Sunday, April 7, 2013
2nd Sunday of Easter
Reynoldsburg First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Michael Woods
When I was in seminary, one of my fellow students told me a joke about Simon Peter and his fellow disciples. On Easter morning, before Jesus had appeared to them, the disciples were all hiding out in a house, deeply ashamed of what had happened the previous week and remembering how they all, one by one, had abandoned Jesus. Then suddenly Peter, who had been out, came running back into the room where they all were … he’s out of breath and all excited. “I have some good news and some bad news,” he tells his companions. “The good news is: Jesus is alive! He has risen from the dead and I have seen him with my own eyes, and he spoke to me. It is the most wonderful thing!” And the disciples are all like: “Peter that’s so marvelous! So what’s the bad news?” Peter’s face turned beet red, he said: “Well, the bad news is: he wants to talk to us all about last Friday!”
Good Friday, you recall, was not the most shinning moment for the apostles – they had been at their best. I can understand then, why they might be a little nervous in this morning’s scripture when Jesus suddenly and mysteriously appears inside the room with them, even though the door to the room and the house has been locked and secured. He appears amidst locked doors and locked minds that are not sufficient to keep out the implications and the repercussions of the miracle of Easter Sunday.
I say this because I think that this passage – which is in three parts – is about belief, belief in the resurrection of the body in particular, belief that Jesus – even though the disciples had seen him raise Lazarus from the dead just a few weeks earlier – has defeated death yet again, this time on a substantially deeper level. This time, a victory over death has been achieved that goes far beyond anything that may have been accomplished with the raising of Lazarus. That news is staggering to try and understand! It’s even a little bit frightening!
In the first part of this passage, Jesus enters the disciples’ hide out. He comes into a room where people are already afraid for their lives. And he comes to a group of people who have already received the witness of someone who has seen the risen Christ and has told them about it. And that person was Mary Magdalene, a woman, but the men in the crowd aren’t so sure they want to take her word for it. The good news of the resurrection has been delivered to them by a person who is one of the oppressed classes of people in the world. I think it is significant that when Jesus chose to reveal himself following his rising from the dead, he did not first appear before Peter or John or James. He did not first appear before any of the men who were in authority in that part of the world, such as Pilate or Herod. The Gospels all tell us that he appeared first to the women who were his followers, and all four Gospels are all in agreement that Mary Magdalene is was part of that group. In John’s Gospel, in fact, she is the only one to whom he appears initially and she is the first person Christ commands to tell everyone else the good news, making her the first evangelist. But no one is ready to believe her because she is just a woman.
There is a lot of resistance to the witness of the miracle of resurrection in the room where the disciples have gathered. They’re not Easter people yet. Because to be Easter people means you have to be willing to listen to the voices of people like Mary Magdalene, a woman. You have to be willing to hear what they have to say to you about God. To be Easter people you have to go beyond being willing to merely give equal weight to the voices of men and women, rich and poor, Whites and minorities, alike … it means you even have to go to the extent that you are willing to give a preferential ear to those who have suffered oppression, been victimized by violence, and who have had their voices silenced by the society we live in for decades, generations, centuries, even millennia.
It is every bit as hard to be a Easter person, in this day and age, as it was to be on that day, that first Easter morning. Maybe we don’t hide behind physical, locked doors like the disciples did. But we hide behind locked minds. Many hide behind a safer form of Christianity that is more socially acceptable – a form of Christianity that conforms to what authorities deem permissible. Some hide behind a tamer version of the gospel where the Sermon on the Mount is nothing more than a very beautiful speech – it may suggest some things that people ought to strive for – but has no real authority over how everyone should live their lives. Some hide behind a tamer version of God, who is only concerned about people’s spiritual lives and not about things like poverty or economic justice. Some people hide behind a tamer theology of Creation that sees the world and its natural resources as opportunities for plunder to create wealth for a few. But most disastrously, many hid behind a tamer version of Easter where there is no resurrection of the body, where there is no redemption of this the physical world. They hide their faith behind a safer belief that Jesus’ promise of eternal life means only that the human soul will live forever … that God’s promise of salvation does not extend to our physical bodies or even the planet we live on. So they look at the physical world … the environment, the air that we breathe, the water we drink, and the land upon which we live that gives us food and shelter … and they come to the erroneous conclusion that these things don’t matter, that God’s plan for salvation doesn’t include the physical world … redemption is only for the human soul. They do not even care for their own physical bodies.
But the Apostles’ Creed and Gospels of the New Testament give us a very different message. Our faith does not speak of a transcendence of the human soul from this plane of existence to another … our faith speaks of a belief in something called the resurrection of the body.
We cannot be Easter people without the hope and the promise of the resurrection of the body – because without the resurrection of the body, the tomb is not empty on Easter morning, its door is still sealed by a heavy stone. This morning’s passage does not tell us of a disembodied soul that stands before the disciples on Easter morning. It doesn’t talk about a ghost or a spirit. It talks about the resurrected body of Jesus Christ … the disciples can see the wounds in his hands and feet, the bloody gash in his side … wounds that had been fatal. It’s the body of Christ that says to them and to us: “Look at these! See how I died! See how I now live!” Jesus offers verifiable, tangible proof of the resurrection of the body – proof we can see, proof we can literally put our fingers into!
The good news that Christ brings to us on Easter morning is that God plans to redeem everything. Not just our souls, but our bodies too! Not just heaven, but Earth as well.
Imagine a resurrection of the physical body, if you will. Easter people are called to do this. At the very least, imagine the end of physical hurts and pains. Imagine an end to disease and sickness. Imagine our bodies in full health for eternity.
But don’t stop there. Imagine an end to hunger and disease … imagine an end to poverty, homelessness, warfare, and pollution. That’s what God’s plan of redemption calls for … that’s the good news Jesus is trying to bring to us on Easter morning. These are the implications and repercussions of resurrection.
In the book of Revelation, John the elder tells where all this is headed. He tells us of a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Out of heaven, the holy city, a new Jerusalem, descends, and he hears a load voice saying: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for these things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
And there is justice in this resurrected earth: there is no poverty, there is no hunger, warfare and violence are not tolerated.
The biblical witness at least is very clear about the implications and the repercussions of the resurrection of the body. Anything else is a tame gospel that has been domesticated to conform to the value system of this fallen world.
Jesus comes to his disciples through physically locked doors and minds. He shows his disciples his hands and his side. They could touch him. And he gives them a charge: “As the Father sent me, so I send you. To free the rest of humankind from sinfulness, from its fallenness.” And he gives them the Holy Spirit to do this, the Spirit which comes from his own breath, the Spirit which is his own resurrected life. If we are willing to be Easter people, then Christ breathes this Spirit into us and gives us this charge.
I think Thomas, in the second part of this passage, is like a lot of us today. He wasn’t there on Easter Sunday. He didn’t get a chance to see Jesus walk through a locked door. He didn’t get to see the wounds in Christ’s body. He’s asked by the other disciples to take their word for this incredible story.
And we are being asked to believe all this and to become Easter people on the basis of the oral testimony of some witnesses who lived long ago … an oral testimony that began with Mary Magdalene, a woman.
Are we like Thomas? Do we really want to see the wounds? Do we want to be able to see and touch the risen body of Christ and know that it’s something real? Doesn’t the whole world want that? Doesn’t the whole world need that?
Friends, is not the church the body of Christ? Is not this congregation the closest some people will ever be able to come and witness the risen Savior … to know that he is real? What wounds do we offer the world as proof of our love for them … and how we are willing to suffer on their behalf?