Marked with the Cross of Christ John 20: 19-31
Halle, Halle, Hallelujah
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
It seems to me that acclamation leads to a question on this first Sunday after Easter. It isn’t “How?” or “Why?” We acknowledge that God’s ways surpass all human understanding. The big question, it seems to me, is “So what?” If Christ is risen, if life and love have triumphed over death and evil, what now? How has it made a difference in us, or in our world?
While we shouted “Yippeee!” to celebrate resurrection last Sunday, bombs exploded in Sri Lankan churches and hotels; another devastating storm gathered over Mozambique; young black men were still disproportionately well-represented in US prisons; EGH was still full to bursting; and wars, disease, and corruption were still raging across this world that God so loves. What possible difference can it make that Jesus was or wasn’t in his tomb on Easter morning a couple thousand years ago?
What difference did resurrection make on that first Easter? Jesus’ former colleagues were gathered in Jerusalem, a city where the streets were regularly lined with the crosses of anyone the Roman government considered a threat. A city where their teacher and friend had just been executed by the state. When frightened women announced that the tomb was empty, no one shouted a triumphant “Christ is risen!” No. They panicked and locked themselves in a room.
Who could blame them? They logically assumed that if Jesus’ body was missing, it had been stolen and they would be the prime suspects in the theft. They had seen what happened to Jesus, so they had an idea of what might happen to his followers. If resurrection meant anything to them the first day it happened, it meant more trouble. No wonder they were hiding.
It was precisely into that climate of fear and anxiety that Jesus came. He met them in their hiding place and stood among them, his physical wounds still raw, not to mention his emotional and mental ones. He did not scold them for abandoning, betraying, or denying him when he needed them most. He did not appear as a ghost like Jacob Marley, rattling chains of shame and fear. Instead, Jesus came to show them what the resurrection was for. His first words to these frightened people filled with shame and dread was exactly what they most needed to hear: “Peace be with you.”
After reassuring the disciples that they are precious to him, Jesus breathes into them the power of the Holy Spirit. He emboldens them to move beyond wallowing in guilt and terror. He infuses them with his own breath so that they can spread God’s inclusive embrace to everyone, including those who don’t deserve it. Jesus tells the disciples that if they forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if they retain the sins of any, they are retained. After distributing among them his own spirit, he utters this command: go and share the gifts and dreams of God.
And how did those saints of old respond? How did they receive the power of God that had been breathed into them, and the instructions to share forgiveness and new life with everyone? Did they run out into the streets, proclaiming the power of God over guilt and shame and death and hate? Did they run through the synagogues shouting “Christ is risen!”?
They did not. When Thomas—who hadn’t been in the room when Jesus appeared—returned, the disciples were exactly where they’d been when he left. Besides the fact that there was no physical evidence that Jesus had been there, Thomas couldn’t see that Jesus’ visit had made any difference in any of his friends. Can’t you just hear Thomas asking, “If Jesus is indeed alive, and you have seen him, then what are you all still doing here, huddling in fear? If Christ is risen, so what?”
Of course, whether or not Thomas accepted the incomprehensible idea of Jesus’ resurrection, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Whether or not we modern disciples intellectually assent to believing in an event that simply cannot be proven, Christ is still risen. The resurrection is among us and all around us, whether we can see it, touch it, or point to it or not. “The Truth” was never something to be believed. The Truth is Someone who makes believing possible. Someone who redefines believing as relationship. Someone who recreates community in and by connecting with each heart. Someone who reimagines our lives as intimacy with God. Someone who was raised from the dead so that we might have life and have it abundantly.
When we “see” resurrection as relationship, then the beautiful vision of church as it is described in Acts actually seems possible: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:32-35).
When we “see” resurrection as relationship, we live as if it is the litmus test of our lives. Easter isn’t just proclaiming “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” It is the way we live. Spiritual author Richard Rohr writes, “Christianity is a lifestyle — a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an ‘established’ religion (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s ‘personal Lord and Savior’…The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.”
The wounded world needs to hear words of healing and forgiveness spoken. The people of Sri Lanka and Mozambique need to touch Jesus’ body and blood, just as Thomas did, just as we do. The prolific homeless population of Seattle and incarcerated Americans need to put their hands in the bleeding holes of a compassionate body of Christ, and know that their woundedness does not keep them from being beloved.
All of creation needs the church to pray and hope and act as if God’s shalom was a real thing. Resurrection cannot be tamed into a concept owned, manipulated, and taken for granted by the church. Instead, the church has to embrace Easter as a verb. We must Easter in a way that helps the world to see the resurrection in us—in all that we do, in all that we say. Then seeing really will be believing.
Beside us, behind us, and in our very selves, the Body of Christ is enfleshed. Let’s leave our locked rooms and live like Easter makes a difference! Jesus has breathed into us the power of the Holy Spirit so that with our lips and our lives we can proclaim—despite all evidence to the contrary—“Alleluia! Christ is risen!” (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
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