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What Difference Does Easter Really Make?

Eastertide 2018  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:

Psalm Reading:

Psalm 133 ESV
A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
What seeds of peace need to be planted in your community? Where do you see disunity and how might you help to bring unity to those situations?
Bostrom, Kathleen Long. Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year B (Kindle Locations 4578-4579). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Gospel Reading:

John 20:19–31 ESV
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
From Pulpitfiction.com:
A Note on Holy Week Scriptural References to “The Jews”
A Note on Holy Week Scriptural References to “The Jews”
As Christians, we live under the burden of a sad and violent history of anti-Semitism, in the sobering shadow of the Shoah (Holocaust), and with the painful awareness of current events in Israel/Palestine. It is important to us to be clear about what our sacred texts mean when they make reference to “the Jews,” especially during Holy Week, when we contemplate Jesus’ death.
When the crucifixion narratives speak of “the chief priests and leaders of the people,” they are referring to officials who collaborated closely with the Roman systems of oppression, and were viewed with contempt by much of the Jewish community of their time. They are never to be identified with the Jewish people as a whole, past or present.
It may be helpful to recall the cultural context of our Christian scriptures, emerging as they did from a small, originally Jewish community of believers in Jesus, who for reasons of faith in him as the Messiah, were eventually “put out of the synagogues” (), their places of worship. In John’s usage especially, “the Jews” functions as a technical term for those among the people who did not accept Jesus as Messiah. It is a term that reflects the growing antagonism and mutual recrimination that developed in the latter part of the first century between church and synagogue. The gospels’ use of the term “the Jews” should never be understood, therefore, as a blanket condemnation of Jews in particular or in general.
It is one of the bitter ironies of history that our sacred texts have been used to justify the persecution of the covenant people who were and are forever God’s first love.
Where do you see yourself in this resurrection story? What character do you most identify with and why? This week, spend some time reflecting on your own experience meeting Jesus.
What do you feel like your own belief requires?

What Difference Does Easter Really Make?

Trouble in the World

Is Easter Really Over?

Thomas is such an easy person for most of us to identify with.

Of all the characters Jesus meets in the postresurrection world of John’s Gospel, none has left a stronger mark on the imagination of Western Christianity than Thomas. We love him. He is the incredulous nonbeliever who hides inside every believing Christian—the questioner in us that resists easy answers to hard questions of faith, who always wants a little more proof.

Easter was a week ago.
The chocolate bunnies have long since lost their ears.
The leftover ham sandwiches or soup have been eaten.
The brightly colored, hard-boiled eggs aren’t old enough for a sniff-check yet, but they are starting to lose their fresh texture.
The clearance candy aisle at CVS is a wonderland of cheap, empty calories.
Easter, says the world, is over.
So. . . how did Easter change your life?
Really?
How did Easter change your life?
Or is it just the same as it was before Easter Sunday?
And did you know. . .
It’s actually still Easter.
We have 6 full weeks of Easter in the church year. It’s too important to be just one fleeting Sunday full of flowers and pretty dresses! One week can come and go with very little impact on our lives. But 6 weeks? That’s a significant time commitment! And the idea of 6 weeks of focus should sound familiar after Lent. . . which is how long?
Thomas’ Misleading Nickname
Yeah. 6 weeks. While Easter is a bright and beautiful explosion of joy after a long and difficult 6 week journey through Lent, our journey is not suddenly finished.
Easter Sunday is the hinge between two very special and important seasons in the rhythm of the church year. We spend 6 weeks in Lent working to move closer and closer to God, moving inward and upward. Now we have 6 weeks to take what we have learned about God and self and to focus outward: carrying the Gospel out to the world. So, every year on the first Sunday after Easter, we read this passage from John in which the disciples are locked in a room keeping the Gospel to themselves.

Thomas’ Misleading Nickname

One of the Gospels’ most infamous characters makes his big appearance this Sunday every year: Doubting Thomas.
What a crummy nickname.
It’s totally unfair for him to get stuck with the name “Doubting Thomas”. On the one hand, it’s a comforting thought that one of the disciples might have doubted Jesus and the power of the resurrection, because most of us doubt it in some form at some point in our lives. And it’s convenient to have a specific guy to point to and say, “See! Even one of the first apostles doubted!” But Thomas being a doubter is not the point of this passage. The scripture doesn’t call him “Doubting Thomas” anywhere in the original text. That’s a title given to him by early church leaders, not Jesus or even the other disciples.

Of all the characters Jesus meets in the postresurrection world of John’s Gospel, none has left a stronger mark on the imagination of Western Christianity than Thomas. We love him. He is the incredulous nonbeliever who hides inside every believing Christian—the questioner in us that resists easy answers to hard questions of faith, who always wants a little more proof.

Thomas isn’t asking for anything more than the others (including the women) did. He just needs to see the Lord in the same way the rest of the disciples have. And he doesn’t need this proof because he wants equal treatment with the other disciples. He hasn’t seen them living in a way that suggests anything has changed since Jesus died on that cross.
But it’s totally unfair for him to get stuck with the name “Doubting Thomas”. Thomas isn’t asking for anything more than the others (including the women) did. He just needs to see the Lord in the same way the rest of the disciples have.
It’s not that he doesn’t believe Jesus, he doesn't believe the other disciples! They haven’t changed yet! They aren’t showing any evidence of the resurrection’s effect on their lives.
There is great disunity among the community.
They’ve kind of all fallen apart. Remember they scattered before the crucifixion.
The Spirit has been breathed out onto them by Jesus himself and yet they haven’t changed.
I wouldn’t believe those guys either. And neither would anyone else.
Why should they?

