Recent Sermon

The Second Sunday of Easter, 2021.
Acts 3:12a, 13-15, 17-26; Psalm 111; 1 John 5:1-5; John 20:19-31

+ Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Alleluia, and time marches on, in the Gospel and its life, and in our lives.
It’s been one week since Easter, one week since the Gospel reports of the chaos and excitement, one week since the empty tomb. It has also been one week since our first “Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” Looking at the events reported in the Gospel of John, it’s one week after the resurrection and the disciples are in the same place they were on the first Easter night.
They are in the same room behind the same locked doors and with the same people present. (John 20:19-31)

So, we may find ourselves asking, if the resurrection is such a big thing, such a life changing event, why are they still stuck in the same place?  What difference has the empty tomb made for each of them individually and as a collected body of—followers? believers? disciples? the Church?  How has that first Easter changed them? Have the events of that day and week let them see themselves and their world differently?  Has it done anything for them?  From the outside, and at this distance, it doesn’t look as if it’s made much difference.  They are in the same house behind the same locked doors as a week ago.  

So…what’s changed? I wonder, too, one week after Easter, what has Christ’s resurrection done for us?  Are our lives different?  Do we see and engage the world in new ways?  What difference has the empty tomb made in our lives over the last week?  When I look at my life it looks a whole like it did last Sunday, the week before, and the week before that, and when I look at the world it looks pretty much the same as before.

In the past, when I would read or hear today’s gospel, I would find myself being critical of the disciples. They are stuck in the same place. They should have done better than that. After all death has been defeated. “Christ is risen. Alleluia.” Why aren’t their lives different?  I was really asking these questions about my own life.  Why isn’t my life different after Easter? Why am I stuck in the same place? I should be doing better than that. I should be living the resurrection better, more powerfully, more fully, more authentically, than I am.  After all, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”

I’ve begun, however, to hear today’s gospel differently from the way that I used to. Here’s what I think today’s gospel is telling us:  Christ’s resurrection is a big deal; the empty tomb is a life changing event; the resurrection does make a difference in our lives; and it also takes time.  Resurrection takes time.  It is not a one-time event.  It’s something that we grow into. It’s a process. It’s a way of being and a life to be lived.  By the grace of God we evolve, mature, grow into resurrected people through our relationships and the circumstances of our lives.  God wastes nothing.

Every day we are stepping out into the resurrected life, into life after Easter, the day that in Eastern Christianity has often been referred to as “The Eighth Day of Creation.” God has done a new thing. It’s not always easy and some days are just plain hard for all of us to deal with.

I wonder if we sometimes come to Easter Sunday and the empty tomb expecting to wake up on Monday to a whole new life and world. I am guessing that you awoke on Easter Monday to the same life and world you had on Good Friday. I did. It’s not because the resurrection failed or because Jesus didn’t do “the Jesus thing” in our lives. It’s because the Jesus thing takes time. Maybe we need to let go of the fact of the empty tomb and start claiming the story of resurrection.

There’s a difference between facts and story. Facts are flat, they are one dimensional. Stories are multidimensional. Facts inform our minds. Stories touch our hearts.  Facts transmit information. Stories transform lives. Think about it like this: Facts are static, like a snapshot of a particular moment in time, but stories are dynamic, like a movie that takes us across time.  The empty tomb is the fact. Resurrection is the story.

Maybe we need to begin to understand resurrection as the movie of our life instead of a snapshot of Christ’s life. The fact of the empty tomb is not the story of the resurrection. The facts of Jesus life are not the story of Jesus. The facts of your life and my life are not the story of our lives. The facts are just the starting point for the story. The fact of the empty tomb is the starting point for the resurrection story.  Whatever facts you woke up to on Easter Monday are simply the starting point for your story of resurrection.

Too often, however, we take the facts as the entire story. Isn’t that what we’ve done with St. Thomas? What facts come to mind when you hear his name?  He was a doubter. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  That Thomas doubted what the other disciples told him about their experience of the risen Jesus may be the only fact about Thomas that comes to our mind. It is so prevalent that we call him Doubting Thomas.

What if that fact, however, is just the starting point for his resurrection?  What if it is not the whole story?  What if where we start is less important than where we go, where we end? Do you know the end of Thomas’ story? Do you know where he died?  He died in India. He was the apostle to the people of India. He brought the gospel of Christ to India. He died a martyr after he was run through with five spears by five soldiers.

That doesn’t sound much like a doubter to me.  It sounds like someone who grew and changed, someone for whom the resurrection of Jesus Christ was real, someone for whom the empty tomb made a difference.  It just took a little time, as it does for most, maybe all of us.

We know Doubting Thomas but let’s not forget Confessing Thomas.  He’s in today’s gospel as well. “My Lord and my God!”  With those words Thomas has recognized and named a new relationship, a new worldview, a new way of being. Somewhere between Doubting Thomas and Confessing Thomas is the story of resurrection in Thomas’ life. All that stuff about Doubting Thomas, the fact of his disbelief, is just Thomas’ starting place, nothing more and nothing less. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s a starting place. And we all have our starting places.

What is your starting place? What are the facts of your life today?  The starting place for the story of our resurrection is whatever is.  Whatever your life is today, whatever your circumstances are, that’s the starting point for your story of resurrection.  So if you’re dealing with deep loneliness, sorrow, and loss, that’s your starting point. That’s the room into which Christ enters. If you are locked in a house of fear, confusion, or darkness, that’s your starting point and the place in which Jesus stands. If illness, old age, disability, or uncertainty are facts of your life, that’s your starting point and the place in which Jesus shows up. If you feel lost, betrayed, disappointed, overwhelmed, that’s your starting point and the house Jesus enters. If joy, gratitude, and celebration are the facts of your life today, that’s the starting point for your story of resurrection.  All those things I have just described and a thousand others are the many ways the doors of our house get locked. Whatever it might be for you, it is just the starting point.

The great tragedy is not that the disciples are in the same house behind the same locked doors. That’s just their starting place. The great tragedy will be if the disciples refuse to unlock the doors, refuse to open the doors, and refuse to get out the house. What are the doors that are locked in our lives? What are the things that have kept each of us stuck in the same place? I’ll say it again, that’s just the starting place. Don’t judge it as good or bad, right or wrong. It’s just where you are and I am and it’s the place Christ shows up. It happened twice in today’s gospel.

Both times the disciples are in the same house behind the same locked doors and Jesus shows up. Jesus comes in and stands in the midst of them. The walls and the locked doors of their house couldn’t keep Jesus out. And the walls and locked doors of our houses will not keep him out.

He steps into the midst of our houses, through the locked doors, and breathes peace and life into us. He breathes peace and hope into us.
He breathes peace and courage into us.
He breathes peace and strength into us.
And that breath of peace is the key that unlocks the door.  
And that breath of Jesus is nothing other than the Holy Spirit.

So take a deep breath, take it all in, let it fill and enliven you. Let it give you the hope, courage, and strength to unlock and open the doors of your life, and then get out of the house. Open the doors to the story of your resurrection and get out of the house.

+ Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!