“A Tough Act to Follow!”

Second Sunday of Easter 8 April 2018
(Acts 4:32-35 Psalm 133 1 John 1:1-2:2 John 20:19-31)

“A Tough Act to Follow!”

Easter Sunday is a tough act to follow! A crucified Jesus rising from the tomb more alive than ever before! A body so gloriously alive that even his dearest friend Mary does not recognize him until he gently murmurs her name! Here at church, it’s a tough one to follow, also: the amazing music (thank you Tim, Barbara, choir), new trumpets sounding for the first time, terrific sermon (thank you, Pastor Andrew), and pews so overflowing we set up chairs! Easter Sunday is a tough act to follow!

But this does not mean that Easter was a dream. Nor does it mean that we are back to where we were before the Son of God died and rose from the dead for us.
These 50 days after Easter Sunday we call the season of Easter. During these 50 days we hear stories of Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection. We hear stories from the Acts of the Apostles, stories of the early church living into a life of faith that seemed utterly impossible only a week ago. We hear these powerful stories such as the one we heard a few minutes ago from John’s Gospel.

We know the story. It is Easter Sunday evening. The apostles are together in a locked room, paralyzed by fear. Jesus shows up; walks right through the locked doors. Everyone is there but Thomas, so when Thomas gets back they tell him they saw Jesus; but he does not believe. A week later Jesus shows up again, this time Thomas is there.

Thomas in today’s Gospel is every one of us sitting in these pews today—the one who refuses to accept easy answers to hard questions of faith, the one who always wants a little more explanation when the responses seem artificial or contrived. Thomas is each one of us. Each one of us must be Thomas for our faith to be alive.

But the point is not who Thomas is. The real point of this Gospel narrative is who Jesus is—a story about God coming to us, wherever we might be; a story of how Jesus is willing to adjust his schedule to come back to Thomas because that is what Thomas needed.

This story of who Jesus is begins at the door, at the very beginning of the story. Not a Jesus who opens it; but rather, walks through it, walks right over to Thomas, not arguing with him by trying to answer his rationalistic uncertainty or trying to alleviate his empirical worries.

Instead, it is simply Jesus who lets nothing stop him from getting to Thomas. It is Jesus who is determined to reach this skeptic, who in his skepticism is no different than the other ones in the room. It is Jesus who refuses to let dead bolts block the movement of love toward the one who is raising hard questions.
So too with us! When the reality of our lives seems bleak and insurmountable; when life events begin to cloud over our hope; when fear that is running rampant in our society today begins to nibble away at us—it is the Good News of Easter upon which we stand!

Because of Easter, we can be confident that Jesus comes to meet us where we are; even on the far edges of faith; even when we have forgotten how to believe; even when our desperate questions are closing in on us.

Because of Easter,God comes seeking us, stepping through the walls that hardship builds around us, offering us love at the very moment that grace seems nothing but a ridiculous ghost story written down by fanatical people from the past.
The point is that Jesus offers himself, over and over again, and with no questions asked, Jesus gives the repeated gift of his presence and his peace.

This is the Good News of the Second Sunday of Easter, reminding us that we are a fractured and wounded church, sinful, sin-filled and weak in faith, too often overcome with fear, and that it does not take long for death to creep back into our lives and push Easter away.

But out of our sinfulness, we still proclaim that Easter is real, not only in the fabulous music and preaching and singing of last weekend. Easter is real as it unfolds in the lives and stories of each one of us. The hallmark of the church is not certitude; it is openness to the Holy Spirit. In this Easter text, the Spirit is received and the disciples are sent. The joy of the Resurrection must always be linked to the work of proclaiming that “He is risen! He is risen, indeed, alleluia!”

It is clear that the church does not need more custodians to keep it running the way it has been. The church does not need more leaders who conduct business as usual. Because, I believe, we are in an emergency situation in our society where the Gospel absolutely matter decisively. What the church now requires “by faith,” beyond fear, I suggest is,

• …to run risks for justice in a brutalizing society;
• …to run risks for forgiveness in a vengeful society;
• …to run risks for hospitality in an exclusionary society;
• …to run risks for generosity in a narcissistic society;
• …to run risks for protecting the deepest hopes of our most vulnerable in a society bent on consumer security at all costs;
• …to run risks for the scandal of Easter Resurrection in a society that reduces everything to attainable possibilities.1

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., who we honored this past week, called this the “revolution of love.” I think he would also call this the Easter Proclamation to overcome fear.

The intention of God, I believe, is to create a community of holy people—not goody-goody people, but people who look like the God we have come to know in Jesus, wounds and scars, all the same.

Many scripture scholars believe this section of John’s Gospel is the original ending, with Chapter 21 added later. If so, Thomas proclaims at the ending of this Gospel of John what we heard at the very beginning: that the Word became flesh…..and Thomas declares Jesus to be this Word. And this Word lives among us today as the Risen One! Let it be so! Amen.
1. Gratitude to guidance from Walter Brueggemann in his book, Gospel of Hope. p. 71.

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