Easter

Peace Be With You

Every year on the Sunday after Easter, the lectionary sets our gospel reading as the reading for the Sunday after Easter. Every year as I read it, I think, why do we keep calling him doubting Thomas? It’s like he is tarred with thousands of years’ worth of speculation about his faith. I’ve always thought Thomas was the person who said and thought the kinds of things I did. He asks the questions no one else dares to ask. Like when Jesus is telling the disciples he is going ahead to prepare a place for all of us in John 14. It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Thomas is my kind of person of faith. He wants to know more and we are given that permission by John through Thomas.

            As we delve into John’s Gospel, here are some things to keep in mind. John’s gospel was the last of the four gospels to be written. The first people reading or hearing the gospel of John might not have living knowledge of Jesus. They may know someone who did, but they, like us, rely on gospel narratives to know Jesus because they’ve never heard him preach or teach. They didn’t witness his healing miracles. It is also important to keep in mind the timing. We are a week away from Easter. But they were days. All the disciples have been through and ordeal. They don’t really know what is going on who or they can trust. They’ve heard about the empty tomb. They know that Mary says, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

So it isn’t surprising that our reading this morning begins with the disciples locked in a room because they are afraid of the Jews. In these days of division, where hate-based crimes are on the rise, it is important to understand who John is talking about when he refers to the Jews and why the disciples are afraid. John is not talking about all Jewish people. Mary Luti says it so well, “It is critical for us to be clear about what our sacred texts mean when they make reference to “the Jews,” …When the crucifixion narratives speak of “the chief priests and leaders of the people,” they are referring to officials who collaborated closely with the Roman systems of oppression, and were viewed with contempt by much of the Jewish community in their time. They should not be identified with the Jewish people of the past as a whole, and certainly not with Jews in the present.” (https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/easterc

            The disciples are locked in a room. Terrified of those Roman collaborators who might come for them as they came for Jesus. They don’t know what to do now that they can’t follow Jesus. Jesus steps into their fear, and says “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) And then, Jesus shows them his hands and his side. The marks of crucifixion still on his body. Then Jesus says, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) Jesus sends the disciples out into the world, he commissions them. After that Jesus breaths on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) 

            For some reason, we don’t know  and John doesn’t tell us, Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus stands in that locked room offering peace. When Thomas arrives, the disciples are still in a room with the doors locked tight. They received their commission but haven’t gone anywhere. Thomas is barely through the door when they start talking all at once. “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas doesn’t know what to do with this information. He can’t quite make sense of what is happening. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) 

            Since that day, he’s been called doubting Thomas. I heard two things this week that help me dig deeper into the story. Maybe they will help you too. The first is on a podcast called Pulpit Fictionwhere they pointed out that the problem wasn’t that Thomas needed proof of the resurrection. As if it something that can be proved. The problem was the other disciples. Thomas couldn’t believe what they were telling him because they had been wrong before. The gospel accounts of the disciples are full of their stumbling. Also the disciples were not living as though they received good news.  They were given a commission to go out into the world just as Jesus had and there they were, were still locked up in that same room where Jesus offered them the peace. It is telling that when Jesus offered to let Thomas touch his hands and his side, it doesn’t say that Thomas did. (https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/easterc

            That gives a new perspective on Thomas. Then I read Karoline Lewis’ column Dear Working Preacher where she writes, “But that is how we tend to interpret Thomas, that he is trying to reason this whole thing out. That his ultimate goal is to put all of the pieces together into some sensible whole. When, in fact, all Thomas wants, all Thomas needs, is what everyone else had and, if we are honest, what we want -- to see Jesus. One more time. Mary saw the Lord. The disciples saw the Lord. Because the Word made flesh isn’t – if you can’t see and feel Jesus one last time. When we insist that Thomas needs proof, we assume that resurrection can be proven. We assume our own deepest desire for evidence of an empty tomb. We assume that resurrection can be validated against the world’s ideas of what resurrection means. We assume that resurrection is only a one-time event and not something that changes all of life’s events.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5319

