April 8, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Our reading today from John’s Gospel is the familiar story of when Jesus’ disciples are reunited with him after the resurrection. Thomas is not there to witness this firsthand and so, across the years, he has become known as doubting Thomas. Of course, he represents each of us and so many who were not there that day. John understood that Jesus rising from the dead would be nearly impossible to believe for so many, and I think that’s why he includes this story…for so many, like us, who may find their belief tested. He understood that most of us have times of great faith and times of doubt in our lives and that is a reality of being human. Let us pray…Oh God, companion on the way, you walk behind us, beside us, beyond us; you catch us unaware. Help us to live out the joy of Easter, be with us in our times of doubt that we may find our way and journey on as messengers of your good news. Amen.
These beautiful stories of the resurrection appearances are important stories of community: of believers, doubters, and strugglers gathering and breaking apart, and gathering again, coming together and telling the stories of their experiences, sharing their memories of Jesus–his acts and his words–and then, as we must today, as people of faith, shining the light of Scripture on that experience and coming to new understandings and new inspiration. But that’s not all. Those disciples long ago sat together at table and broke bread and in remembering that sacred gathering, they come to see with their hearts what was right before them all along. (Rev. Kate Matthews)
We are invited to consider the stories from our own lives, the times when our eyes were opened because someone welcomed us, or because we sought to open our hearts, our doors, our lives, to a stranger, to those we never expected to be a blessing. In those sacred moments, our faith deepens and we live out of that belief in new life.
I imagine that within this community, there are a variety of beliefs about the resurrection and what really happened at that time, but more importantly, what it means for us, in our lives, in our spiritual journeys. We are the doubters and strugglers, the believers and seekers of this time and place, on the journey together. I’d invite us to think about how the story of Jesus was kept alive by his friends and followers, by his family, in the earliest years after he was gone. We know there was an important oral tradition that shared the stories and passed them forward to the next generations. More importantly, I believe that Jesus was resurrected by those who chose to live out what he taught them. Those early believers, followers of Christ, they decided that in spite of their fear that they would put into action the best that he had shared with them and thus keep his message alive, and they chose to share table fellowship, as he had, and to continue to remember Jesus in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of the cup as we will do once again today. So often, it was in remembering those rituals, in being a community together, that gave them strength and gave them hope in the many dark days that followed.
I chose to include some of the speeches by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr today, because we know that this past week on April 4th, we marked the 50th anniversary since his assassination. I have been thinking about his message of peace and justice and challenges to bring about racial and economic equality, his
opposition to the Vietnam War and so much else, and how people have chosen to keep his message alive by living it out, by practicing it, by integrating into their lives some piece of that story and working for the many difficult and important things he chose to take on as his causes. We know that he was not a perfect man; few of us are, but the best of what he offered was itself built upon those who had come before him, the stories of liberation in the Hebrew Scriptures, certainly the life and teachings of Jesus as he was a minister, and the life of Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings on civil disobedience.
Since his death and in the wake of grief and mourning that followed, many felt that all hope was lost. Others believed that they could continue to work on the issues that he had embraced; still others know that the dream is still deferred. As we heard those quotes today from King, it is sad to reflect on how current they still are, yes, much has been accomplished and sadly, much is still waiting to realize that vision of racial and economic equality, or nonviolence and peace. When I watch the peaceful marches that have taken place over the years against war and for women’s quality, against racial intolerance and violence, and most recently against gun violence, I believe that Martin Luther King’s legacy lives on in all those who embrace the path of non-violence, in all who refuse to tolerate the injustice that still must be addressed.
We are all heirs to those who have come before us, the teachers and prophets and dreamers who have influenced our own lives. Last week, we had beautiful flowers here at the church which were in memory of beloved family and friends who we also seek to keep alive in some small measure by speaking their names and living out the best that we received from them, the best that we learned from them.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote these words in a poem years ago about the hope of Easter…“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”
Inspired by these words, writer Emily Gibson reflected about the days following Easter in this way,
Too often, the bright light of Easter morning dims over time
as I return to my daily routine.
In mere days,
the humdrum replaces the extraordinary,
tragedy overcomes festivity,
darkness overwhelms dawn.
The world encourages this,
I don’t muster enough resistance.
I climb right back into the tomb…,
move the huge stone securely back in place,
and lie there waiting for rot to settle in.
I am not alone. I have plenty of company with me behind the stone.
How can we allow the light to dim?
He is risen.
We are eastered beyond imagining.
(Emily Gibson, Briarcroft Website)
Our beliefs are only part of what makes us who we are; we know that we are invited ourselves to be resurrected in these days, to be transformed as the women who went to visit the tomb were that morning and the apostles who met Jesus along the road. What places in our lives are yearning for new life and resurrection? What transformation are we yearning for?