A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on May 1, 2011
Sermon for Easter 2 (Year A)
Acts 2:14a,22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.
I like to think of a church as a place of radical honesty and openness, so in all good faith, I’m wondering how many of you got up at 5am to watch the royal wedding this past Friday morning? How many of you followed all the news about it for the weeks beforehand? Or did something special for it on Friday morning? I myself made cream scones to go along with my morning coffee and settled into the couch with a fair amount of excitement, because, yes, I have been a royal wedding addict for the past few weeks. Even more, I watched until the very end—beyond the recessional, beyond the kiss, beyond the verger cartwheeling down the aisle of Westminster Abbey (which you must find on YouTube if you can), until the point that even the news commentators said of the crowd after it was all over, “It seems that no one really knows what to do now. It’s all finally over, but no one really knows what to do next.” And it was true. After the excitement, the emotion, the anticipation of this great event, all of a sudden it was over, and no one in the crowd, or even the reporters, had really seemed to have planned for the ‘what next’ part of this experience.
So, what next?
The gospel reading for today is somewhat misleading in its timing. The first part of the reading when Jesus enters into the closed upper room and breathes his Spirit on the disciples is actually still ON Easter day, the day that the women found the open and empty tomb. The recounting of Thomas’ interaction with Jesus takes place a week later. The dawning- even fearful before the joyous-- reality of that Easter day and how it was felt and seen by Jesus’ followers, not only immediately, but in the following post-adrenaline drop aftermath, seems so real to us—too real, in fact, too familiar. Today’s gospel reading—in fact all the readings this morning—are “So, what now?” moments. We have been living in the build up for so long that all of a sudden—when that crucial moment is over—we then have to figure out what that event really meant for us and how we are to be changed people because of it.
The disciples had been listening to Jesus tell them about what would happen to him for nearly all of their time together. In some cases this foreshadowing was brushed off, or denied, or most often, responded to with incredulity. Now that the build up to Good Friday and the crucifixion was over; the waiting in silence during those three days past; and the unbelievable actually being true—that Jesus was the Christ and was risen—what happened then? What were they to do after what Jesus said would happen actually happened?
I can just see the reporters next to the disciples on that Easter, looking around and saying nearly the same thing: “It seems that no one really knows what to do now!”
What they did do, we know, is hunker down for days in their locked upper room. They were there when the women came to tell them about the empty tomb; they were still there when Jesus appeared to them that evening, and again a week later, when Jesus appeared to Thomas. It seems that they quickly regressed from being the forthright followers, sent out to heal and proclaim the message of the Messiah to being a bunch of guys unsure about what was to be, and opting to simply lay low and see what happened next.
Perhaps that is the only thing they could imagine doing, because really, who were they without Jesus? Who were they as a community without a defining leader or the proof that they loved having with them? Jesus HAD BEEN the sign. Jesus WAS God. What were they to do without him? How were they to remain disciples without the one piece of evidence—of proof—of visceral hope—that they had had with them before? How were they to transform themselves from disciples of the incarnate Jesus—the one who lived and taught and healed and did and was—to disciples of the risen Jesus—the one who triumphed over death? How could they become an Easter people, not based around a physical person or place bringing them together in an orderly, grounded way, but a people who could live into Jesus’ commandment to love each other as he loved them, and by this love all would know that they were his followers.
It was a lot easier for the disciples when Jesus was around. It’s a lot easier when we, as believers, have something tangible, or recognizable, that we can hold on to and which helps define our faith.
I think of this community here at Christ Church. I wonder how the next few months will be, worshipping in a different kind of sanctuary in the parish hall. What will worship look and feel like once you strip away all that traditionally is associated with ‘church’? Would you still invite others to join you on Sunday mornings, or would you wait until the sanctuary was finished, so that new people might be suitably impressed by what they see? Or will the true meaning of church—the gathered faithful—start to ring true in a way that you had never thought of before. Might church start to be a state of mind and attentiveness to the holy, rather than simply the designated place to gather?
I also think of the groups of teens in Confirmation classes, being confirmed at this time of the year. After such a long time being with a group, being taught and challenged, and given that opportunity to pray and play and ask questions together—what will happen once that group ends or one is confirmed? What are the choices that those young people will be making to figure out how they can engage in their renewed life as a child of God on their own? Without the class itself, will they still engage with the community, offering to us their life and liveliness, their sass and creativity and fresh eyes?
Can we still keep the faith, even without the very things that brought us to that faith?
The disciples aren’t the only ones who face these questions. We do, almost every day, and even more after Easter. For us to understand the plight of those disciples, we too have to imagine that Easter somehow made- makes- a difference. It changed how we were to act and be and understand our faith. Easter invites us to look at our faith and life, and as our collect says, “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.” The disciples no longer had proof. They no longer had Jesus as their guide and leader. They were asked to embody his love towards others, and by those actions—so closely mirroring one’s actions with one’s faith— they would be united with Christ. They were no longer followers of Jesus, they had to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.
I don’t blame the disciples one bit. I don’t blame Thomas for asking the question that everyone in that room probably wanted to ask then, but didn’t—ARE YOU REAL, JESUS? Is this really happening? Is there a rewind or do-over button that we can push so that we don’t have to do all of this on our own? Jesus doesn’t answer directly, but he does continually show himself to them, at random times and in random places. They never knew where Jesus would next show himself, and they had to continue to live their lives in ways that could welcome him whenever he would appear.
Every Sunday after Easter, I am confronted with the same question that was offered to the disciples: How are we to live as Easter Christians? And I think about the disciples finally coming out of that locked room—fearful, and yet not so much as they were at first. They knew that Jesus loved them; they knew that Jesus would return. And they were coming to realize that their lives, and their faith, would never be the same again. It would be their faith, not their physical friend, who would sustain them in the tough times, and rejoice with them in the good. Their faith was to embody Jesus’ teachings and love so much so that other people could feel Jesus’ presence, even though he was no longer with them.
In the Africana Worship book, there is a lovely prayer for this time of year which seemed to resonate with today’s readings:
Unlock the doors of fear and doubt.
Let your faith spill into the streets!
Jesus is risen!
Death has no more claims on your life.
In life, in death, in life after death, Christ is your life.
Unlock your doors, open your heart and watch, as expectantly as you watched the royal wedding, what lies next for you.
In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sustainer, AMEN.