The Second Sunday of Easter
The Rev. George Pejakovich
John 20:19-31

(Audio is not available)
I WENT TO THE STORE EARLY THIS WEEK AND FOUND THAT ALL THE EASTER BASKETS ARE GONE, THE CHOCOLATE BUNNIES ARE AT HALF – PRICE, AND THERE IS NARY A PEEP TO BE FOUND. FOR SECULAR SOCIETY, EASTER IS OVER; BUT AS FOR US, WE ARE ONLY EIGHT DAYS INTO OUR CELEBRATION. THE WORLD WANTS TO CELEBRATE EASTER WITH A WEIRD BIG BUNNY THAT GIVES OUT COLORED EGGS, WELCOME THE RETURN OF SPRING, AND THEN MOVE ON. ANY THOUGHTS DEEPER THAN THAT MIGHT LEAD US TO THE CONSIDERATION OF WHETHER OR NOT WE BELIEVE IN ALL THIS RESURRECTION NONSENSE; AND THAT JUST WON’T DO. IRONICALLY, THE REASON WE HAVE COLORED EGGS AT EASTER IS A MATTER OF THE QUESTION OF BELIEF.

THE ANCIENT TRADITION OF THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCH IS THAT MARY MAGDALENE MET WITH THE EMPEROR TIBERIUS TO TESTIFY TO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. SHE PLACED AN EGG IN HIS HAND AS A METAPHOR FOR JESUS RISING FROM THE TOMB. TIBERIUS SAID THAT IT WOULD BE EASIER FOR HIM TO BELIEVE THAT THE EGG WOULD TURN RED THAN TO BELIEVE THAT ANYONE COULD RISE FROM THE DEAD. THE EGG TURNED BLOOD RED IN HIS HAND, BUT HE CONSIDERED IT A MAGIC TRICK AND REFUSED TO BELIEVE. THUS, ORTHODOX PRIESTS PLACE BLOOD RED EGGS IN THE HANDS OF THE PEOPLE AND PROCLAIM, “CHRIST IS RISEN.” IN THE WEST, WE HAVE WATERED DOWN THE TRADITION TO BASKETS OF PASTEL COLORED EGGS, BECAUSE THE IMPLICATIONS OF BELIEF ARE MORE THAN WE WANT TO CONSIDER. IT IS WELL, THEN, THAT WE CONSIDER THE ACCOUNT OF THE DISCIPLES AND THOMAS THIS SUNDAY AFTER THE RESURRECTION, BECAUSE THE STORY IS ALL ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF BELIEF.

THOMAS GETS A BAD RAP BY BEING CALLED “DOUBTING THOMAS,” BECAUSE HE WAS NOT A DOUBTER AT ALL. NO ONE OF THE DISCIPLES WAS MORE CERTAIN OF JESUS AND MORE COMMITTED THAN THOMAS. HE WAS, HOWEVER, A MAN WHO NEEDED EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE TO FORM HIS CONVICTIONS. HE FOUND THIS IN THE WORDS AND ACTIONS OF JESUS, BUT WITH THE DEATH OF JESUS HE WAS CAST ADRIFT, WHICH MIGHT EXPLAIN WHY WE WAS NOT WITH THE DISCIPLES IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE RESURRECTION. WE SHOULD NOT BE SO HARD ON THOMAS, BECAUSE THE REST OF THE DISCIPLES WERE HARDLY ICONS OF BELIEF. WHEN THE WOMEN CAME TO TELL THEM OF THE EMPTY TOMB, AND THE STRANGELY GLOWING MEN, THEY THOUGHT IT AN IDLE TALE. WHEN PETER WENT TO LOOK IN THE EMPTY TOMB, HE DID NOT UNDERSTAND. WHEN MARY MET THE RISEN LORD, SHE DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM THROUGH HER TEARS UNTIL HE CALLED HER NAME. INSTEAD OF CELEBRATING THE RISEN CHRIST, THEY HID BEHIND LOCKED DOORS TREMBLING IN FEAR. IT WAS ONLY AFTER THE LORD CAME AMONG THEM AND SHOWED THEM HIS WOUNDS THAT THEY BELIEVED THAT HE HAD RISEN.

WHEN THOMAS CAME TO THEM A WEEK LATER, AND THEY TOLD HIM THEY HAD SEEN THE LORD, THOMAS DEMANDED AT LEAST THE SAME LEVEL OF PROOF, THAT HE SEE THE WOUNDS OF THE CHRIST; BUT THEN, HE WENT FURTHER. UNLESS HE COULD PUT HIS FINGER IN THE NAIL HOLES, AND HIS HAND IN JESUS’ SIDE, HE REFUSED TO BELIEVE. HE DEMANDED EMPIRICAL PROOF, NOT MERELY THE TESTIMONY OF OTHERS. ON THIS DAY, THOMAS GOT THE PROOF HE DEMANDED, AS JESUS CAME AMONG THEM AND SAID, “PEACE BE WITH YOU.” IMMEDIATELY HE ADDRESSED THOMAS AND TOLD HIM TO PUT HIS FINGER IN THE NAIL HOLES AND HIS HAND IN HIS SIDE. THEN HE SAID, NOT DO NOT DOUBT, BUT, “DO NOT BE UNBELIEVING BUT BELIEVE.” THE MOMENT THOMAS CAME TO BELIEVE, THE IMPLICATIONS OF BELIEF IN THE RISEN LORD ALMOST OVERWHELMED HIM AS HE CRIED OUT, “MY LORD AND MY GOD.”

