John 20: 19-31
Good morning all, and to begin as we began last Sunday with the Easter greeting: Christos anesti; alithos anesti! “Good Christians all rejoice and sing! Now is the triumph of our King! To all the world glad news we bring: Alleluia!”
We so much enjoy the freshness of spring. Warmer temperatures, and a bit of early green in the garden. Pirates back in the game. All of it. But whatever the season, there would be a spring in our step and a spring flowing and overflowing in our heart at the news of Easter, communicated across continents and centuries but absolutely fresh and absolutely new and immediate for us here and now: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. We sing the Song of Life, and we keep singing.
The Second Easter Sunday in a lectionary tradition is associated with the story connecting the first two Easter Sunday evenings in this 20th chapter of St. John. The first, the evening of that first Easter Day. We align the gospel accounts the best we can. This little group of the friends of Jesus still trying to digest the news about the stone rolled away and the empty tomb and the angels and the experience of Mary Magdalen in the Garden and the account we’ve heard about in St. Luke’s gospel of the two disciples who had left Jerusalem to walk to their home in the suburban village of Emmaus, and how they had met this stranger on the way--and how when that stranger had come into their home and joined them at the table and said the blessing over the meal, they suddenly realized that he was Jesus.
In all the tumult, the breathless jumble of confusing stories, suddenly Jesus is himself in the room with them. Speaking in the same voice they knew all so well, with the wounds of his crucifixion still visible, but with an indescribable presence that seems to resonate with his greeting, Shalom, peace be with you, and with a word of promise about their future: that he had work for them now to do, that they are sent out now by him personally into the world, just as he had been sent into the world, and that his mission would now be their mission. “My death was for you, my rising to life again is for you, and now we will continue together.” Telling his story. Calling the whole world to turn away from sin and toward him, to come into new relationship with him. Forgiveness, reconciliation, overcoming evil and casting it out. Mercy and peace, and confidence in God’s provision, in the glorious present and the glorious future that is God’s everlasting Kingdom and New Creation.
A powerful moment of Holy Spirit as he literally breathes that Spirit out on them—really this in John’s gospel a reflection both of Easter and Pentecost. All Holy Spirit.
But the story goes on and we hear that one of the disciples, Thomas, hadn't arrived yet when this great experience and encounter of Easter happened, and when he does arrive later and hears the stories that everybody else is telling, he has perhaps some understandable reservations. Still in confusion. He wants to believe, but what he truly wants is to have that first-hand encounter for himself. To see this risen Jesus now with his own eyes, to know the miracle of his resurrection not simply by the report of others, but by his own experience.
And so the evening of the Second Sunday of Easter, a week later, and the disciples again together, and Thomas there also. And then this new moment, Jesus with them again. And speaking directly to Thomas in answer to his prayer: put your hands here. Touch me. Know me for yourself. And the act of praise that follows, in a confession of faith in his Risen and Exalted Savior. “My Lord and my God.” Christos anesti. Alithos anesti.
The popular custom is to emphasize Thomas as the one who doubts. But certainly the point here isn't that he doubts, but that from the deepest part of his being, his mind and his heart, he asks and prays and even challenges, with a sense of yearning, that Jesus would show himself, would be revealed, would become present in such a way that his faith too, his knowledge, his hope, could be like what the others have experienced. “Show yourself to me, Jesus. More than anything else, I want to see you for myself.” Who hasn't prayed that prayer? Longing to know him. In moments of grief, confusion, trial, suffering. In an early-morning hour, staring at the ceiling, wondering what it’s all about. “Show yourself to me, Jesus.”
Perhaps the prayer on all of our lips this morning as we enter old St. Andrew’s here, with the last echoes of all that wonderful Easter brass still hanging in the air. The prayer of Richard of Chichester, back in the early part of the 13th century, but still the prayer of our heart. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, day by day.
Thomas doesn't shout “you’re all crazy” and run out of the room on that first Easter Sunday. Which actually takes a lot of courage. If what they’re saying isn't true, then you’re spending your life with crazy people. If what they’re saying is true, and if you come to know it to be true yourself, then there are a lot of other people out there in the wide world who are going to be saying that you’re crazy too. A lot of courage simply to wait.
I met a guy once who told me that he didn't come to church with his wife because he was afraid that if he did something might happen. I guess, he might be converted. He might have what he called “a religious experience.” Maybe he was worried that something like that might have a negative impact on his ability to get tenure in his university department. He didn't want his friends to think he was that kind of person, if you know what I mean.
But courageously, courageously, he remains with the others, Thomas does--in their prayers and conversations, as they break bread together, as Jesus had taught them, listening to their stories, calling to mind the promises of scripture. Through that whole long week.
Deep down, Thomas, hoping against hope that the risen Lord will come to be present with him. Such great courage in that. Hanging in there. Hour after hour, day after day. And when it does happen, next Sunday evening: when Jesus answers that prayer, as he always does and always will answer that prayer, there is at once the overflowing of gratitude and love and prayer and worship. Christos anesti. Alithos anesti.
There’s a little back-and-forth about how long Easter season is. In the old calendar we had a Great 40 Days of Easter, something like a bookend to the earlier 40 Days of Lent. Then Ascension Thursday and the Season of Ascension, then Whitsunday and its Octave, then Trinity and the long season of Trinity that followed. On the new calendar Ascension Thursday is a Feast Day, but not a season, and Easter is 50 Days, then followed by Pentecost and the Season after Pentecost.
As you probably would guess, I like the old way better than the new way.
But actually the reality that stands before us on this Second Easter Sunday is that all of that fades before the simple fact of the Risen Lord who is now eternally present with us.
Easter not simply as a day on the calendar of the spring, or a liturgical season, but as the fulfillment and completion of his promise--that as he answered the prayer of Thomas and revealed himself to Thomas as Thomas needed to see him and know him, so he answers and will answer that prayer as we would pray it here this morning and any day and every day of our lives.
Whenever we can muster up the courage to pray it. Not courage because of what might happen to us if he doesn't answer it, but courage because of the certainty that he will answer it, as he did for Thomas on the Second Sunday of Easter all those centuries ago and far away. He will answer it as we pray, and when he does, we will be changed, and nothing will ever be the same for us again.
Merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we see you with our own eyes, touch you, alive and with us. May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, day by day.