Monday, April 13, 2015

Homily “The World is Different Now” John 20:19-31 April 12, 2015 , Deacon Annie Watson, ARCWP and Fr. Dan Kostakis, Bloomington Inclusive, Community, Bloomington, Indiana

Deacon Annie Watson, ARCWP and Fr. Dan Kostakis, Bloomington Inclusive
Community, Bloomington, Indiana

The world is different now . . . or is it? 

Last Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was a day to celebrate new life, the hope of life eternal, the defeat of death.

We tend to get a little carried away with Easter, and for good reasons. We tend to use exaggerated language. Easter is the day we put on rose colored glasses and try to see the world in a very hopeful, optimistic way.

We try to convince ourselves that we are leaving all that negative stuff behind and then, boom, the reality of life and death and suffering shows up in our rear view mirror.

I suspect most of you have been pulled over a time or two by the police for a traffic violation. You’re just cruising down the freeway, listening to Led Zeppelin or Hank Williams, talking on the cell phone, and then, boom, those lights appear in your rear view mirror and your heart almost jumps out of your chest.

That’s what life is like after the hype of Easter. The real world has a sneaky way of showing its ugly face again. People die, jobs are lost, relationships break up, you get a flat tire—whatever can happen will happen it seems. Murphy’s Law is no respecter of Easter.

If there was one person in the New Testament who understood all this, it was the disciple known as Thomas. At first, Thomas wasn’t buying all that sunny optimism of the resurrection stuff. There was no reason for him not to keep thinking life was nothing more than pain, sweat, and sorrow.

There was no reason for him to think that the world was any better than it was before. In fact, in his mind it was worse. His friend and mentor, Jesus, had been executed, and he, along with his friends, were hiding from the people who killed Jesus.

The world was different . . . but worse. Someone they knew and loved, someone they had been with on a daily basis, was now gone. A big gaping hole existed in this “new” world. For any of us who have ever lost a loved one, we know this feeling all too well.

And yet, despite what our logic and our senses and our experiences tell us, the world is different now. We just need to learn how to see it.

Despite the Gospel of Thomas, a non-canonical book of Jesus sayings unearthed in Egypt in 1945, and despite his saintly status in India, Thomas will always be best known for being the guy responsible for the phrase “doubting Thomas.”

There is a good reason why the word “doubt” has been attributed to a man who was obviously much more than a mere doubter. What happened to Thomas is also difficult for us to believe.
Nevertheless, we should open our ears to hear what this story and the other post-resurrection stories are trying to tell us: The world is different now. It may not seem different to us because people we love are still dying, people are hurting, and Murphy’s Law is still in effect, but it is different nonetheless.

The question is, “how is it different?” To answer that, let’s look closely at the story in John 20.
Jesus had been executed a few days earlier. The disciples are gathered behind closed doors because they are understandably fearful for their own lives.

For whatever reason, Thomas is not with the other disciples in that room when they have an experience they will never forget. The same Jesus who had been crucified a few days earlier suddenly appears among them.

He gives them his typical salutation, “Peace be with you,” which was designed to have a calming effect. Almost morbidly, he shows them his pierced side and nail scarred hands, just to prove that he’s the same guy who was crucified.

Then, with no discussion or debate whatsoever, he sends them out on a mission of forgiveness. Literally, he is ordaining them for this mission.

Can you imagine that? I find this to be one of the most overlooked aspects of this story. Here is a man who had been executed, and after his death and resurrection he is ordaining his followers to go out and be a force of forgiveness.

Who are they asked to forgive? Obviously those who had killed Jesus.

Jesus then suddenly disappears as quickly as he had appeared.

Shortly thereafter, Thomas comes back from wherever he has been. They tell him, enthusiastically, that they have “seen the Lord!” This is code for, “The world has changed, Thomas, and you missed it!”

Thomas, of course, is a first century, worldly man who has probably experienced enough of the reality of life in that time and place to not buy into any feel-good hocus-pocus. He does his best Ebenezer Scrooge impersonation:

“Bah humbug. Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” The world is different? Right. Well, as fate would have it, he would get that chance to observe Jesus’ wounds eight days later.

By the way, can you imagine how crazy those eight days were? The other disciples saw what they saw, and still they couldn’t convince their friend.

Each day that went by Thomas must have become even more retractable. There was no way he was going to recant his doubtfulness. I hope he wasn’t one of those know-it-all kind of people, constantly arguing with his friends and telling them how stupid and lame they were.

So when Jesus suddenly appeared again, this time with Thomas present, Thomas was forced to put his doubts aside and eat a little crow. At this point I can just hear the more immature members of the group saying, “Told you so! Told you so!” Let’s hope that didn’t happen either.
Most of us who read this story with a critical eye think to ourselves that we totally get why Thomas would doubt what his friends told him. There is too much to swallow in this story. A man who was executed is now alive?

On the one hand, he is a ghostly figure who walks through shut doors. On the other hand, he has a physical appearance with visible wounds. How is that possible?
The problem with these post-resurrection stories is that we tend to get bogged down in the details when all we are really asked to do is find the meaning. And, once again, the meaning of this story along with all the other stories that emerged after Jesus’ death is that the world is different now.

Is it different because death has been defeated? Not in any discernible way. Death is still part of the condition of all living beings.

Is the world different because Jesus could magically be a ghostly figure and a physical presence at the same time? No, because even if that happened to Jesus, it doesn’t happen to you and me.
Here’s why I think the world—post-resurrection—is different now: A man who was executed ordained his followers to go out and forgive those who had executed him.

I don’t think we truly realize how much difference that would make in the world if all his followers had the same determination to be a force of forgiveness.

The world would be different if his followers would continue to walk the same graceful path he had walked upon in his life.

The world is different because even though people continue to die, and suffering continues to be part of the human condition, none of that has to be the last word. 

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