2 Easter A
Acts 2.14a, 22-32; Ps 16; 1 Peter 3.1-9; John 20.19-31
St Augustine, Wilmette
17 April 2014
I don’t see any Easter bonnets out there or bunnies or baskets or eggs or even a solitary -- if dried up – Peep. What’s the matter with you people? Don’t you know we’re only in Day 8 of the Great Fifty Days of Easter? I’m glad to see in the bulletin that we’ll be saying and singing some Halleluyahs. At least we’ve got that. And when we get to them, I want us to raise the roof. Because Easter’s not over. Easter’s really just begun.
I get it though. For many of us, the rigors and the hoopla of Holy Week, Triduum and Easter Day were a bit over the top, so it might seem meet and right and all that to get on with life. Makes me want to put on a fake British accent and Say, “Alright then. Get a grip; it’s all over. Back to the humdrum. Pip-pip.”
Which leads me to the gospel of the day of course. Because we have within that story both Easter Day itself and the 8th day of Easter. The disciples have already cleared out their bonnets and baskets and bunnies less than 24 hours into the day itself. “When it was evening of that first day,” our gospel this morning begins. What day? Easter Day. The Great Getting Up in the Morning Day. And according to this gospel, some rather momentous things have already happened:
· Mary of Magdala has been to the tomb and back twice. Her first time out she was so disturbed by what she didn’t see – not only no body, but also no mysterious figure/s dressed in white to tell her he’s risen as in the other gospel accounts – that she raced back to spread the alarm
· prompting two of the other disciples the unnamed one whom Jesus loved and Peter to do their own footrace back and forth to the tomb where they also discover no body home leading one of them for some mysterious reason to, as the gospel puts it, believe, but believe what? There are several places in this story where the author turns quiet on us. Leads us on tantalizingly and then leaves us hanging. How is it that the empty tomb causes belief and what’s the content of that belief? We don’t know since they simply go, as the gospel tells it, back home and do nothing about whatever it is they have come to believe.
· Which apparently doesn’t sit well with Mary Mag who returns to the garden tomb to investigate some more at which point she finally meets her version of angels dressed in white who question her motives but give her no news.
· Then finally there’s the famous encounter with the very missing body himself, whom she mistakes for the gardener – they are after all in a garden that happens to contain a tomb – and she only recognizes her beloved Jesus when he calls her by name.
· After which she makes a second dash back to the others to proclaim with what I have to believe great excitement and joy and ebullience the Easter news: “I have seen the Lord,” she tells them along with everything else from her encounter with him.
In our bibles, were you to look this up, you’d see only a double space between those stories and the one Kristin just proclaimed. Another of those places where the author seems deliberately to leave us out of things. A double space, which is to say, a blank space. What happened in that white space between their hearing the great good news and confining themselves to a locked room? Really? He’s been raised, conquered death, sent the news ahead, and their response is to huddle behind locked doors and windows. And it’s the same day; it’s the first Easter Day. Makes our lack of Peeps and dyed eggs this morning look rather pedestrian.
And after that blank space following her news, our gospel of the day begins. This Sunday is traditionally called by some regular churchy folks “Doubting Thomas Sunday” because of 2 things: the last several verses of the story are about Thomas, and no matter which liturgical year we celebrate, this is the story we proclaim every year on 2nd Easter. So every year on the 8th day of Easter we hear about the only disciple who gets the pejorative nickname “Doubter” attached to him as if doubt were some sort of religious dirty word. But hold the phone! First, there’s yet another curious gap in the story. We don’t know what Tom’s been doing that keeps him away; all we know is that on Easter Day he’s not huddled up like the rest shaking in his sandals. We don’t know that he’s out there goofing off or hanging at the mall. Perhaps Tom is doing precisely the kind of thing that Jesus instructed all the others to do the night before he died: Serve those who need serving, spread the gospel, feed the hungry, love people as Jesus had loved them. We don’t know for sure what he was doing, but we do know about the others.
There they are, all locked up. What happened to that whiff of belief? And notice this: Jesus comes among them having busted mysteriously through all the locks. Ta-da! The gospel records no response from them. He speaks to them and he doesn’t say what we might expect: “Where were you guys the other day when I needed a little support?” No, he says to them, “Shalom”. Which means “peace” and so much more. It means, “We’re okay, you and I. All is forgiven. I still love you.” Their response? Nothing. Not a peep, not the faintest whisper of a halleluyah; nothing. It is not until he shows them the scars of his passion that they get it, not until they see proof that they recognize him and finally begin doing the appropriate rejoicing.
