2nd Sunday of Easter
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 4:32-35 | 1 John 5:1-6 | John 20:19-31
God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the Pascal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own. Increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed that all may grasp and rightly understand in what fount they have been washed, by whose spirit they have been reborn, by whose blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
THIS first Sunday after Easter is a very well-focused liturgy of the word. It’s asking a very, very serious question. The question is: do you realize what we’ve just celebrated? Do you realize what has happened in the world? Do you realize what has happened to you? Do you understand the crucifixion? Do you understand what it means to be redeemed? Do you know what the Spirit empowers you to be at this time? Those are really powerful questions and difficult ones to answer.
I want to start with just the whole notion of Thomas, the unbeliever, the one that needed to be certain. In a way, there’s something honest about Thomas. He didn’t pretend to believe when he didn’t. He really said clearly, “I can’t go there. I can’t believe this.” Something was blocking him from being able to accept what seemed to him to be absolutely impossible. How could Jesus come back again from the dead, and how could he reconcile all of the disappointment all of them were feeling about the loss of his presence, the loss of the goal they were striving for? How do you deal with all of that? One of the ways you deal with it is to go through something that can only be described as being reborn, a new birth, a new heart. I love that piece of music we just played about a new heart, because what I realize is that one of the things that has to die in order for us to believe is the logic, the reasonableness of our brain. Our brain deals primarily in making nice, neat solutions based on right and wrong, true or false. People don’t come back from the dead. True or false? No, of course they don’t. Everyone knew that. Lazarus came back, but the basic way that people thought about death, it was final. So the idea that he had to rethink that no, it’s not, that was difficult. Somehow the loss of an image of what he thought was going to be, the right steps that would be taken next for Jesus’ message to be brought to the world — he had a very clear idea of how it was going to work. It was going to be he took over everything. They ran the temple. They changed it over periods of years and years. No. His mind couldn’t wrap around the fact that what looked like failure was just the opposite. So he was struggling with the limitations of his mind, and yet we believe now more than ever, if you know science, that there’s another part of us that ponders things. It’s the heart. It also has cells in it just like the brain, and if you listen to the teaching about the heart throughout almost all religions, it’s the center. It’s the core of who we are. It’s where God dwells. It’s where compassion, empathy reside. It’s the best part of human nature, this highly-evolved creature that works both with the brain and the heart. So what we’re seeing is this story of the end — what I call — the end of the dream, the end of an oversimplified notion of how this would all work. That’s what Thomas was struggling with, and so he couldn’t do it on his own. He needed grace, and the grace he asked for was proof.
There’s nothing really wrong with asking for it, and the fact that he wanted it is important. But there are others that don’t need that kind of proof, and they may be even more blessed. But nevertheless, something happens when the unfolding of the reality of what I call truth is happening in your life. It goes contrary to so many prejudices and misconceptions and lies we’ve bought into. So we end up having to go through a radical transformation, a death to an old way of seeing, an old way of being, an old way of looking at the world, and that’s called crucifixion.
So we’re looking at this set of readings then to look at, “Okay, I think I understand now what crucifixion is.” It’s dying to an old way of seeing things and being awakened to an entirely new world — the world of the spirit. The most interesting thing about those two worlds is one works in the realm of justice, and one works in the realm of mercy. So what Jesus has done at this moment of history that we’re asked to reflect upon and feel that we’ve been encouraged in these last weeks of Lent and Easter to see it even more clearly. We have to understand — what is it? What is it that we have moved away from, and what have we moved into? Away from the law and into mercy. Do you know what the key factor is there? It’s Jesus dying on the cross, his death and accepting reality as God wanted him to accept it and play it out. It is somehow in that action there would be some way in which people would begin to see that there is another way to live beyond justice. It’s called mercy. The problem is, when you see justice, it makes sense to the mind so clearly. I remember a lawyer once saying, “I love God of the Old Testament. I can’t stand Jesus, because the law of the Old Testament was based in justice, and that’s the world I live in.” You have to have justice in this world, but in the spiritual realm, in the realm that is even more real than the physical, literal world, something has entered into it that overrides justice. What is justice? At its most benign way of imagining it, justice is you owe somebody something if you did something negative to them. You took something; you should return it. You broke something; you should fix it. A little more negative, it’s revenge. You do something to me. You broke my whatever; I’ll get two of your things and break two of yours, because I’ll tell you how mad I am. That’s the dark side of justice. In fact, it’s really not justice, but that’s a world that everybody understands. And it’s the way the world works.
