Readings: John 20: 19-31 & Acts 4: 32-35
Let me begin with a confession: I don’t know what that first Easter event looked like! I don’t know what happened, but I’m sure something amazing happened. I’m always struck by the way the stories are told. None of Jesus’ friends, who knew him well and travelled with him for three years - none of them recognized him when they encountered him. In every account something had to waken them to recognize him. In today’s reading, when Thomas missed the first encounter of his friends he was not about to believe their stories - the doors were locked and yet Jesus came!
I love Thomas! He’s one of my favourite biblical fellows! I think it’s because in the stories of Thomas I am assured that it’s OK to have questions. Apparently Thomas found it hard to trust and that was OK. To talk about our questions and skepticism openly and honestly is a good thing - because it can lead to new and deeper understanding, and new opportunity for encountering the Holy One. That’s a huge gift!
A second confession I feel compelled to make is this - I do not - can not - believe Jesus’ death on the cross was in any way God’s plan - meant somehow to redeem us for eternity. Today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles gives us a clue to the meaning of the raising of Jesus. I do believe Jesus was raised - and I say that very carefully - Jesus was raised - that’s different from saying Jesus rose. I do believe God was involved - the resurrection as I understand it was a Holy act of affirmation of the way Jesus lived, the way his words and his touch brought healing and wellness, the way his actions included those who had been excluded. Jesus lived his life more fully according to the way of God’s heart, inviting his followers to share his life of inclusive, unconditional holy love. When his way was a threat to established cultural norms the ones in positions of privilege found the challenge to their security and authority too great to tolerate. Jesus wouldn’t go away. He wouldn’t stop. So they had him killed. The awesome mystery is that even in death he was not stopped!
God raised him! We don’t know what actually happened, or how it happened. But we know that something awesome and powerful happened
-something so powerful that it gave courage to witnesses who had been silenced by fear - something life-changing happened. And the story was told, over and over! Fear was overcome!
In my experience it is love that has the power to overcome fear. Only love! And the Source of All Love, and All Life - the One whom we call God - was somehow amazingly and powerfully present in Jesus - whose way of life and love broke down barriers and social taboos - and lifted up those who had been trampled - and included those who had been excluded.
This all-inclusive, unstoppable love is the centre of the Easter story. This holy love. On that first Easter morning God, in raising up Jesus said, “No! Hatred does not win! Fear does not have the upper hand! My way of life will not be stopped by hatred and jealousy and fear and beating, and abuse of power! Death does not have the final word!”
We have a description in our text from Acts of the vision and goal of Jesus’ way of living. This text comes to us from about 80 or 90 CE. It is recognized by biblical scholars as coming from the same source as the gospel of Luke. It is the story of the earliest Christian church - a little community of followers of The Way of Jesus still living in Jerusalem. The text has the sound of the third generation - the grandparents - remembering back to the good old days when the dream was lived as it was meant to be. The whole group were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions - everything was held for the good of the whole community. Possessions were sold and the proceeds distributed to each according to need.
This is what Jesus preached about and practiced. This is what God raised up. This is what his followers recognized in those resurrection encounters. This is what gave them the courage to go on. This is what they risked their lives to tell and to share. This is the message that changed their lives - in community. This is the life we are called to.
When the Risen Christ appeared to those friends hiding behind locked doors, his first word to them was ‘shalom’ - peace, be well, be whole, be renewed together… let go of your fear! Thomas had declared his need to touch the wounds - but when he met the Risen Christ, Thomas came to trust without touching. In this gospel John tells us God does whatever is necessary so Thomas can trust and be at peace.
God’s intention for us - for all of creation - is shalom, in community, in this life time. This is the message and promise and vision of Easter. This is what resurrection is all about - life now - life here - life in relationships that are well, whole, mutually life-giving and life-sustaining for all.
Let’s look again at that first appearance of the risen Christ to those 10 or so disciples hiding behind locked doors. John tell us “Jesus came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, the are retained.’” These verses are John’s pentecost text… the birth of the Christian community… the church.
The Holy Spirit is with you - you have what you need to live in shalom - but you have choice - what you do matters - you have responsibility - response-ability. Blessing will be revealed in how you relate together.
Thursday I read of children in BC, I believe, being apprehended because there were no beds for them in their home. I thought, why not provide beds and support to the parents rather than putting the children into Foster Care? Foster Care has its own horror stories.
Friday morning I happened upon a radio conversation describing a family and community wellness initiative and program that has been developed by the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Manitoba in response to their problem of children being apprehended and removed from their homes when parental care was found to be insufficient. In this community it is the parents who are removed from the home. Extended family supports for the children make it possible for them to remain in their home and community, where they are familiar and accustomed to being, with the supports they need. The parents are removed, and taken into a program of relearning to bring them home to their culture and rebuild their self-esteem and wellness, so they can eventually return to their home and family safely and contribute in a positive way to the life of the family and community. The word “holistic” is frequent in the website of this community. Their mission is “To promote, nurture and foster a sense of holistic wellness through the provision of meaningful, community based and culturally appropriate activities in a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment.” New life is the goal. Resurrection.
Resurrection is God’s gift and revelation of life lived in relationships that are blessed and blessing in this world, in this lifetime. This is the promise and the challenge we celebrate in this season of Easter. As an Easter people what difference does resurrection make in how we live our everyday lives? How does it affect our family relationships? How does it affect our life in our church and community? How does it affect our financial choices, any and all our decisions and actions? Everything we do matters! How do we live with this Peace that is breathed into us by this Holy Risen Christ?