Poor tulips and daffodils are weighed down this morning with snow. We are five weeks into Spring. They look vibrant with color and full of the resilience of youth, but I must say, the poor things also look confused.
It is sometimes said that nature is God’s first bible. The divine breath Jesus breathed upon the first Christian community to infuse an Easter life in them is the same spirit of resurrection alive and at work in all creation and now in us. Something new already struggled to be revealed in them while they were yet weighed down by the cares of this world.
Today, we read of the disciples, in fear and confusion, hiding behind locked doors somewhere in Jerusalem. Presumably, they are in the same place where they had shared the Last Supper with Jesus. Their dark little room had become lifeless as the grave. They are paralyzed into inactivity and hopelessness. They thought themselves to be as good as dead already –just waiting for the Temple police to come and make it official. They are not yet fully aware—and perhaps—will never be, of how much they are like seed sown upon soil, already in the process of transformation.
The Easter story had already begun to re-write the narrative of their lives. Yet, in their darkened minds, their expectations of what would happen still followed the arc of a more worldly story. They believed they were at an end. Yet God intended a new beginning. In the immortal words of Gracie Allen, “Never placea period where Godhas placed a comma. GodIs Still Speaking.”
It was a week after Easter for the first disciples, just as it is for us. They are only beginning to understand the new situation they find themselves in. Alleluia. He is risen (He is risen indeed, alleluia!). But the question for them and for us remains the same –what now? What’s next? How shall we live as the Easter people we are? If we hoist a sail to the divine breath, do we have courage to go where it takes us? Or do we yet live in fear, weighed down with the cares of the world?
Our gospel is a graceful reminder that we are not the first followers to struggle with what the resurrection means. John’s recounting the story of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and then again, one week later to Thomas, is not to scold us into a style of believing that is afraid to ask questions, but just the opposite.
In fact, the bible is full of examples of faithful questioning. Abraham, Moses, and Elijah; dozens of Psalms, and most of the Prophets, remind us that biblical faith is confident enough in relationship with God to bear up under any question. Questions and the confidence to ask them, of ourself, each other, and God, is not a recipe for weakening faith, but for strengthening it.
In contrast to many religious people today, Christians who asks questions of themselves, others, and of God are necessarily humble. A questioning Christian has both the courage to boldly speak and the patience to actively listen. A church built upon questioning faith is self-critical and constantly reforming. Questioning faith speaks truth to power, even while challenging itself. Questioning is essential to faith because without it our religious zeal too easily changes shape to become religious zealotry. The Easter life God infuses in us becomes misshaped and distorted.
This Sunday we pray to receive the vital life-transforming breath of God in the dead zones of our lives –into the places in our minds and hearts which have become weighed down or walled off by fear, exhaustion, hopelessness, and/or confusion. “It’s a great temptation in the life of the church to huddle behind massive, beautiful doors, to hide out from a world in pain and great need, and to make our faith a personal, private thing that has nothing to do with that pain or that need.” (Kate Huey)
Here, we approach the heart of today’s gospel lesson: “Jesus comes again and again to these scared and confused disciples. The disciples have not warranted a second visit by Jesus, but they get one, and a renewed gift of his peace” (Gail O’Day). In the same way, if we long to see Jesus, he offers us the same gift of himself, not just once, but over and over.
Here is my body, Jesus said. He showed them his hands and his side. My body is wounded and broken. You carry scars in your mortal frame, some may never heal. Yet I still live and so shall you. Blessed are you for the wounds you endure for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, Jesus says.
Suddenly, unbelievably, in the midst of a living death, it was as if the hushed knot of disciples were brought to life again. They were filled not only with life, but with joy. They possessed a confidence that made them truly bold. It was as if they no longer feared death. They, too, had been resurrected with Jesus. The locked door of their tomb-like room burst open. They returned to the streets. They entered the Temple teaching in Jesus’ name. They sparked a movement that traveled by foot, ship, horseback, and by word of mouth throughout the ancient world. Jesus had breathed new life into them. They shared in a Spirit of reconciliation, mutuality, restoration of justice, and of peace.
So, what’s next? Because we are an Easter people, perhaps you feel drawn here at Immanuel to create a living sanctuary in Christ’s name with beautiful transcendent music. Or, because we are an Easter people, you may be equipped to welcoming others in Christ’s name to find shelter in worship and liturgy that is full of the wisdom and memory of ancient times, as well as the hope and call of the holy spirit pulling us toward the future. Or, because we are an Easter people, you may be called to walk in solidarity and with our siblings in faith, both Christians and non-Christians like so many here in Edgewater, in order to sweep hate away (just as 75 of us did yesterday to clean neighborhood streets and alleys). Or, because we are an Easter people, you may be pulled toward building a living sanctuary in Christ’s name to the hundreds of children and families who come here each week whom we support in learning; whom we support in exploration and play at our tutoring and play groups. Or, you may feel called to aid in Immanuel’s mission to foster Christian community in our youth—including youth of diverse colors, cultures, ethnicities, and abilities in the name of Christ. Or, because we are an Easter people, your eyes may be drawn to yet other opportunities to love and serve God in another way, or in some other place. How can we, your brothers and sisters at Immanuel, be of help?
How shall our Easter story be written? Let us hoist a sail to the Spirit. Let us pray the Spirit of Christ will reveal herself in us like the Spring tulips and daffodils that remain vibrant with color and filled with the resilience of youth, even as they shrug off the late spring snow.