After a brief conversation with them and fresh round of commissioning, we are treated to another small blank space in the text. Jesus has apparently gone off again who knows where, but Thomas returns and is told the glad tidings by the others. And it is here that his nickname is born. “We have seen the Lord” they say, echoing the words of the Mary they apparently didn’t take seriously when they first heard her news. Thomas doesn’t believe them. But listen again to what he says: “Unless I see…” he says, “I won’t believe.” Let’s see [pun intended]: Mary didn’t get it until she’d seen and heard Jesus for herself; the others didn’t get it until they’d seen him and heard him. Thomas’ response is right in line with the others. He asks for nothing more than the others have already received. He wants to see Jesus. Thomas won’t settle for second-hand faith. And more. Seeing is not just believing; seeing and hearing is about relationship and it’s only in relationship that faith finds true home. Sometimes the demand to see is not doubt. Sometimes it’s love. Thomas is the realist here and the only one with the grit and the courage to enunciate his question right out loud and give voice to what he needs.
I like that about him. He functions here as a placeholder for people like me and perhaps like some of you. I don’t have now nor can I remember a time ever in my life when I had what some would call a blind faith. Sometimes I need to see to believe too. Some of you know that I was for several years a woman religious, what some would call a nun. Early on in my religious formation, I had a period of intense doubt. We were at war and boys I had known in high school were dying, a cousin of mine was in danger and the country had turned ugly with some insisting that the litmus test for good citizenship was being pro-war and others denouncing the war as unworthy of us as a so-called Christian nation. Meanwhile people here and in countries far, far away were suffering unspeakable horrors.
And there I sat in my safe religious haven having real difficulty believing in a loving God who cared a fig for us. To make matters much worse, I was wandering around in a habit, proclaiming one thing externally, raging against that very thing internally. The stress was awful and I had to leave the community – and for a couple of years, the life of faith. I won’t bore you with the whole story, but after struggling with God and notions of God for a protracted period, I was alone one night – actually in a locked motel room on a business trip – when I had an experience for which I still do not have adequate words. I did not have a vision. I didn’t see Jesus nor did I examine any wounds. I didn’t even hear a voice. But I did have an overwhelming experience of the presence of a God who loved me beyond imagining and who loved and suffered with our sorry world. And that changed everything for me.
Everybody talks about Tom’s doubting but nobody talks about his faithfulness, about his hanging in with a program that was curiously no longer his in a way. Did you notice? A week passes, another of those strange blank hiatuses in this story, and apparently in that week, Thomas who had missed the initial excitement stays with the rest of them open to what may come. As I once was, our Tom is rightfully agnostic [from the Greek root which means ‘I do not know’]. “His faithfulness is found in his ability to participate in the resurrection community despite his having missed that community’s mystical encounter with the risen Christ. Surely he felt left out, but he didn’t sacrifice his questioning mind for the sake of getting along with the others.” And Jesus, when he returns on the 8th day, doesn’t really chide Tom for his questioning, but responds to his needs and then uses Tom as an exemplar, first for the early Christian community who also never had the opportunity to see and hear the living Jesus of the 1st third of the first century and then for all of us who would overhear this story through the millennia even to our day.
Tom, of course, got it. Did he ever get it. He’s the one person in all the gospels who makes such a stunning confession. Not only “my Lord,” a title others have used for Jesus often in this and other gospels. That exclamation tells us that Tom recognizes the Jesus whom he’d followed and that Jesus is indeed alive. But “my God” a title no human in any gospel has ever attached to Jesus. Do you see it? Tom’s our guy. Who among us wouldn’t want to see Jesus as he did? Who among us doesn’t have questions about this faith of ours which is gift, of course, but also conundrum on occasion? Who among us doesn’t want to name and claim Jesus?
It’s the 8th day of Easter. And on this 2nd Sunday of the Great Fifty, the Church offers us as icon not Doubting Thomas the lacking-faith-and-should-have-known-better-disciple, but Tom our brother who teaches us that doubt is not antithetical to faith but indeed necessary to a robust faith. From that day on, so far as we know and legend tells us, our Tom lived his life in Easter mode. Minus the bonnets and bunnies and baskets, so might we at our best.
 Bruce Epperly in the weekly blog “Process Faith” for 2 Easter A, 2014.