In my novel, “Martha Finds Rest,” I retell the story of the first Easter. When I get to the part where Jesus visits the upper room in John chapter 20, my novel dramatizes the events, utilizing the viewpoint of a spying twelve-year old.
"When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of..."
Thomas wasn’t there. Where was he? The Easter story in John chapter 20 tells about a man refuses to join with the other disciples in an online video-chat with Jesus. How do you like doing Zoom? There’s always someone who shows up muted or with their video turned off. Others simply opt out. This Easter on Zoom, my extroverted brother-in-law was in the shadows, occasionally disappeared, and never spoke. Like Thomas, he isn’t adjusting well to the new reality. We can see and hear, but not touch.
Near where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb...
Liminal spaces form mental thresholds. They are neither here nor there. So too, the tomb where Jesus was buried. Grief ushers us into these liminal spaces. Its purpose is to enable to let go of what we must leave behind.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb...
We receive on Easter morning the blessing that Jesus spoke to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, but believe.” Reflect upon all that you see. Come to faith, like Peter, or Mary, or John. Just come to faith.
There are two punchlines in John’s story of the first Easter: 1) John enters the tomb, sees and believes (John 20: 8) and 2) Mary Magdalene, after thinking that Jesus is the gardener, hears him call her name, and she believes (John 20:16). In each of these, a person who is a faithful friend of Jesus, makes a quantum leap. They believe — but this is not the same thing as being saved! — in a way that moves them to a deeper spiritual state. As we celebrate Easter, those in worship are not all in the same place. Part of the duty of the story is to help move each person one step deeper. See John 20:31, where the author tells us that the reason for writing this gospel is so that we might believe in a deeper way.
I am indebted to father Felix Just, SJ, for his clear outline of the five stages of believing that John describes in his gospel. These remind me of Fowler, Piaget, and Kolhberg, who talk about stages of moral and spiritual development. What if we keep the five audiences below in our minds as we develop our sermons and try to help people who may be stuck at each level:
What was Jesus’ first word to his friends when he came to them the evening of Easter? It was Shalom. This is a word that means more than just peace. Wholeness, healing, living a life that has integrity and consistency. Shalom speaks of God’s providence. It means that we are fruitful in our work and loving in our relationships. It means that we have our material needs met, and that we can care for the needs of others. Further, it means that we have this for eternity.
Jesus showed the disciples his hands and side, so that they would know it was him. He had risen from the dead and he wants us to know that there is shalom on the other side. The disciples and women had carried him into the dark, cold, gave on Friday. They saw him alive on Sunday. He showed them that there was a new pattern; life-death-and life again. He said one word, shalom.
Then he gave his disciples and his friends the command that they carry shalom out into the world. He sent them into world that only knew this pattern; life-suffering-death. He gave them good news. There is a new pattern; life-suffering-shalom-suffering-death-shalom. Shalom is the word. It blesses us. It blesses others. When we encounter people suffering in this world, we bring them shalom.
Jesus then gave to his disciples one additional meaning for shalom. Shalom is forgiveness. Shalom is the promise of healing in our relationships. Shalom is the promise of peace between the broken factions of our world. Shalom embraces the ISIS terrorist and the sister who stole money from you. Shalom embraces the boss who abuses his office and the child who is sent to school without lunch money. These are Jesus’ words:
One of my favorite paintings is Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.” Thomas is shown sticking his finger fully into the risen Christ’s side. You look closely at the painting (if you dare) and the finger is literally under a flap of Jesus’ skin. But, what I have sometimes failed to see because I am intrigued by Jesus willingness to be examined, is that two other disciples are leaning in, watching what Thomas is doing. Perhaps they, too, have incredulity.
That word, incredulity, is well chosen for the painting. We rarely use the word today. Instead we often say that a situation is “incredible,” that is, the thing itself lacks believability. It has a credibility problem. This can be said about a book by Steven King or a movie about Harry Potter. The work has a problem. We don’t trust it. Fiction is supposed to be credible. It is enough to make an author pull his hair out!
A while back there was a song by Bob Carlisle which went; "We fall down, we get up... and a saint is just a sinner who falls down and gets up.” In I Peter 1, we are reminded of the three consequences of Easter: Eternal Life, Living Hope, and Glorious Joy. Our celebrations on Easter tend to focus on Eternal Life, because that is the ‘big sell’when presenting Jesus to our secularized, unbelieving, world. But to our friends, family, and even ourselves, Hope and Joy might be the harder sell. All three Easter consequences, have a “we fall down, we get up” quality.
Living Hope: My Father loved to play chess when he was a boy. He was good at it. This made it hard for him to find anyone to play him. He had a sister named Betty. To get Betty to play chess with him, he invented a new rule. The rule was, whenever Betty was losing, she had the right to stop the game and turn the board around and play the winning side. Part of what makes hope alive for Christians is the way we get to turn the tables on our defeats. We don’t go to church because we are good at life. We go because we are losing and need God’s grace to turn the tables on life. Where we are failing, we find forgiveness. When we are alone, we find fellowship. Sometimes the support for life comes in strange and mystical ways, from God directly. Other times it comes as the person beside us in our Sunday School class.
‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’
Today I picked up a book about how blogs are changing the world. The book began with the story of 9-11-2001, as it unfolded in the blog-o-sphere. It was a day that changed many things in America. The day before 911, web pages that provided news content were valued less than the paper they weren’t printed on. In January of 2000, Time Warner had spent half a gazillion dollars to purchase AOL. In March of 2000, the dot.com stock market bubble burst, making AOL practically worthless. Everyone associated with posting news on the web slinked off the stage in disgrace. On 911, all that changed. The real-time posting of events and commentary throughout the tragedy rolled away any shame the new fangled media might have felt. Before that day, no one would have expected the internet to become the dominant provider of news content that it is today.
Joshua 5:9 tells us how on a particular ‘Today,’ God rolled away the disgrace of the children of Israel. They had been slaves in Egypt. Then they became pilgrims wondering across the Sinai desert and depending upon quails, manna, and magical water bearing rocks to stay alive. But this day, this today, they became inheritors of a promised land. On that day, they celebrated the passover with joy and ate the first fruits of Palestine. What is more important, that day they stopped thinking like slaves. They stopped being homeless people. They start being ‘Israel,’ the people who God fights along side.