            The resurrection changes everything. It changes the way we see the world. Post resurrection we know there is hope. There is new life. The disciples are living in an uncertain moment. They know everything is different but they don’t know how to live into the risen life. It is Thomas who pushes them to ask the questions and move beyond the present moment of fear, to accept the peace that Jesus offers and share the good news. John 21 was a late addition to the gospel of John. If you only read to end chapter 20, this is John’s conclusion, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, an through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30 – 31)

Today Jesus stands with us in our grief, in our fear, in our despair, in our joy, in everyday moments and says,“Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) That peace, is not a magical In this season of magical cure all – faith doesn’t work like that, it is the reminder that we are never alone. I love what Brene Brown writes on faith and church. “I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, like it would take the pain away, like I would just replace research with church. And then church would make the pain go away…. Faith in church was not an epidural for me at all, but it was a midwife, who just stood next to me saying, “Push, it’s supposed to hurt a little bit.” https://vimeo.com/164049575

Easter faith is risky. It asks us to push past our fears and go out into the world to proclaim hope even when it looks bleak. Eater faith is a gift. We have life in the name of the risen one who says, “Peace be with you.” Easter faith is an invitation to live with hope. Thanks be to God. Amen

I Have Seen the Lord

No matter how many times you read something – and I’ve read our Easter story from John many times, there are little details that jump out you in new ways. This year it was pointed out to me that only in John’s gospel both crucifixion and resurrection happen in the garden. I missed it all these years! John 19:41” Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.  And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:41 – 42)

            All week I’ve been thinking about gardens – they are important. My mother’s garden was always the place of childhood Easter egg hunts but it was also a source of food and beauty. I was always amazed by the roadside gardens dug out of the marsh just outside of Newtown – somehow, these roadside gardens produce best potatoes and carrots I’ve ever tasted. Then are gardens like the MUN botanical gardens that you can walk through and enjoy a huge variety of flowers and vegetation. We need gardens not only for the food they grow but for the beauty they lend to the world. It seems fitting that resurrection takes place in a garden where seeds flourish and grow. 

            Gardens are important in the Bible too. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I learned on Friday from Rev. Bill that the paradise that was promised to one the two thieves hanging with Jesus was a garden. Then there is the beautiful garden promised in the book of revelation. 

            On the first Easter, when the sun had barely peaked out over the horizon, Mary, wanting to be close to Jesus, went to the place, the garden, where he was buried. When she got there, the tomb was empty. Today we have the advantage of knowing what comes next but not Mary. She didn’t understand. All she could thing was that grave robbers had come and taken her Jesus away and the grief was too much for her. She runs to get Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved saying, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:2) The two come running and they find the tomb empty just as Mary said. The linen wrappings lying on the ground neatly rolled up. But still no one understands what’s happened.  The two disciples leave. But Mary can’t. She sits there in her grief, crying and remembering. 

            Mary wipes the tears from her eyes and looks in the tomb and she can’t quite believe what she is seeing…. Angels sitting where Jesus once laid. They say, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20: 13) Before she knows she is alone again. All she can think is they have taken Jesus away and she doesn’t know where he is. Another voice interrupts her, saying again, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15) Mary thinks it’s the gardener. At last someone who can help her. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15) 

            How many times has that happened. We get lost in our grief and we can’t see what is right in front of us. It makes sense that Mary sees a gardener. She knows what happened to Jesus. The horror of good Friday was still with her. She couldn’t erase the image of Jesus hanging on the cross from her mind. She watched as he was buried in that new tomb beside the garden. She expected to see a gardener so that is what she saw.

            One simple word changes everything. “Mary!” and in that moment she knows who it is. No one else says her name that way. She knows everything happened just as he said it would. She cries out, “Rabbourni! Teacher!” Jesus says, “Go to my brothers and tell say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17) Mary gets up and makes a bold proclamation to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” 

            Mary is the first one to share the good news and she hears that good news in the garden – a place of new life with echoes of that first garden paradise form Genesis and to that eternal garden paradise where God dwells with us eternally. Today is the day we celebrate that promise of new life, the hope that cannot be put out even by death, that joy which is ours. Today we boldly proclaim with Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” The Tomb is empty. Christ is Risen! Alleluia. Amen.