Homily, April 3, 2016, 2nd Sunday of Easter

John 20-19:31 Epiphany, Norfolk

This Morning is the 2nd Sunday of Easter in our Liturgical Calendar. Note – it’s not “The Sunday After Easter” because Easter continues for 7 Sundays. I think most of us who work in a Church will catch ourselves saying something like: “We made it through Easter”, or, “I’m Glad Easter is over.” I think what we really mean is that we’ve made it through Lenten Programs, and Holy Week Services, and extra planning, and bulletins, and homilies, and extra music, and all those extra things that we associate with Easter.

But really, Easter is just beginning. And we’ll be singing our Alleluias for weeks now. And this is because we’re told that the resurrection appearances continued until Ascension Day, which this year will be May 5th. On Ascension Day we celebrate Jesus ascending into heaven, and the resurrection appearances stop. If you get confused by all of this, it’s not your fault. I blame it on the Nicene Creed that says: “On the 3rd day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven.” That needs to be rewritten because it reads and sounds like Jesus ascended into heaven on the 3rd Day, Easter Day. And that’s not what’s intended. It should say something like: “On the 3rd day he rose again, and after 40 days ascended into heaven.” I hope they are working on trying to get this straight, because we say it at every service, and it just sticks in our head, wrong.

So, this is the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Jesus has risen from the dead, left the tomb, and is now appearing to people in what we call “Resurrection Appearances” – appearances he made after the resurrection on Easter morning.

Now – for the Doubting Thomas Story. This story comes from the Gospel of John. Most scholars feel that John was probably written in what’s now Turkey, probably Ephesus, and written somewhere around 120 years after Christ died. We don’t know who this John was. John was probably the most common male name around. It was not John the Baptist. He was beheaded early in Jesus’ ministry. It was not John, the Son of Zebedee. It’s too late for him. It may even be a “retelling” of another John’s memories, or interpretations. Nobody is sure, but the language, the imagery, and the theology are just fantastic.

If you visit Ephesus, in what is now Turkey, you will find the ruins of a great city. It is awesome. When John Roberts and I huffed and puffed up this big hill, and went around the bend of the hill, and looked down in front of us to the Aegean Sea, I think we both gasped. Laid out down the hill before us was the ruins of Ephesus. The main road on which we were standing – beautifully paved with ancient stones – gently snaked for over a mile down the other side of the hill to city center. There were ruins of magnificent buildings on both sides of the road, all the way down the hill.

The city had been hit by earthquake after earthquake until buildings started collapsing, and the whole city was finally abandoned. But you can walk through the old buildings and see the gorgeous mosaic floors, and the great library, and homes, and shops, and side streets. Massive archeological digs are still going on in Ephesus.

Well, they will tell you in Ephesus, that after the Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus mother, Mary fled to Ephesus with the Apostle John. Ephesus became a huge center for early Christians. They were safe there, and they were “in community”, and if the lore is correct, Mary was there, until her death.

And this is the background within which the Gospel of John was written. Yes, it was written late. But the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were available to the writer of John. And early descendants of people who knew Jesus were there. And if you follow the lore, Jesus mother, Mary had lived there within a generation or two.

So, although the Gospel of John is very different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it can’t be dismissed. It stands on its own and holds a unique place in the development of the lore and the theology that comes down to us regarding the Christ Event.

Well, how about this Doubting Thomas story? An apostle named Thomas (often “the twin”) is mentioned in all four gospels, but this “doubting story” is only found in the Gospel of John. Did someone come to Ephesus and tell that story, and it became part of the lore? Was it “made up” to describe the element of doubt that was associated with the Resurrection Appearances? Nobody knows.

But I think it’s a perfect story to be told every year on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Because I think that “doubt” is probably our greatest hindrance to believing. The Easter Event is not a natural event. It can’t really be explained. It’s not logical. It’s not scientific. It’s a story of God reaching into creation and making an “adjustment.” And that’s not how we understand God. We look for consistency, and dependability, and reliability from God. When God acts outside of the norm, we doubt. And Easter was outside of the norm.

I would guess that there are far more church people who will accept a lot – on faith – but kind of shake our heads when it comes to the resurrection. “If you can’t even explain it to me, then how am I supposed to believe it?” That’s the Doubting Thomas in all of us.

And the beauty of this story is the way the writer of John presents it. Jesus never chides Thomas for his doubt. Instead, Jesus invited Thomas to touch him, and believe. Jesus acts to help Thomas believe. And I think that is so important to our faith experiences. We DO doubt from time to time. It’s part of our nature – part of who we are. But God seems to work, over, and over, and over again to help us with our doubts. Maybe “doubt” is one of the flaws of creation. It’s who and what we are. And doubt controls a huge part of our lives.

So, every year, on the 2nd Sunday of Easter we rehearse the Doubting Thomas story, because it’s really our story.

“Have you believed because you have seen me?

Blessed are those who have not seen

and yet have come to believe.”

Amen.

Posted April 6, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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