Kahu's Mana‘o

Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)

Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

“Believing in Jesus”

The doves have long since found their way back home to Kïhei; the Easter lilies are pau; the banners have been taken down; and the offering baskets, the wooden chalices and the wooden bowls for the Lord’s Supper have all been put away for another year. Family and friends have come and gone.

The Rev. Martin Copenhaver of Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Wellesley, Massachusetts writes: “The (Easter) fanfares are but an echo of what bounced joyously around . . . the week before. There are fewer people and less hoopla. To be in worship on such a day (as this) can feel a bit like showing up at a party after most of the guests have left and those who remain report on what a grand time you missed by coming too late.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 394)

In many ways it feels like the party’s over.

Aside from the sound technicians who take a while to pack up all of their equipment, I am almost always the last person to leave the church grounds on Easter Sunday morning. Each year there is a moment when I look around the church yard and find myself thinking, “It is hard to imagine that minutes ago this place was filled with people and flowers, music and prayer, color and joy.”

The Sunday after Easter – today – can often feel like the party’s over. But our time of worship this morning and in the weeks ahead is meant to be a joyous continuation of the celebration of Easter.

Copenhaver reminds us that we actually missed Easter altogether anyway, by two thousand years. “We have never lived at any time other than the time after Easter. For most of us, every Sunday is more like the Sunday after Easter. We can hear the accounts (the stories), but we were not really there. We did not see and touch and experience it for ourselves.” (Ibid.)

Yet we find ourselves telling and re-telling the story of that first Easter year after year, generation after generation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of our Easter faith and whether we believe it or not makes all the difference in the world.

Clayton Schmit teaches preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. “Faith,” he tells us, “is a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve. To admit that we take certain things on faith is to say that we are willing, in limited circumstances, for things not to make perfect sense.”

“In this Easter Season we celebrate the biggest mystery of faith. For Jesus to be raised from the dead belies every instinct of the mind. It cannot happen. Period.” (Op. cit., page 395)

That is the dilemma the disciple Thomas faced a week after the resurrection. But Thomas was not the only one who found it impossible to believe.

Mary Magdalene was the first witness when she arrived at the empty tomb. She did not believe until the risen Christ appeared and spoke to her directly. When she told the other disciples about what she had seen, they dismissed her words, because they had not seen Jesus for themselves and so they did not believe.

Fearful of what had already happened as a result of the crucifixion, the disciples locked themselves in a room to hide. It was only when Jesus came to them and showed them his hands and his side that they believed.

In our reading from The Gospel According to John, we come to realize that Thomas is not the only one to have had doubts. He is not the only one who wanted to see Jesus for himself.

When Jesus comes to him he does not chide Thomas. Instead he acknowledges Thomas’ struggle and simply tells him, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (John 20:27)

Whether or not Thomas put his finger in his side we do not know. But Thomas does respond by saying to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

But what about those who had not seen the risen Christ? What about those of us who were not with Mary Magdalene that day or with Thomas and the other disciples a week later?

All we have are the stories of witnesses of the risen Christ who are no longer with us. We have their stories; we have their testimonies; we have their words.

So it is that the writer of The Gospel According to John declares: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29)

Such a blessing was evident last Sunday. All of us who gathered here on Easter Sunday morning were not at the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene or in the room with the disciples but we have come to embrace Thomas’ confession of faith in the risen Christ as our own.

We do not have evidence to prove that the resurrection occurred. What we have again are the testimonies, the stories and the words of Mary Magdalene, Thomas, the other disciples and others. We have not seen the risen Christ as Thomas or the others did, but we believe - and that is enough.

We give thanks to God for what has been written and give thanks to God for the gift of the Spirit that was given to the disciples when Jesus breathed upon them. We give thanks that that same Spirit has come to us all to touch our hearts and to open our minds.

As we gather around this table today we come with gratitude knowing that the word used to “receive” the Spirit is the same word used in the sharing of The Lord’s Supper – “take” and eat. Through the Spirit’s presence we are empowered to act in the name of the risen Christ. Through the Spirit’s presence we are empowered to preach the good news of forgiveness and the promise of new life.
Mahalo ke Akua!

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