April 27, 2014 “ 2 Easter A
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
I went to sleep one night this week with today’s gospel lesson on my mind. A few times in the night I woke up from dreams that somehow involved the lesson, all of which seemed to contain profound insight into the story but none of which I could remember the next morning. One dream I did remember. In that dream a man was talking to me and there was very little room for me to say anything so I basically just listened to him. At one point he said, I believe that the most interesting people I have ever met have been Episcopal priests. Later in the dream, still without me having room to say very much so far, he asked me, So what do you do for a living? I said, Well, actually, I am an Episcopal priest. He said, Wow. You sure don’t seem very interesting.
If I don’t see something for myself, how can I believe it to be true?
Thomas hears from the other disciples that they have seen the risen Lord but he says, Unless I see that for myself, I won’t believe it. And that’s the way people are. Unless we see it, how can we believe it?
Easter Sunday is a great day in the life of the Church but I’ve always liked this Second Sunday of Easter even more. All the hoopla is over. The crowd is gone. Now a few of us carry on, trying to find the meaning of the resurrection we celebrated last week. It was big and grand, and happiness abounded, but what does it mean? How does it apply? Is it real? Christ is alive, we were told. But unless we see it for ourselves, we really can’t believe it can we?
Last week we set everything else aside for the celebration but a week later, the demands of the world slip back on top of our list of priorities. And, as they do, we wonder if what the Church keeps telling us can really be true. Even if we have seen it before, if it’s been a while since we’ve seen something, we stop believing it. It’s just not true for humans that if we see something once we will embrace it and give it our total commitment for the rest of our lives. When we see something, we embrace it for a while, then we lose interest. We even wonder if we ever saw it in the first place. Our doubts cause us to question things we not so long ago fully embraced. What have you done for me lately? is a question we apply even to God.
And the reason I like this Sunday even more than Easter Sunday is that it admits that reality of the human condition and it reveals God’s nature even more fully. Easter is God’s response to human sinfulness: he forgives us. The second Sunday of Easter is our response to God’s forgiveness: we have a hard time believing it. And once again we get to see who God is in response to the human condition. He takes our doubts, our questions, our fickleness and unfaithfulness, and he extends grace even more. In the resurrection God says, I forgive even the crucifixion. We reply, Prove it. And God says, Put your finger here. Touch me. Let me in.
While the doors are locked and the disciples are hiding in fear with doubts and questions, the risen Christ appears to them. Not just once but repeatedly. They keep locking the doors, they keep doubting and being afraid, and Christ keeps coming to them. We may think our doubts and the locked doors of our hearts should keep God away but the closed doors of our hearts are actually the exact places where God makes himself known. We say, almost defiantly to God, Prove yourself, and God says to us, touch me and know me; I am right here, and I will come again and again.
What we see today in the life of the disciples is their cowardice and selfishness. They are hiding because they don’t want to be caught and killed themselves. They are protecting themselves. That’s the default human setting. That’s what we all go back to unconsciously. We really can’t help it. What gets my attention in the resurrection stories is not so much that Jesus is raised and has a new and unrecognizable body. What really gets my attention is how the disciples are all changed over time. Today we see them as cowards and we all can identify with that. What will happen to them though is that they will soon move from cowardice to boldly telling the world what they have seen and come to know. And it’s not that they decide to be heroic. Something from outside comes into their locked hearts and changes them. Like Adam and Eve they are hiding from God and are so ashamed. But God searches them out and forgives them, heals them, changes them, so that they move out into the world and claim a new sense of hope. They will all face persecution and most of them death because of their beliefs but they come to know a sense of hope and really can’t stop themselves from telling the world what they believe. Again, it’s not that they muster up courage and will themselves to change. They are changed from something outside themselves, something that breaks down their barriers and enters their lives in such a significant way that they become totally different.
The cynic that I am says that people don’t change. But the reality I face every day is that people do change. People are changed by something that comes to us from somewhere else and allows us to see the world in a new way. Sadness is turned into compassion for others. Selfishness is turned into generosity. Hopeless situations are turned around, usually after we have exhausted every conceivable effort. We don’t change them. They are changed and so are we.
Candice and Daniel and I went to Clergy Conference this week. There were a couple of toddlers there with their parents and, as I sat on the porch and watched them be what only little children can be, I was taken back to nearly 30 years ago when Mary Ward and I took Meg to Kanuga for Clergy Conference when she was a toddler. She was the only child there and everyone loved her and told us how cute she was. But at one point I saw her approach the meanest old priest I had ever met, Henry Barton-. This guy complained about everything and had never had anything kind to say and here was my firstborn child toddling right up to him. I panicked and ran up to rescue her and save him from the embarrassment of being a jerk to an innocent little girl. But before I could get to Meg, Henry Barton was totally transformed right in front of me. He reached down and gathered Meg up in his arms, started bouncing her on his knee and, I kid you not, started giggling and laughing. Bill Beckham, my bishop at the time, watched it all happen too and he looked at me and said, “If that doesn’t prove the existence of God, I don’t know what would.
We gather on this second Sunday of Easter not to get advice on how to change, but to remember that Christ comes to us to change us. He somehow gets through all the barriers we have put up, our fears, our selfishness, our greed, our suffering and pain, and he touches us and warms the coldness of our existence. No matter how locked up your heart may be, the risen Christ is coming to change you. If you don’t believe it today, you will because the risen Christ will not be locked out. In time, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