JESUS DID NOT REBUKE THOMAS WHEN HE SAID, “HAVE YOU BELIEVED BECAUSE YOU HAVE SEEN ME? BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET HAVE COME TO BELIEVE.” THIS IS THE FUNCTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WITH WHICH JESUS GIFTED HIS DISCIPLES; TO PROCLAIM THE REALITY OF THE RISEN LORD TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN HIM IN THE FLESH. TO THOSE WHO COME TO BELIEVE BY THE TESTIMONY OF THE DISCIPLES, TRANSMITTED THROUGH THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHURCH OF THE CHRIST, BELIEF IN THE RISEN LORD IS MORE THAN JUST A BELIEF THAT HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD; IT IS, AS IT WAS FOR THOMAS, THE UNSHAKABLE CONVICTION THAT THE RISEN JESUS IS THE FULL REVELATION OF GOD ALMIGHTY.

THIS IS WHAT THE WORLD AVOIDS IN THIS HOLY SEASON BY THE FOCUS ON THE EASTER BUNNY, AND TURNING THE STORY OF THE RISEN CHRIST INTO A CHILDREN’S HOLIDAY OF PASTEL COLORED EGGS AND CHOCOLATE TREATS; THE WORLD AVOIDS THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE BELIEF IN THE RISEN LORD. IF WE FOCUS ON EASTER EGG HUNTS, EGG ROLLING CONTESTS WITH SMILING CHILDREN, NEW CLOTHES, AND EVERYTHING JOYFUL AND LIGHT, THEN WE DON’T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THE FACT THAT BELIEF IN THE RISEN CHRIST MEANS THAT HE IS OUR LORD AND OUR GOD, THAT WE ARE HIS SUBJECTS, AND THAT WHAT HE CALLS US TO DO IS WHAT WE MUST DO.

FIRST, HE GIVES US HIS PEACE, HIS SHALOM: WHICH IS MORE THAN JUST A SENSE OF CALM, BUT MORE OF A COMPLETE WELLNESS WHICH THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE. IT ENABLES US TO GET OUT OF OUR SAFE PLACES, TO UNLOCK THE DOORS BEHIND WHICH WE WERE HIDING, AND GO OUT TO DO THAT WHICH OUR LORD SENDS US TO DO. “AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME,” HE SAYS, “SO I SEND YOU.” AS THE FATHER SENT HIM TO BE THE AGENT OF FORGIVENESS FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD, SO HE SENDS HIS FOLLOWERS OUT TO BE THE CONTINUING AGENTS OF FORGIVENESS. WE MUST NOT MISUNDERSTAND WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT RETAINING THE SINS OF OTHERS. WHAT HE MEANT WAS THAT IF WE FAIL IN OUR MISSION OF FORGIVING OTHERS THROUGH THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD IN JESUS, THEN THEY WILL REMAIN LOCKED IN THEIR SINS; NOT THAT WE ARE THE ARBITRATORS OF WHO WE ARE TO FORGIVE.

FROM THE LOCKED ROOM, THE DISCIPLES EVENTUALLY WENT OUT TO THE ENTIRE KNOWN WORLD TO SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS OF THE RISEN CHRIST; AND THOMAS WENT THE FARTHEST OF ALL. WHEN PORTUGUESE EXPLORERS ARRIVED AT THE WEST COAST OF INDIA, THEY FOUND CHRISTIAN CHURCHES, AND THE MEMBERS WHO CALLED THEMSELVES “NAZARINES.” SO TOO DID THEY FIND ON THE EAST COAST A CHURCH CALLED “THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH OF THOMAS THE APOSTLE,” AS WELL AS A MONUMENT TO WHERE HE WAS MARTYRED.

IT IS NO WONDER THAT THE WORLD WOULD RATHER GET THIS EASTER STUFF DONE WITH IN COLORED EGGS AND CHOCOLATE BUNNIES; THE IDEA OF GOING OUT TO SPREAD THE FORGIVENESS OF GOD IS A BIT MUCH TO CONTEMPLATE. WE, HOWEVER, WILL SPEND THE REMAINDER OF THESE FIFTY DAYS OF EASTER CONTEMPLATING WHAT IT MEANS TO FOLLOW THE RISEN LORD, AND WHERE IT IS THAT HE SENDS US. WE WILL CONTINUE TO MEET HIM AS HE COMES TO US IN THE WORD OF GOD, IN THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, AND IN HIS BODY AND BLOOD WITH WHICH HE NOURISHES US. DOING SO, WE WILL LIVE UNDER HIS GREAT SHALOM, WHICH NO EASTER BUNNY CAN GIVE, BUT WHICH COMES ONLY BY THE BREATH OF OUR LIVING LORD AND GOD. AMEN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>