16th April 2023
Lent has six weeks and so does Easter. Time to explore what the resurrection means for us. What is it to believe in a God who has risen from the dead? What is it to live a resurrection life? What is it to be an Easter people?
Last Sunday we heard how Simon Peter, the disciple Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene responded to the resurrection. All three were confused to find the tomb empty. On inspection – reflection – the two men seem to have understood the empty tomb to signify that Jesus had risen from the dead but had gone no further in pondering what that might mean or even look like. Mary was less willing to accept that the absence of a body was proof that Jesus had risen from the dead. Her persistence to want to know more was rewarded and she (in John’s gospel) becomes the first person to encounter the risen Christ. He has a physical likeness – although not absolute – to the pre-resurrection Jesus. He has the recognisable voice of Jesus and, I think, the even more important, same recognisable loving, caring and challenging character. It is I suspect, by those characteristics that most of us today recognise Jesus.
But to return to that first day, that first week of Easter, the disciples did not know what to expect or how to react. That first evening they are afraid – still afraid having been fearful, perhaps, since then moment of Jesus’s arrest on the Thursday. The earlier part of the week with Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his preaching in the temple may have encouraged them to feel that this was the time when Jesus’s mission would reach its zenith, transforming life as they knew it.
But now how do they feel? What is going to happen to them? Even if Jesus has been raised from the dead, how is that going to affect their lives, their future? What is their relationship with the risen Jesus going to be like?
So there they are that first evening, locked in a room and what, waiting? When all of a sudden Jesus is there amongst them, visibly present and conversing with them. Jesus may not address all their questions – doubts? – but he is able to assure them that he is alive in a new resurrected way, and perhaps most importantly in that moment, to give them peace. And he breathes into them the Holy Spirit – something that recalls God’s action when giving life to the first Adam. Is Jesus demonstrating to them – making real for them – that in his resurrection they too are sharing his new life, entering a new age?
But poor Thomas misses out on this. He is only offered second hand evidence and it is hard to believe the impossible based on that. Thomas needs to experience for himself a personal encounter with the risen Christ. When he does then see and touch and hear Jesus, his belief is absolute!
What of us, 2000 years later? Can we encounter the risen Jesus? Yes. Both the passage from Acts, with its discussion of Psalm 16, and the psalm itself affirm that, in ways which we might not be able to physically see, that Jesus – the Messiah, the Son of God – has been present throughout past ages. This is something that the writer of John focuses on in the first chapter of the Gospel –
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5
The Prologue tells that the resurrected Jesus will continue to be that eternal presence that is of God – a light that will not be overcome. Just as his birth – when the Word became flesh – was a unique moment, so too this time of resurrection is a unique moment. This is when the Word that became flesh becomes something more than flesh. The Letter of Peter tells us that the change experienced by Jesus in his resurrection is also to be experienced as a change by us – one by which we are born again, are brought to life anew.
Our encounter with the risen Christ may not have the physicality of touch and sight that Thomas experienced, but it will be – is – no less real. Remember that the experience of belief was not immediate for any of the disciples – Thomas waits a whole week before he has that experience. So it can be for us. We may find times when we do not feel we are experiencing the presence of Christ in our lives. We may feel far away from him, adrift in a sea of uncertainty and doubt. We may find ourselves in dark places where it is impossible to experience any sense of joy. Yet hopefully, we can hold on to the belief that Jesus himself does not leave us, that even if we cannot see or feel or experience God’s presence, his love is constant, his desire for our wellbeing, everlasting. Maybe we can find reassurance that that hope is also carried for us by others. During that week of not knowing, of not believing, Thomas must have been supported by his fellow disciples. I’m sure that they did this with care and tact, not making Thomas feel that he was a failure.
Easter is a time to explore our relationship with Jesus, to find ways of being with and encountering Jesus, of be ready to ‘hear’ or ‘see’ his presence. It is a time to be with other Easter people to share and celebrate what the resurrection means for us. It is a time to be reinvigorated with new life in Christ and to share his peace.
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd, “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”
1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
my good above all other.”
2 All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.
3 But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.
4 Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
5 O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.
6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
7 I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.
8 I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
10 For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11 You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith– being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.