Welcome to the Second Sunday of Easter! For the next six Sundays we will be in the liturgical season of Easter, also called The Great Fifty Days. Traditionally, the Sunday after Easter is called Low Sunday because lots of folks are so worn out from Holy Week, they take this Sunday off! In fact, many preachers take the week after Easter as vacation time, and yes, I have been known to do that as well. All the C&E Christians (that’s what we pastors call the Christmas and Easter crowd) have fulfilled their twice a year obligation to put in an appearance at church and have returned to whatever they prefer to do on Sunday mornings (evenings) the rest of the year. But rather than get down in the dumps over such things, let’s just agree that where two or three are gathered in church on a Sunday in the Easter season, there will be a party!
According to The New Handbook of the Christian Year, “The Great Fifty Days should be the greatest, most festive season of the Christian Year; and if this is to happen, the joy and festivity of Easter Day should continue in the Sundays following. These Sundays are not only the Lord’s Day, they are in the season that is to the rest of the Christian Year what the Lord’s day is to (every) week.
A study of the Scriptures in the lectionary will reveal what a rich variety of meanings this season has. Most obviously, we remember the accounts of Jesus’ appearances during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension and then the ten days of waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost… (It is also the season) when passages are read concerning the Holy Spirit and the life of the earliest church as it was empowered by the Spirit. We are reminded of the presence of the living, risen Christ in our midst, and we are also reminded that it is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can know the risen Christ. It is also the season of God’s new creation, especially for those of us who live in the North Temperate Zone of the earth where this season is also Spring.”
Does our worship environment still reflect the spirit and significance of Easter? (Christ candle to symbolize the light of Christ? white paraments to symbolize the dazzling brilliance of resurrection? are there touches of gold added to the white to enhance our feelings of festivity and joy? alleluias lingering in the rafters reminding us of brass ensembles, glorious organ accompaniments, and choristers lifting voices in praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? balloons?) Does it still seem like there’s a party going on here?
Toward the end of the Great Fifty Days we will turn our attention to the Ascension of Jesus when we can have a little going away party for him. Finally, the resurrection and ascension will lead us to the Day of Pentecost when everything bursts into flame and swirls of a mighty wind to announce the coming of the Holy Spirit!
I think you get the picture. But it is easy for us to celebrate and plan party activities and be joyous when we look back 2000 years AFTER the first Easter. It wasn’t like that for the first disciples… not even close.
After hearing the Easter proclamation given by Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord!”, the disciples should have been overjoyed. They should have been out there in the streets of Jerusalem spreading the Good News to anyone and everyone whether they wanted to hear it or not. Right? They should have been having a party to end all parties, a mega-bash, the mother of all celebrations. Right? But except for Thomas, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors. Party poopers, every last one of them. Why did they react that way to such an amazingly wonderful bit of information?
Fear. They were afraid of the Judean temple authorities who instigated the crucifixion, and they were afraid of the Romans who carried out the execution. The disciples were probably wondering how much longer they could hold out before the soldiers found them and dragged them away to certain doom. I guess you can understand why they didn’t feel like partying.
Sometimes you just have to experience something for yourself, with your own eyes and ears in order to truly believe it. Into that locked room, Jesus appeared and stood among his disciples. Perhaps sensing their mood which probably was a mixture of fear and shock and awe at this point, Jesus spoke four words of reassurance: Peace be to you. It was as if Jesus picked up right where he had left off the last time all the disciples were together with him in the Upper Room. At the time of the Last Supper in John’s gospel, Jesus was preparing his disciples for what he knew was coming next. After they had eaten and Judas left, Jesus explained that he was going to leave them but the Advocate was coming so that the disciples would not be all alone. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Here was Jesus, back with the disciples who certainly had troubled and fearful hearts and maybe not just because they thought the Judeans and Romans were out to get them. Perhaps they had fearful and troubled hearts because of all the ways they had let Jesus down in his final hours. They slept, they denied, they betrayed, they ran away, they hid. Was Jesus serious? Peace be with you?
Then Jesus, without being asked, offered the disciples a close-up of his wounds. When they saw his hands and side, they KNEW it was the Lord. They had a moment of rejoicing… a pre-party warm up. Jesus reassured them again,”Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them with Spirit breath. The disciples inhaled and became infused with the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to them that they now could go forth and forgive sins!
There is a scene change. Jesus is gone but the disciples have found Thomas. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Instead of taking their word for it, Thomas insists that he will only believe if HE sees Jesus and gets to touch his wounds for himself. And that is how Thomas came to be known as the Doubter.
Now before you throw shade at Thomas, consider this. In our day and time of fake news and government lies and flip-flopping promises and foreign intervention in our election process, don't we all need to be a little bit Thomas? Don’t we need to step back and search out the facts and weigh the different sides of a story before we jump to a conclusion? Just because our friends believe something is true doesn’t mean that we should abandon all reason and get sucked into the herd mentality. On the contrary… a healthy bit of skepticism may lead us to the truth. It also may be beneficial to ask questions, lots of questions.
Why wasn’t Thomas behind locked doors hiding out with the party pooping apostles? Where was he and what was he doing? I can’t say with any certainty that I know the answer. But what if, WHAT IF Thomas got it? What if Thomas got the whole point of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection? What if Thomas wasn't holed up with the other disciples because he was out there in the world doing what he thought Jesus expected of him?
Maybe Thomas wasn’t looking for a resurrection appearance because he was already certain that he had to be out in the world in order to continue the work that Jesus began? Thomas was in the right place all along because what did Jesus do but commission the disciples who were locked away, to walk through that door and out into the world to continue the ministry that they had been part of? So what if Thomas wanted to see the resurrected Jesus with his own eyes. Maybe Thomas thought that the others experienced Jesus’ presence in a way he missed out on. After all, the other disciples had the Holy Spirit breathed into them. Maybe Thomas wanted some of that.
Thomas did not have very long to wait. A week later, the disciples were all in the house and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but maybe not locked this time. Jesus appeared once more and stood among them. “Peace be with you.” Without being asked, Jesus said, “Thomas, put your finger here and your hand in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” Despite all the artists’ depictions, once again, we do not know if Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds. Perhaps just being there was all Thomas needed to confess, like Mary Magdalene, “My Lord and my God!” It is then that Jesus thinks of us when he replies, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
And there we are. Even if we were not with the disciples or Mary Magdalene to see the resurrected Jesus, we do believe. We know that God is real. We know that sin and death are not the last word. We know that we have been breathed upon because we have been baptized. We know that we have been commissioned to go out into the world and touch the wounds of Christ wherever we see them. We know that it is easy to become overwhelmed by the world’s suffering and sometimes we feel inadequate or helpless in our attempts to alleviate injustice. But we know that we have the strength to carry on because we come to the Easter party.
Every week we gather together to give thanks, ask for help, support and care for each other, and dedicate ourselves anew to our commission to be God-bearers to the world. We have the assurance that Christ’s peace will go with us. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach us and remind us of all Christ has said. We celebrate a sacred meal together to nourish us for service, to show us the true meaning of love, and assure us that we are not alone.
So, don’t be a party pooper. Don’t let fear and troubles and uncertainty keep you hidden away. Come out of your locked room and join in the resurrection rowdiness. So today (tonight) let’s all party like it’s AD 33!
Christ is Risen! Alleluia!