April 12, 2015
8 AM 10 AM
The pomp and circumstance are gone—as are the crowds. On Easter in the south we’d have the children bring flowers from their yards to transform a wooden cross covered in chicken wire during the singing of the opening hymn. By the Second Sunday of Easter all the flowers had fallen to the ground.
What does Easter say to us when the flowers are dead?
The first thing we learn is that there is no adequate metaphor for resurrection since it is a new act of God, a new creation, not just pieces of the old, like flowers and butterflies.
Of course the really hard thing for us is not dead flowers but dead dreams we’ve given up on and dead people we’ve known and loved.
I’ve just started reading Tattoos on my Heart by Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who’s been working with gangs in Los Angeles for 30 years. He writes about the amazing work of the Spirit in starting such enterprises as Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Bakery. [If you liked Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix you’ll love this book.] He also says, however, that he’s had to bury 167 youth who have been killed by gang violence.
Resurrection includes within it the cross and death. If we’re looking for sunshine without rain, or gain without pain we shouldn’t look for resurrection. Resurrection doesn’t exclude suffering but transforms it which is why Jesus still bears the memory and the scars of his execution.
Fortunately the resurrection of Jesus has nothing whatsoever to do with how you and I feel about it or think about it. It is a true act of God in raising Jesus from the dead: it is the vindication of his life and teaching; it is the divine yes to his self-offering for the sins of the world and his victory over the world, the flesh and the devil.
In Christ God has remade all humankind—every person is included as is all of creation.
It doesn’t matter if this pleases us, bores us, or if we resist it and reject it.
God did this without us.
Thomas Merton says, “No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there…We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”
Yet, resurrection also has everything to do with us because God does this for us, for me and for you. What God has done in Christ changes everything about our lives: our sin, guilt, and shame are removed forever, and our present is now filled with Christ’s presence, for the one who appears outside the tomb is also here and now, with us and in us as we are in him.
A week after Easter Day the disciples are slowly unpacking what the resurrection of Jesus means for them and for the world. What they know for sure, however, is that God has acted and that “we have seen the Lord.”
This is what they tell Thomas who was not there on Easter night.
The disciples tell him that they find themselves being run by a new story about the faithfulness of God in Christ.
Thomas, however, is still being run by the old story of death: the injustice of the trial, the violence, the crushing of hopes and dreams. Thomas saw this story happen: he was there when they took Jesus away, he was there, maybe at a great distance, when they drove the nails into his flesh. He was there when death and sin won.
God may run heaven, but violence and Caesar run the world.
That’s Thomas’ story and he’s sticking to it—and I say good for Thomas. No fairytale can compete with Rome and its legions.
Yet, Thomas decides to stick around and see what these guys and gals are talking about.
Then gathered with the community Jesus appears and confronts Thomas: “Do not doubt but believe”.
A better translation is “Do not persist in your disbelief, but become a believer.” N. T. Wright
This command is what confronts us today.
Believer in what? That’s the wrong question. We aren’t asked to believe in a “what”, that happened 2000 years ago.
Rather we are called to believe in a “who”, named Jesus Christ, who continues to live today for us, for me and for you, for the world.
This is what is so hard to believe: that standing right in front, behind, beneath, above, inside and outside us is the unique Son of God who is for us with exactly the same passion and energy that we see that Jesus had for those he encountered in his own day.
Thomas could have seen Jesus in the upper room and still not believed God is calling him to participate in the new creation and let go of being run by the old creation.
Do you remember in Matthew’s account: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
Or in Luke’s account we are told Jesus says to them, “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
In these cases I don’t think the doubt is about the fact that Jesus is standing in front of them, as much as it is about whether God in Christ has changed the world’s story and their unwillingness to let him be their master and friend.
This is what is so hard for us to believe today. It is just too easy to keep going to the default story about how my sins, fears, failures, and limitations are running my life—that there is no new creation for me or for this world.
Thomas’ new awareness begins when he recognizes the reality of the Risen Christ and it reaches its height when he comes to faith and says, My Lord and my God.
In this acclamation Thomas is giving up all his old stories that have controlled his life from the beginning and turned himself over the story of Jesus and the resurrection.
Back in the day the Bishop of Atlanta, Judson Child, at communion once he finished the Great Thanksgiving would bend over the bread and wine and whisper, “Dominus meus, deus meus” which is Latin for My Lord and my God.
What strikes me about that confession is the word “my”: My Lord and my God. Not “I believe in god in general” but My Lord and My God, right here, right now. He is the vine, we are the branches.
Greg Boyle was at a county detention center getting to know 15 year old Rigo who was about to make his first communion. Boyle asks him about his father and the boy says, “He’s a heroin addict and never really been in my life. Used to always beat me…sometimes with a pipe. He’s in prison right now.”
What about your mom?
Rigo says that’s her over there. “There’s no one like her”. I’ve been locked up for more than a year and a half. She comes to see me every Sunday. You know how many buses she takes every Sunday—to see my sorry [self]?
Rigo starts to sob and says, “Seven buses. She takes…seven…buses. Imagine.”
Boyle reflects: “How then to imagine the expansive heart of this God…who takes seven buses, just to arrive at us. We settle sometimes for less than intimacy with God when all God longs for is this solidarity with us.”
So Jesus keeps saying every morning to me and to you: “Do not persist in your disbelief, but become a believer.”
The best response to this summons is the one given to Jesus in Mark 9:24: “I believe, help my unbelief.”