By The Rev. Sherry Deets
2 Easter – April 7, 2013
We are so accustomed to comparing ourselves favorably with poor Thomas, whose famous doubt has come to be considered part of his name-Doubting Thomas-that we overlook something important about the way the resurrection works in us: Thomas isn’t the only one who must absorb the fact of the risen Christ in his own way. We all do that. That’s why people were often unable grasp who the risen Jesus was right away — it took all of them a while to wrap their minds and spirits around the risen Christ.
So at the close of today’s reading, for instance, we hear John confess that while he could have shared many other stories about Jesus, he chose these particular stories because he hoped that everyone who heard them would actively believe that Jesus is God’s messiah, the savior of the world. That “through believing you may have life in his name.”
John, in other words, is inviting us into the story, inviting us to make this story our story. This becomes most clear at several points in the Gospel, as John opens what we would call a little door through which he beckons us to enter the story. The last two verses of this passage are one of those little doors, as John comes clean that he offers no neutral or objective account but actually writes hoping to persuade, to prompt, and to provoke us to living faith. In Jesus’ encounter with Thomas another one of these doorways into the story opens up in front of us. Near the end of this scene, immediately after Jesus has shown his wounds to Thomas, and Thomas, in turn, has made the great confession of John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
For most of my life I have assumed that Jesus was rebuking Thomas. Which, quite frankly, always struck me as a little harsh, since Thomas only asked for what everyone else had already received. This might be another one of those doors, a place where the story opens up and invites us to realize that we are already standing smack in the middle of the story. Think about it: who are those who have believed without seeing Jesus? Likely, some were the members of John’s community for whom he wrote. But guess what – we are included in that group, too. We, also, have believed and struggle to continue believing without ever seeing with our eyes or touching with our hands. And so now I think it’s not so much that Jesus is rebuking Thomas as he is blessing us. What a cool door into the story.
It seems that there are two parts to the resurrection: Jesus’ rising and our response. The resurrection, which we have always said was for our sake, seems also not to happen without our response, not to be an event in history so much as an event in relationship, a condition of our living with Christ. The resurrection is not so much a what as a how: here is how the dead is living, it says to us, here is how you experience him now.
How did it happen? we ask, and we cannot answer. What happened? we want to know, and nobody can say. But How is it within me? And what can I be now, because of it? Those questions take us a little further. I can work with those questions. I can live with them, and they will come to live in me. They are questions about now and about the future, not about the past. We don’t seek the living among the dead.
In the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, a powerful wind, God’s ruah (breath) if you will – in the form of a tornado – comes into Dorothy’s drab, dull life and it lifts her out of her place, spins her around, disorients her and drops her smack in the middle of a new world, where she has a very important mission to accomplish. In this new world, nothing is the same as it had been before the wind came. There is beauty and wonder the likes of which Dorothy has never seen before, but there is also danger. As Dorothy is faced with these new dangers, she also meets others who have exactly the gifts she needs – wisdom, compassion and courage. And in the end, Dorothy and her new friends accomplish an incredibly unlikely mission.
Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to be with the Disciples when He left, and if the Holy Spirit empowered each of them – if we proclaim the power of the breath of God at each of our baptisms, then by definition, the Holy Spirit is already here. So what do we do to open up and let God’s ruah run wild in our lives?
When you make yourself available to the power of God’s breath, you have no more control over where it blows, or when it blows, than Dorothy did. There will be times when we too will feel spun around and disoriented. There will be times when we’ll scratch our head and say to ourself, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” But also, like Dorothy, we’ll be surrounded by the amazing gifts of God’s ruah in the world, and slowly discover that God’s spirit was right there all the time, it was always right there. All we needed was the desire and the guts to try.
Megan Castellan had taken college students to San Francisco to attend a conference for Episcopal college ministries, and were attending an interfaith remembrance for Archbishop Oscar Romero at Grace Cathedral. On the dais was a local Hindu monk, speaking in a thoughtful, even lilt. “Last week, I received this box of bullets,” he mused. Fantastic, Megan thought, inwardly cringing. It’s a death threat. Some loony fundamentalist sent this nice guy a box of bullets to scare him.
As she carried on a cynical monologue in her head, about the awfulness of humanity, the monk explained calmly that he had canvassed his neighbors, and figured out that the bullet box was, in fact, a mis-delivery. It had been intended for his downstairs neighbor–a federal agent of some variety. “But he had already received a replacement, so I thought, ‘What can I do with these? What would bring peace, what would resurrect these weapons?’”
He held up a bowl filled with golden pebbles. “So I melted them down, and I made them into prayer beads. Because, I thought, you would like to have them. So take one, please, everyone. And we can bring some resurrection together.”
Megan continues: I still have mine. It lives in my jacket pocket, and reminds me that resurrection isn’t just a singular act, a once-and-boom! event. It’s a repeated, habitual transformational remaking of the world we participate in.
Take some time of silent reflection this week to consider ourselves, to look inside, and to answer some questions. How am I being raised up by the raising up of Jesus? From what particular death am I being set free? What message of peace does the risen Jesus speak to me? What commission does he give me? What new life does he impart that leaves me who I am yet different?
Each of us will have our own answers to questions like these.
Give some time to this reflection, and give thanks that Jesus is not alone in his resurrection, but that we are raised with him from death to life. Amen.
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