Readings: Revelation 1:4-8, John 20: 19-31
We pray: Open our hearts and minds O God, that the light of the risen Christ might shine in and speak to us in ways that both challenge and affirm us. Amen.
Someone said to me this week that it seems unbalanced that we sit through 40 days of Lent, of sober thought and contemplation, of awareness and repentance, of distress and mounting sorrow as we move towards Easter – and then we seem to have one day to celebrate (even thought there are officially 50 days of Easter) – one day only – when we can lift our voices in absolute joy for the Easter Sunday happenings.
I wonder if it feels like that to you. That in one week we can go from the joy of the risen Christ to the ordinary and humdrum ‘business as usual.’ This Sunday is sometimes referred to as ‘Low Sunday’, one reason being its relative unimportance after Easer day
Well how about today we try to find ways that we can hold that joy and celebration a bit more to the fore and not just for Easter day but for all days – a default position you might say from which our lives can be lived.
To help us do that let us look at the story of Thomas again – the man whom we quite unfairly know as doubting Thomas.
Unfair because? All the rest had seen, had experienced in some way the risen Christ and Thomas had been absent – beyond the sight and sound of God’s presence you might say – and Thomas wanted that experience too – who could argue with that. In fact it seemed not so much that he doubted Christ but that he was unwilling to accept the word of his community without the personal experience of the presence of Christ. Let us commend him for his seeking rather than condemn because he wouldn’t settle for any less.
Slight detour there sorry. Let us get back to that week after the tomb was found to be empty. What was that like for Thomas do you think? Well whatever else he must have found himself at slight odds with the others members of the community – they were celebrating, he was holding back, he was questioning, they were certain. They knew resurrection, he wanted to know but wasn’t quite there. But when Jesus appeared to him, it seemed that he no longer needed to touch, that it was enough to see and hear - that the words of the risen Christ were enough. “My Lord and my God” was his reply.
And there is no sense of Jesus chiding him for his doubt – no sense at all – rather there is a willingness to do what it takes for Thomas and for every one of us so that we can be encouraged to believe and, more so, encouraged to live the celebration of the risen One.
Why is this so important? Because it is our witness to the resurrection life that defines who we are as Christ followers, and empowers our actions (remember those words from the Peter Scholtes hymn – “they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love”). God will do whatever it takes, with infinite compassion and patience, to encourage and empower us to be the witness of the living Christ in this world.
The reading from Revelation can be seen in just this light – of encouragement and empowering. Because the writer of Revelation understood how incredibly difficult it is to be an Easter people in the midst of the realities of a cruel and challenging world. He understood how quickly a ‘feel good’ moment can dissipate when faced with overwhelming and perplexing ‘life’. John of Patmos was nothing if not realistic. And so we hear from him words of reassurance – just as Thomas did from Jesus – reassurance that in the midst of death there can be life, that despite their being persecuted, the Christians of Asia Minor could still live in the power of the resurrection.
It is powerful language, strong rhetoric in Revelations, uncompromising certainty of the power and dominion of God over evil, that the God is in control. It’s a beautifully arrogant and confident statement of future– “So it is to be. Amen.”
And yet the reality of life is still there: the stressful job is still there, the difficult relationship, the hunger and pain and injustice is still there – how do we bridge the gap between the celebration of Easter and the kingdom yet to come where love is lived and experienced by all?
Where does our confidence come from – in understanding that, we might begin to understand how to keep the joy alive past Easter Sunday?
Maybe first of all it comes from our understanding of that enigmatic statement – “in the name of the one who is and was and is to come.”
Christ is doing this, Christ has done this and Christ will do this. The triumph of Easter Sunday is not an end, a solution, a holding pen till all shall be made right sometime in the future but it’s a transformational moment from which we can build the kingdom in confidence of a future. Christ is alive and with us, Christ is to come again – however we understand that we are to know that Christ is working in us and through us in this world towards a future that we can be sure of. And this is another thread of confidence that our Easter Sunday joy stays alive in our ongoing lives: that we can rest in a knowledge, a hope for a better future. Charles Reeb suggests this is not unlike watching a movie with a happy ending. Those who have not seen the movie might have a bit of a sense of fear and trepidation because the end is not yet known to them. Those who have seen the movie before watch it with a quiet confidence and a bit of a grin because they know how it all comes together in the end. As trouble befalls our world, Christians can go about their business of living in the world and coping with life’s realities with some kind of assurance, because they know who has the last word. (And this confidence will make the discouraged curious and want to know what is behind it!)
And our confidence in the joy of Easter Sunday, in the triumph of love over hate, of life over death, of mercy over cruelty– it’s all around us if we but have eyes to see. Just as Easter Sunday is nothing without Good Friday, so our proclamation of the risen Christ is nothing without the reality of life all around us. Life in Christ does not mean life without pain or suffering – surely if nothing else that is the message of this Easter time – but it is risen life within that reality. It is where compassion and love and mercy are to be shown, it is the understanding that celebration and pain are both equally part of the Easter story and equally part of our lives. So each time we comfort each other, every time we challenge injustice or anything that causes hurt to the vulnerable (which, let’s face it, is also each of us), whenever we forgive, or open our doors in love, when we celebrate community and cherish the least among us, every single time this happens we are living in the confidence of the risen Christ.
Whether we are in the pain of Good Friday, the long wait of Easter Saturday or the joy of Easter Sunday, we are living in the way of the one who was, who is and who is to come. We, like Thomas, can be confident that Christ is before us and with us. There is every reason for resurrection joy and confidence in the midst of the very reality of the maelstrom that is daily life and living. And for this we say thanks be to God. Amen