If I went into someone’s world and trashed it for some reason and then I go back and I’m saying, “I’m sorry,” it would be considered the right thing to do, to repair what I broke. That seems important, just, and fair, but when it comes to the mysterious world of the spirit, when you’ve done something to someone that is not about a thing, but it’s about them, it’s about their psyche, it’s about their soul, and you realize you’ve damaged — a parent realizes how much they might have damaged a child. A child may realize how much they’ve bullied some other child. An adult may realize that they’ve used somebody, and they’re burdened with shame. How do you repair somebody’s insides? How do you fix that? Well, you don’t. You trust in a thing called God, through Jesus, paid the ransom. The ransom. What’s the ransom? The ransom is what justice requires. In a way, you could say a person who has been abused by you in terms of their property, they’re caught in a state of saying, “You need to fix this, and if you fix it, then I can forgive you.” So you have to do the fixing. If that was the way it worked in the spiritual world, how would you fix someone who’s really damaged on the inside? You can’t. Here’s what God is saying. “I’ll do that for you. I’ll fix that. I’ll pay your ransom for every negative thing you’ve ever done to anybody where it’s hurt their essence. I will go in there and repair it for you.” Believe that, because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to forgive yourself. When you can’t forgive yourself of something, you won’t look at it. A most frightening thing, you talk to somebody who’s really abusive to people and you point it out, and they say, “What are you talking about? I’m not abusive.” And you ask yourself, “I wonder what it would take for them to realize they are abusive?” What would they have to face? If they take that debt on themselves — I have to fix it or — you can’t look at it. That’s why there’s this big thing about, when Jesus died on the cross, he paid the ransom, what you owe to someone, and you’re trapped in shame until you can fix it. Well, you can’t fix it. You won’t even know if it’s fixed. And God said, “Relax. I’m going to fix it for you. I’ll heal whatever damage you did. I promise, but you, by admitting what you’ve done, allow me to do the healing.” It’s amazing. Amazing.
So you look at the disciples. When Jesus came to see them, they were locked in a room, and they were locked into what? Two things — fear and shame. They were afraid they were going to be killed, that the Romans and Jews would come after them, and want them destroyed because they believed in this revolutionary figure that was dangerous, so they were dangerous. So they were scared for their lives, and they also were just wallowing in guilt. And isn’t it interesting? Think of it. “I really messed up. I wasn’t there like I should have been. I don’t have the integrity I thought I had. I promised I would be there, but I wasn’t. I broke. I failed.” They were dealing with that kind of shame, but at the same time, they were scared that their life was over.
So two things this redemptive act of God promises to anyone who believes in it is you’ll be free of fear and free of shame. Free of fear. No one can destroy me. No one can take my life away from me, because if they do, I have life. My life is nothing that can be extinguished. You can know that intellectually. You can know that, when you die, you’re going to live again, but do you really believe it? Most people say, “Okay, I’ll agree to that. That seems like a logical thing that makes sense maybe in terms of being fair on the part of God. I don’t like the idea of not existing anymore. It doesn’t really feel right. So something intuitively in me says I should live on.” But talk to people about they’re getting close to death, and I’ve seen so many be so panicked and so frightened. They’re terrified at the thought that they will not exist after they die, a fear of death. What Jesus is trying to say with his resurrection is, “Look, this is the way it works. You die, and then you’re alive, and you’re doing the same work you were doing when you were alive, only better.” At least that’s what’s happening with Jesus. It’s what happens to all of us. So he comes with mercy, understanding, peace, no judgment about their fears. Just look at what’s going on, and you won’t be afraid of death. And look at the way I love you. Look at the way I come to you, and whatever damage you did to me, whatever you think I’m feeling bad about in terms of you not being there, whatever negative feelings I had, they’ve all been repaired. They’re repaired by redemption, by the ransom being paid. It’s hard to think that you would need to ask God to forgive you and write off all the things you did against him, but he does that. That’s what he’s saying. “I do that. That’s how I am. That’s how I love.” When you’re loved that way, you’re going to be incredibly transformed into a higher consciousness, more in tune with who your nature really is. You will live the commandments, not because you’re told to live them but because they are absolutely who you are.
The Ten Commandments, the only rules that God gave us, the only law he gave us, are the best description I can give you of who you are, what your nature is. You need a higher power. You need to be with him. You need to use his power for the good. You also need to honor everybody that’s given you life. You need to stop killing, stop lying, stop breaking promises, stop envying each other. Those aren’t things that you’re supposed to do because you have to. That’s who you are when you are evolved and transformed by the reality of a love of God that is so transformative. It brings you from death to life, from illusion to truth, from darkness to light. It’s a gift, and it’s funny. Sometimes we believe by saying, “Well, I agree with that.” No. Belief is when you trust in something so deeply that it radically changes the way you see yourself in the world.
Father, it’s as if we live in two worlds, a world of justice that brings peace to communities, to nations, to communities in also the world of the spirit, the world of love. Help us to learn the difficult task of balancing these two worlds and most especially that we would not confuse the two. Open our hearts to this incredible, powerful experience that we have just celebrated during this season of Easter, that we have been truly remade when it comes to our understanding of the world that is eternal, the world that we’re made for, the world that lasts forever. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.