christ is Risen