Despair & Disbelief: The Easter Story for the Rest of Us

Text:  John 20: 19-31 Easter 2B

For many, Easter represents the pinnacle of worship and Christian joy for the entire year. Let’s face it, Easter Sunday is the Superbowl of Worship! Many are ecstatic that Easter lasts not just 1 joyful day, but a whole season!

Yet, for others, Easter morning isn’t enough.
For some of us , the empty tomb is not enough to draw rousing Alleluias from the lips.For some, not even the joyful, faithful testimony of friends is enough.
Sometimes we just don’t feel Easter. There’s too much going on in our lives. Too much sadness, too much stress at work, too much suffering, too much division within families… Too much of this world on our minds to rejoice… Sometimes our Alleluias feel hollow…. Empty…. Like the tomb.
For those times, when we feel empty, we cling to the week after Easter. The Easter story for the rest of us. The Easter story where we remember that we are in good company in the midst of our doubt, disbelief, and despair: Easter morning was not enough for the disciples either.
According to John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Christ outside of the empty tomb early on Easter morning. Peter and the Beloved Disciple had already seen the empty tomb, they’d seen the linen wrappings lying crumpled on the floor, but they ran home perplexed and bewildered. Where was his body? What did this mean?
Mary remained there, weeping.
Through her tears one appeared who she thought was the gardener. She begged him to tell her what he’d done with the corpse of Jesus…. The gardener called her by name and she knew he was no gardener, but her Risen Christ in the flesh! She rejoiced and followed his instructions to go and tell the brothers. She ran to the others, burst through the door, and gave her testimony “I have SEEN the Lord!”
How did the disciples react to this news? Did they all break out in Alleluias? Well, not quite. We know that by evening time, according to our text for today, the disciples were sitting around together in fear. The doors were locked. The shades were drawn. Not a one of them appeared to believe her story. Sure, Peter and the Beloved could vouch for the empty tomb, but her story about SEEING the Risen Christ was just too much to believe. She must have been delusional in her grief! Why would Jesus appear to her first? She was imagining what she wanted to see! She was, after all, a woman…. Emotional…. Not a one of them believed her story.
Mary’s joy and faithfulness on Easter morning was not enough to carry the community….

Yet in the midst of their grief, their fear, in the middle of the locked room Christ appeared to every one of them… Christ showed them his mortal wounds, his very flesh, and proclaimed “Peace be with you.” He breathed his Spirit upon them and for every single one of them their fear and grief was transformed into peace and joy. For every single one of them, their despair and disbelief was transformed into faith and testimony! Every single one of them was transformed that first Easter evening… every single one, that is, except for Thomas….
Poor Thomas, not in the right place at the right time, had popped out perhaps for some groceries or just some fresh air to clear his head, when the Lord appeared to all of the disciples but him.
He returned back to the room, and even from outside the mood was different. What had been silent when he left, was now a clamoring celebration! He heard their Alleluias from outside and was bewildered. When he entered, everyone was joyful and exclaimed: “Thomas, Thomas! We have seen the Lord!”
Everyone thought Mary was crazy first thing in the morning, but now all of the other disciples had the same message to tell. Like Mary, everyone else now proclaimed “I have seen the Lord!” It felt like a cruel, sick joke. Poor Thomas, still deeply grieving Jesus’ brutal death, then angered that someone would stoop so low as to steal his body from the tomb, now had to suffer through this celebrative atmosphere and their constant attempts to convince him. Didn’t they all see Jesus die? There’s no way their story could be true. Thomas did not doubt, as has been his nickname for generations. Thomas did not believe their story at all. Easter morning was not enough, nor was their testimony Easter evening. Thomas shouted : “Unless I see his wounds… no, unless I can touch the wounds I saw kill him, unless I see proof that he’s alive and that he’s really our Jesus, I will NEVER believe!”
A full week went by.
Can you imagine being Thomas for that week?
He went a whole week muttering “Show me a sign, show me a sign!” “I’ll never believe unless I see my proof.”
The following Sunday Christ appeared again in their midst and gave Thomas something far better than the sign he thought he needed. Christ met Thomas in the midst of his despair and disbelief and gave him his peace. Thomas didn’t have to touch his wounds to know it was him. His desperate, disbelieving shouts of “Show me a sign!” now changed to a testimony of his own “My Lord and my God!”
Easter morning wasn’t enough for Thomas, nor was Easter evening, but the peace and presence of the Risen Christ pursued him until at last the unbelieving one came to believe and proclaimed Christ Risen with the rest of his community. Because, you see, even while the whole world may be celebrating, Jesus Christ does not abandon to despair or disbelief those who are suffering. Christ sees our suffering and seeks out relationship with us in the midst of that. Christ comes to us and gives us what we need most: his peace and an awareness of his presence.
So often, we demand signs in our times of disbelief, or we question God’s compassion in our times of despair, but the Risen one still pursues us and enfolds us in those wounded, life-giving arms: Sometimes, when we’re praying about a crisis, we experience a sense of calm we just can’t explain. I know that’s been true in my life more times than I can count. I remember a few years ago, my brother went missing. My parents called me, frantically wondering if I’d heard from him recently because he left in a huff and hadn’t been seen in weeks. My brother’s been troubled for most of his life, you see, and has a history of making self-destructive choices when he’s upset. I prayed for him that morning harder than perhaps I’ve ever prayed for him. I cried out to God. And in the midst of that, I experienced this deep sense of calm and relief. Sudden peace. Later that afternoon, my brother called me and gave his confession and agreed to go home and make peace with our parents.
That’s the peace of Christ that we still experience today, and it comes to us in a variety of ways: Sometimes the right person will walk into our life at just the right time and make all the difference in our perspective on life. Sometimes a sip of wine and hunk of bread will leave us weeping with release and relief. This is the peace of the Risen Christ which we still come to experience today. The peace that Christ shares with us is a sign of the grace of God and it’s exactly what we need at those times when Easter morning is not enough.
The week after Easter, the Easter story for the rest of us, reminds us that Christ still comes to us in love, warms our hearts, and encourages us with the greatest peace. Christ still frees us from our locked rooms of despair and disbelief, and emboldens us to testify with all the saints that Jesus Christ IS Lord and that Jesus Christ IS Risen and for all these things we shout out Alleluia! Amen.

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