Sermon for the Second Sunday in Easter
April 03, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
Give Thomas at least this much credit: he is genre savvy. Genre savvy is when a person recognizes that their own situation is like a genre of fiction, and acts accordingly. Like if you find yourself at a spooky old house with some friends, even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you know better than to split up and explore. Or when a bad guy catches a good guy, and he’s sure he can’t escape, but he decides not to explain his evil scheme to the hero, just in case. So one of the reasons Jesus had come to Jerusalem at that particular time was because Lazarus had died. They had already earned the jealous scorn of the elites. Thomas was savvy enough to recognize that if Jesus and his disciples went to Jerusalem in response to the death of Lazarus, the elite would probably take the opportunity to kill them — and, indeed, Jesus had died. Thomas was also savvy enough to recognize that his squabbling fellow male disciples were not the most reliable men in the world — and, indeed, all of them had abandoned Jesus at his crucial moment, except for John. So we can understand, and even sympathize, with Thomas when he doubts, as he is not doubting Jesus per se, but rather doubting a fantastical claim made by men whose track record is dubious at best.
Thomas recognized that Jesus’s story had shaped his life. That’s the whole point of being a disciple. Thomas’s real mistake was not doubting, but misidentifying the genre of the story of Jesus. Thomas thought he was in a tragedy, and up to this moment his experience was completely consistent with the conventions of that genre: a good man had taken a noble cause so far that it brought about his downfall. In a tragic story, you say that the hero took things a little too far. And we can sympathize with Thomas’s mistake of genre because the story that he was a part of had never been told before. The story of the Resurrection is unique in all history, which is one reason why it can be difficult to accept. Most of the time, once we realize that a story is telling us something that is at odds with everything else we know we dismiss that story, and most of the time that’s the right decision. But in this case, the thing that makes this story unique is the very reason to embrace it.
The resurrection is unique because it is God’s solution to the problems of sin, corruption, and death. As familiar as these problems are, they are not what God intended for Creation to become, and the God I know and love is not the kind to just give up and accept problems like that. God knew perfectly well that nothing God had created could mend Creation, so God sent God to do what only God can do. The resurrection is also unique because God’s solution worked. God didn’t need to try again; Jesus got it right the first time. And, the resurrection is unique because it changes the nature of existence and reality itself. It changes the rules of the game, transforms the story of the world by overcoming the world. Now God and humanity are reconciled under a new covenant. Now the relationship between creator and creation is richer and more complex. Now the resurrection of one creates hope for all.
One of my favorite things about this story is how it brings some sober realism to the old canard that Jesus was not really resurrected, but only his disciples’ respect of his memory, or obedience to his teachings, was restored. Right here in the Gospel itself we see all ten disciples trying to convince one of their own to accept news that he would have wanted to believe, news that had united them despite their earlier squabbling, news that gave them courage, hope, and joy— and it falls flat. The notion of a so-called “spiritual resurrection” in the hearts of the disciples has been a spectacular failure from the first and best chance it ever had. And then, as if that wasn’t enough to make the point, the risen Christ rejoins his friends. An encounter with the risen Christ, his very physical body still bearing the marks of his passion, in a moment succeeded where who knows how much hot air had failed. An instant in the presence of Christ made a notorious skeptic blurt out the greatest expression of faith spoken by anyone in John’s Gospel: “My Lord and my God!”
The fact of resurrection changes things, since that’s what God intended for it to do. The fact of resurrection is why Jesus’s words to us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” give us such hope and joy. It gave eyewitnesses, and hand-witnesses, the courage to proclaim the Good News of the whole story of Jesus and hand it down to us. The fact of resurrection is what connects us to God, and what makes us one body with those who did see, and touch, and believe. If resurrection can overcome sin and death and hell, and replace them with grace and peace and life, what do you think resurrection can change in you?