Well as always, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday and preachers around the world wrestle with the concept. How to explain the explainable? We consult commentaries, listen to podcasts and yes, some even visit desperatepreacher.com for inspiration.
What I have learned about the Trinity is this: God is the Creator, Jesus is the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier. Each has their own role but like any good business model their roles are intertwined. We learn to live with the tension of the three being an active force in our lives and in the world.
Yes, it is a difficult concept but remember this: God created our beautiful world. Jesus redeemed us by his death on the cross and the Holy Spirit, She, yes she is the worker in the world.
As usual the first Sunday after Easter is the story of "Doubting Thomas." John writes the disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews. But let make one thing clear especially in light of the shooting at Chabad Community Center in Powawy yesterday. The Jews, as John calls them, are not responsible for the death of Jesus, the Empire was. By the Empire I mean all of those powers who work for evil instead of good. The groups who do not like to see the status quo upended. Rene Girard writes the reason for Jesus' death on the cross is his very presence and new way of thinking upended the old ways. Balance needed to be restored and a scapegoat had to be found. Jesus in Girard's theology is the scapegoat and his death order is in place. The people John was writing for were living in the diaspora and felt persecuted by the synagogue. What do we do when feel left out we look for someone to blame and this is exactly what John is doing, blaming the synagogue for their ills.
But on to Thomas. It is rather sad that Thomas is not present when Jesus appears in the Upper Room, isn't it? The question I have always had is this: If Jesus is all-knowing why didn't he wait for Thomas to return? Who is Thomas mad at? More than likely himself. If only I hadn't hung around in the marketplace flirting with that girl. He thinks. When he gets back to the ten, they exclaim they have seen the Lord. Thomas crestfallen, lashes out that he won't believe until he does the unthinkable. Touch the nail holes and put his hand in Jesus' side. Well a few days later Jesus shows up and tells Thomas to do that very thing. Thomas exclaims,"My Lord and My God." The only person in the gospels to exclaim this.
What does Thomas mean for us? I think it means faith is meant to be questioned. If we didn't at some point wonder what it was all about it would be rather one sided. Faith is meant to be examined and wrestled with. This what makes it so exciting. To ponder the big questions of life and to wonder about our place in the cosmos is what most of us do at some point or another. Courage is what is called for in examining our questions. Thomas is very brave, he has the wherewithal to say no and to question what at face value is so strange.
Instead of using Thomas as a cudgel, we should thank him for his bravery and his courage to have an open mind and in turn, an open heart.
He is Risen!
Welcome to Easter here at St. Thomas. For whatever reason you find yourself in this place today I am glad you are with us. So many of us hear the stories of Jesus’ resurrection and are puzzled or amazed or yes even skeptical. I have always felt a bit melancholy on Easter Sunday. I know the women are thrilled to know that Jesus is alive, just as he has promised. But I can’t help but feel a little sad, that it all had to happen in the first place. Whatever your theology is regarding the crucifixion, it is still a sad thing that Jesus had to die.
But over time I have realized my problem is the one so many others have, which is the Jesus of the cross. The Jesus who we focus on during Lent is Jesus crucified. The reason our cross is empty today is that we believe in a risen Christ. We believe in the empty tomb because it means death does not have the last word. Jesus kingdom will have no end. Today is a beginning of life, not the end.
What does it mean though for those who question? And there is nothing wrong with let’s not say questioning but rather wondering. They run to the Upper Room where the men are hiding and gasp out the good news. They have seen an angel who has told them Jesus has risen. Even going so far as to ask them why do they seek the living amongst the dead. Standing in front of them still panting, they stare at them and then they tell the women what they are saying is garbage Lros is the Greek term and it is the only time it is used in the Bible. We translate it to mean nicer things “idle tale” or “nonsense.” 'Women' the disciples harumph 'hysterical women.' The women stand there confounded by the men’s disbelief after all don’t they remember Jesus’ words about rising to life again?
The only who believes them is Peter. He runs out, all the way to the tomb. His footsteps beat out the rhythm of please let it be true. What is Peter looking for? Peter is hoping Jesus is alive because he will feel redeemed. His denial of his friend has weighed heavily on his heart. He has spent countless hours since the Passover dinner of chastising himself, afraid to go to the others for what they might say. The blame and anger heaped upon him. Rightfully so he knows. When he gets to the tomb he is overjoyed marveling to himself as he went home of what has happened.
It is marvelous, isn’t it? The promise Easter holds for us is the same as it was long ago. The promise that Jesus is with us. Jesus will always be with us no matter how anxious or sad or hopeless we feel Jesus stood up and walked out of that tomb forever changing how we see death. Christ has walked out of the tomb, grabbed us by the hand to join him in this life-changing moment. We are asked by him to live a resurrection life. A life that is not spent focusing on Jesus hanging on the cross but rather one which is eager to embrace the good news of the empty tomb.
Eugene Peterson tells the story of his friend Brenda who went to visit her daughter’s family in Chicago. Brenda was especially excited to see her granddaughter Charity. Charity is a bubbly precocious five-year-old. Brenda was arriving on the heels of Charity’s paternal grandmother who was a very devout Christian. She took her mission of bringing Charity up with a religious grounding very seriously.
The morning after Brenda’s arrival Charity came into her room at 5 am and climbing into bed looked into Brenda’s eyes after peeling them open and said, “Grandmother, let’s not have any God talk. I believe God is everywhere. Let’s just get on with life.” I like Charity, Peterson writes. I think she is on to something.
So many of us tie ourselves up in knots about whether the resurrection happened. The bigger question is what does the resurrection mean to us? How does hearing this story shape how we think and act in the world today? What does it mean if we believe or don’t believe? The bigger question is this: does it really matter? The resurrection tells us to get on with life.
The resurrection story is not one day in the year it is every day of every year and if we miss that we miss the point of Easter. Each of us here today is to live out the resurrection story to believe in something bigger than ourselves and to put into practice those attributes that form a resurrection life. A life which is not separated from God but rather a life which is so interwoven with God’s presence, we are in perfect sync with what he desires for us.
Just as the women gave witness to the disciples in the upper room that early morning, we too are here to give witness how God is present in our lives. We are witnesses to resurrection today and every day. We are witnesses and participants to what a full life in Christ can look like, feel like and be like. We will find these witnesses throughout our lives. People we work with, meet on the street unlikely people in unlikely places. Who would have ever thought that Mary Magdalene of all people would be a witness to the risen Lord? Exorcized of seven demons and one of Jesus' most faithful followers, she is witness to the Good News of a resurrected Jesus.
Her witness is a model for all of us this Easter Sunday as we proclaim Christ has risen indeed. Now let’s get on with life!