The return of Shalom: Peace Be With You

The disciples are still terrified, and that’s human. It’s not an unreasonable reaction to the events that have happened over the past week or two. Scripture says that they are scared of the Jewish authorities. If you want some more information on the misuse of that phrase as it’s been translated through the years, grab one of the handouts or manuscripts on your way out today. They weren’t afraid of “Jews”. They WERE Jews. They were afraid of the particular Jews who were in charge at the time. And that is because they were in mortal peril. So it’s not that their fear of going outside that locked door is invalid. It’s just that Jesus’ call to do God’s work in the world is infinitely more important than saving our own skins or reputations or energy.
Jesus knows that they are scared, so his first order of business is to say, “Peace be with you.” Immediately, they are glad to see him. I mean, who wouldn't be? The women were right! Jesus was back!
Jesus comes back into their midst to reestablish their shalom - their sense of peace and well-being. And he says that their mission is to help restore the shalom to the rest of the world as well.
There is no sending before the Holy Spirit is breathed into them.
Their mission is to help restore the shalom to the rest of the world as well. And they have to have their own shalom restored first.
This is, in many ways, the beginning of Pentecost. ()
Jesus is using the language of peace again, recalling the promises he made to them before he died. This is a very pastoral tone. It’s a peaceful tone that settles these poor, frightened disciples down. . .
Right up until Jesus disappears from their midst again. As soon as they aren’t in his presence anymore, they go back to staying behind locked doors - they retreat to their safe place, showing no evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. As far as Thomas is concerned, Easter hasn’t happened, because surely if it had, it would have mattered enough to change these guys!

How are we to know when God arrives if, in our doubt, our capacity for seeing God is sure to fail? John gives an answer to this question that brings us to the heart of faith’s peculiar form of knowing. Jesus offers Thomas two clues to his identity. He speaks the simple words, “Peace be with you,” and then asks his doubtful friend to put his doubtful fingers into the wounds that he, Jesus, bears from the nails and swords that destroyed his body only days before. What does this tell us about faith? When God comes, we will recognize God’s presence in those moments when peace is offered, in those moments when life’s most brutal violence is honestly acknowledged, and when, in the midst of this bracing honesty, we realize that we are not alone but have, in fact, been always, already found.

I propose we stop calling him “Doubting Thomas” and start calling him “Practical Thomas”.

The spread of Shalom: Making Easter Matter Again

This is why we have prayers of confession every week: to remind us of our need for constant renewal and restoration. This is why we share peace with one another every week: to remind us of our need to continually work for restoration in our relationships with one another. These parts of our liturgy are like having Thomas show up and say, “I didn’t see the evidence of it.” They force us to look at what a difference Easter really makes in our lives and to keep us moving forward.
Are we living post-resurrection lives that turn the powers of the world on their heads and actually make a difference in our communities? Or are we locked in our safe rooms, talking amongst ourselves and maybe telling one or two trusted friends about Jesus?
This is why we have prayers of confession every week: to remind us of our need for constant renewal and restoration. This is why we share peace with one another every week: to remind us of our need to continually work for restoration in our relationships with one another.
People don’t stop coming to or avoid church because they don’t know God at work when they see God at work. They stop coming because they don’t see God doing anything through the church.
This passage links the resurrection with the call to be missionaries in the world. He has risen! Peace be with you! Go and tell all people! Go and change the world! Go and be bold and different and topple tables if necessary like Jesus did.
Their mission is to help restore the shalom to the rest of the world as well. And they have to have their own shalom restored first.
You witness the resurrection THROUGH THE COMMUNITY.
We can’t do that alone. We need to constantly hold each other accountable when we aren’t living changed lives. We must call each other out when we are failing to move out in new and often frightening ways.
We can’t do that alone. We need to constantly hold each other accountable when we aren’t living changed lives.
You witness the resurrection THROUGH THE COMMUNITY.
How can we be the community and be witnesses to the resurrection to the rest of the world around us? Where do people need Shalom?
One church I heard of recently sold their unwieldy building so that it could be torn down to create affordable housing. They will build a smaller, more practical and affordable sanctuary in or near the new building. The rental costs will be significantly lower than the building upkeep was on the old building and they will successfully fill a huge need in their community. The people around them couldn’t afford a place to live - a central part of wholeness!
We’re on our way. We have a few special events coming up and have had some recently. How do we keep that momentum? How do we keep working to bring the Gospel - not just the words of the Gospel, but the actions of the Gospel - to our community? Where is our community lacking Shalom?
How do we make sure that we are living the resurrection story, living the evidence of resurrection, not just staying behind closed doors. When and where people are hurting, this should be the first place they think to turn to for Shalom. And yet, they haven’t seen the evidence of that Shalom in the churches around them. Let’s be different. Let’s stand for something: resurrection.
Where is God’s transforming presence needed this day?
Where have you seen God this week?
Where has God found you?
Bostrom, Kathleen Long. Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year B (Kindle Locations 4658-4660). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
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