Sunday, April 15, 2012

2nd Sunday of Easter Sermon (April 15)

O Christ our light, like Thomas we need to see, need to touch, need to be sure before we believe. When we don't know, help us to trust; when we can't see, help us to keep on walking. Hear this prayer, so that we may learn to put our whole trust in you, our Lord and our God. Amen.
The Gospel of John tells us, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked because they were living in fear.”

The Acts of the Apostles tells us, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
There seems to be at first, a tension between the story in acts and the story in John, between a community living in fear and a community full of life.

But it really isn’t a tension at all but the same story about the disciples of Jesus after the resurrection. At first they lived in fear. Fear of arrest. Fear of what might happen to them. Fear of the story that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb. The community stopped living at Jesus death.

And then Jesus stood among them. He breathed on them. Told them not to be afraid, but to live in his peace. And the community was resurrected, they no longer lived in shut doors, they shared what they had with one another, and they shared their faith with others. Their journey continued.

It is also the story of Thomas, of belief and doubt. He followed Jesus, asked the questions others didn’t but in today’s Gospel story, he is the one not there. He wouldn’t believe their words, he wanted to experience it himself. He was still stunned at the crucifixion, couldn’t move beyond the death; he wants to see what they had seen, to touch Jesus again.

And Jesus came again and Thomas’ doubt was transformed. The faith Thomas had was already there but now it was unleashed by the resurrected Christ. “Come and see, don’t doubt but believe” said Jesus, “My Lord & my God!”(Thomas) – “Blessed are those who have not seen and have come to believe.”

Those words would become Thomas’s story. He would leave Jerusalem, leave the other disciples and tell others about Jesus and his faith, those who had not seen. Legend has it he made his way to India, where Christians today in the Mar Thomas Church in India claim him as their disciple.

At Dick Young’s funeral, we sang about the journey:
You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst.
You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way.
You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand.
You shall see the face of God and live.
Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest.
© Bob Dufford, S.J.
That hymn was true for Dick, for Thomas and for all of us. It is the journey we all make…
When you were a child, you probably took part in Sunday School. For eight years, you learned the prayers and rituals of our Church. In high school, you were confirmed. Soon you were off to college - and "church" may have put aside as you earned your degree and, after graduation, establishing your career. Then you married and began a family. And your faith took on a renewed importance as you wanted your children to have the same connection to God you had.

That's the "first half" of a typical spiritual life when you learn the choreography of a religious institution. You developed a language for articulating your faith; you established a spiritual identity in belonging to a church. The choreography and language of faith you learned then became a bridge to instill those same values in your children.

But then came a crisis in your life - an unexpected illness or death throws you, you get divorced, you get fired. After that crisis, you entered the "second half" of the spiritual life, one in which you hear a "deeper voice" of God. It is a voice calling you to compassion, forgiveness, risk, surrender.

You now hear God not just in the rituals and creeds of your church; you hear God in the deepest part of your heart. Your faith is now fully yours. [Adapted from Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.]
The apostle Thomas might be considered the patron saint of this "second half" of our spiritual lives - when we struggle to make sense of our lives that have been turned upside down by crisis or catastrophe. For that is what the story of Thomas is all about. We have all sorts of reasons for staying at death’s door. The death of a loved one. The death of a relationship. The death of an expectation. The death of a way of life. We have no reason to move on. And Thomas says – “I will not believe.” Death is death is death and here I will remain. And then Christ bursts in and the faith inside us comes alive.

In today's Gospel, Thomas feels that the faith he learned from and embraced in Jesus has died in Jesus' crucifixion. But, in his resurrection, Jesus offers Thomas a reason to hope, a base line for belief, a prism for looking at the world with gratitude for what has been and what will be.

Faith, in the "second half" of our lives, is the ability to hope that we can transform and remake, re-create and re-focus our lives in the love of God and life of the Risen Christ. Resurrection tells us that death isn’t the end. There is so much more!

Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest. Amen.

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