The Second Sunday of Easter

Easter is a season, not a single day.  In the fifty days of Easter leading to Pentecost, we reflect on what the resurrection means. Liturgically we mark this season in several ways. We stand rather than kneel in celebration of this new life. Lent being ended there will be no confession in the Eucharist until after the fifty days.  The first lesson each Sunday will be taken from the Acts of the Apostles rather than from the Hebrew scriptures.

What does resurrection mean to us as believers?  “The Greek word for resurrection, anastasis, anastasis, is to be understood not only in the narrower sense of restoration from death to life, but also in the broader sense of a general spiritual awakening and renewal of life in all its dimensions.”  [John Sanford, Mystical Christianity.]  The resurrection is happening now, here, in us, through us.

This is Low Sunday, the Sunday after one of the great alumni weekends of the Church year. On the second Sunday of Easter, the Gospel lesson is always the story of Thomas, the one commonly known as the doubter. In John’s Gospel, the story of Thomas follows the account of Mary Magdalene meeting the risen Jesus in the garden. Mary has come to the tomb, and finding it empty, she begins to weep in her distress.  Jesus comes to her and says, “Why are you crying?”  Mary assuming that the man addressing her is the gardener and asks where he has put the body.  “If you know where he is tell me.”  Jesus said to here, “Mary,” and she knew him. As John the Scot, a ninth century theologian wrote,  “Death is defeated, behold your God in joy! Stop thinking you see gardener’s faces – The Lord is living! Whom you mourn: behold!”

myrrh bearing womenFor almost ten years I was a mentor for Education for Ministry.  Every 18 months mentors go for training. One of the most skilled trainers was a woman who is essentially blind.  She had a Seeing Eye dog. One year we were at training and she had retired her old dog and was getting used to a young dog that was still a little green.  Watching her with her new guide was an amazing education for me as how highly trained Seeing Eye dogs must be.  The most difficult part of training Seeing Eyes dogs is to raise their vision.  Seeing Eye dogs have no problem guiding people up or down a curb or in guiding them around a pole or standing object.  The dogs do, however, have trouble in keeping people from running into a tree branch or any other object that is considerably taller than dog high.  They are not accustomed to looking above their own heights and so it is something they must be taught.  We, like Seeing Eye dogs, need our vision expanded.  The resurrection is about expanding our vision.  That process began for the disciples on Easter night.

Jesus appeared among the disciples on Easter night.  He came right through the door.  They are amazed.  Jesus then breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit.  The word breath has the same sense as God breathing life into humanity in creation.  The disciples are empowered by Jesus, the Christ. The power of the resurrection is working in them. Thomas was not with the others, when Jesus came to them. So a week later on the first day of the week the scene is repeated only this time Thomas is present. The risen Jesus offers his hands and side to be touched by Thomas.

Jesus tells Mary to let him go and invites Thomas to touch him.  Why the difference?

Kevin Quast in his book, Reading the Gospel of John, (p. 134) writes,

“ … the apparent tension between the experiences of Mary and Thomas lies in the motivation for touching Jesus.

The tense of the prohibition in Jn. 20:17 signals that Mary is presently holding on to Jesus and he is asking her to stop. In other words, Mary must stop clinging to their physical relationship with the earthly Jesus.

By contrast, Jesus is inviting Thomas to touch his wounds so that Thomas may be convinced of the resurrection. Thomas must believe that the figure before him stands in continuity with that earthly person.

Jesus calls both to move into a deeper spiritual relationship with him, the resurrected Lord. The resurrected Lord meets each individuals at his or her point of insight and kindles faith that transforms adversity into blessing.”  P. 138

The Risen Word is present now.  The same word made flesh that we celebrate at Christmas has died and risen from the dead.  The natural and the supernatural; the human and divine, are joined once more and forever.  God can become all in all.  This is the meaning of resurrection, the meaning of meaning.  What a task for human beings!  What a prospect!  God has spoken and it is for humanity to listen and respond, to hear his word and return his speech.

Rosenstock-Huessy wrote, “A Christian is a person to whom Christ speaks.  The body of Christ are those who listen to Him.” Let us contemplate what resurrection working in us will look like?  Otherwise we will put our Easter baskets away and forget this story until next year.  There is a profound reason that Easter is longer than a single day!

In his book, Resurrection, (p. 152) Morton Kelsey, gives seven elements of a conscious response to the resurrection:

1.          We must let the story of the resurrection break into our consciousness and upset our unconscious participation in the ordinary world around us; we need to realize that the resurrection is something quite extraordinary and does not fit into life as usual.

If we are not careful the story of the resurrection will enter the category of other wishful thinking stories, designed to comfort and entertain, which being with “Once upon a time” and end with “they lived happily ever after.” We are most often defeated by the grind of the ordinary, thinking that we are seeing gardener’s faces rather than the face of the holy one.  Life as usual can no longer be a category of existence for Christians!

2.          Once we see the resurrection as an earth-shattering event, we must learn all we can about this man Jesus of Nazareth; the resurrection says that this man reveals the very grain of the universe, its heart and center.

This is the reason that I am so committed to Education for Ministry.  We can no longer settle for a kind of well-bred ignorance as if knowing too much would be in bad taste.  We have made do on the “fast-food for the soul” until we no longer even know that we are hungry.  We need to know all we can know.  I look to the day when we have classes in the original languages of the scriptures so that people here can study without an additional language between them and the text.

3.          We need to learn how we can be open to Jesus’ continuing presence, his availability in the Spirit.  There are many different ways to take down the barriers within us which shut out the power of the risen Jesus and his Spirit.

We will not likely know God better than we are willing to know ourselves.  The spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, journaling, spiritual direction, are intended to aid in our opening our souls to the resurrection.

4.          If we are to be transformed by our relationship and grow closer to this God of love, we need to bring our lives and actions into harmony with love.  This also means that we become agents of love in an unjust society.

This resurrection affects not just us and ours but all people who are alive.  We are in this together.  Whatever promotes the dignity of every human being is to be our joy and whatever oppresses human beings is to be our business.

5.          This kind of response requires courage, for struggle not only against a society which ridicules but also against the very powers of darkness that seek to prevent the victory of Love.

Don’t expect everyone to applaud when we proclaim the resurrection.  There is evil in the world and until we begin to embrace the resurrection we are unlikely to know just how powerful and pernicious evil really is.  So be prepared.

6.       We human beings are multi-leveled creatures.  Bringing all the depth of us into harmony with the risen Jesus cannot be accomplished in one decision or action; it is a lifelong process and may even extend beyond the grave.

Let us take heart in the fact that we are committed as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “progress not perfection.”  We are in the way and we have not arrived so let us pray for stamina and continue.

7.          We need to use our common sense and check all of what we do against the wisdom of the Church and the world, using the critical and rational gifts with which God has endowed us.

Jesus said, “Be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  Everything that is “spiritual” is not necessarily from God. Just because something is comforting doesn’t make it true.  Anglicans believe that Scripture, Tradition, and Reason are all needed to discern what God is saying to us.

Alleluia, Christ is risen; The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.

Amen.

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