The Rev. Canon Barbara T. Duncan, D.Min.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
With these words, the evangelist expresses why he has written this book–that all who hear or read the stories will believe. The message in the Gospel story was written with the conviction of truth. Whatever may be our attitude on the questions of criticism, what is incontrovertible is that each of the evangelists believed and owned the truth of what the real stories were and of actual words spoken by our Lord, and so they passed them on as historical record. That we might believe.
The story tells us that there were people in the room in which Jesus appeared who were near the end of their rope of faith. They were gathered there, afraid and lonely, not sure if the establishment was going to come and gather them up for their own crucifixion. A motley lot of disciples with their own humanity hanging out there for each other to see–sharing a common experience.
They had committed their lives to this man Jesus just three years before. They had left family, friends and neighborhoods to travel with this person Jesus. They had been witnesses to all kinds of wonderful events–healing of all kinds, preaching and teaching that changed not one “dot or tittle” of Hebrew Scripture but offering himself as the interpretation of all that had been written.
Then that horrible day of the cross shattered their hopes and dreams. What is it now for them to do but gather as the few who had sacrificed everything and ponder the next step. The room in which they had gathered was probably the atmosphere of a campaign headquarters of the losing candidate or the locker room of a losing team.
We know what it is like to look back on our own high hopes and dreams–even our solemn commitments–and then measure how distant we are from them. Even little hopes and commitments; just try to remember our New Year’s resolutions now that it is April! And how much of a renewal did we accomplish this past Lenten season? We can say, “That’s life,” but that can be a real letdown. We turn out to be so much less than we want to be. Our realities do not always measure up to our dreams and expectations.
That is where Jesus steps into our lives as he did into that room where the disciples had gathered. He stepped into their weakest moment and offered them a quietness of soul, heart and spirit. Why? Because our Lord knows and understands the vulnerability and weaknesses of the human spirit.
Jesus often comes as He did to the disciples–in a guise that we don’t quite recognize. When he appeared to May Magdelene on Easter morning, she thought that he might be the gardener. He was known only as he called her by name with the voice that she did recognize. Of course, when she told the disciples that Jesus was alive, they dismissed it out of hand as we all tend to do with certain people and comments that we hear.
When Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they walked the whole distance to the village without guessing who he was. It was in the breaking of the bread or “saying the grace” that the disciples recognized this grace-filled act and came to know in their hearts that it was Jesus. But it sure didn’t look like Jesus.
Jesus appeared by the lake while the disciples were fishing. It was only when their net was gorged with fish that John’s soul registered the truth of who it was on shore. But the man on shore didn’t look like Jesus.
It was Thomas, in that room with the other disciples, who had the courage to ask to see the prints of the nails and the pierced side. For it was only after Jesus offered shalom alechem, the common greeting of peace be with you, that the hearts of those present recognized him. But we do not have the physical presence with us, and so Christ has blessed us if we can only believe without seeing him.
The resurrection story comes alive when we can see ourselves and others rising to something totally new and different. For it is in those difficult moments that Jesus comes to us and says, “I make all things new.” In so doing, God offers us a new peace that does not rely on our own understanding. Often when we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we feel powerless. We may try to keep going on not wanting to admit even to ourselves that we need God’s strength and the power of the resurrection to keep going. And let us not let anyone else know our moments of weakness!
One of the places resurrection stories are frequently told is in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. They are often people who have lost everything. They had reached the Saturday of their lives where there was little to no hope. Yet, through the power of God, they are restoring the spiritual and physical lives through the twelve-step program. That’s a modern day resurrection. But first they, as we, must acknowledge that there is a power greater than ourselves. That’s what Jesus offered us for all time in his Incarnation, death and Resurrection. Once God becomes the center of our lives, we can see the new things beginning to happen. Oh, for sure restoring one’s life can be difficult, but it is the peace of the Lord that you allow to enter that know–yes, know–that Jesus is making the journey with you. Jesus has borne the weight of our troubles in his journey to that hill of Golgotha carrying the cross of redemption. God calls us only to be faithful.
From time to time there are the doubts–especially when we see the horrors of death, suffering and natural disasters.
Frederick Buechner suggests that “whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving” (Wishful Thinking).
Thomas saw the wounds that were left by the nails. It was in the eyewitness that he truly knew the Christ. “My Lord and my God,” he said as he understood the power of the Resurrection. Jesus touches our wounds and brings healing to our spirits in strange and wondrous ways. Can we understand the resurrection as the life-giving spirit of God? No resurrection of the human spirit into a spirit of hope, then there is no Church, that wonderful and mystical body of Christ.
Jesus died that we might live, living with an inner strength and peace amid our doubts. He continues to come to us in many guises. Let our hearts burn like the first disciples, even as he comes through the stranger, through turmoil, in joy or the breaking of the bread. These stories are told that we might believe. It is as wonderful and simple as that. Amen.