Archive for April 11th, 1999

Sunday Week 2 of Easter Year A

“You have never seen him, yet you love him, and without seeing you believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory.”
Well, do you? … Do I?
“You have never seen him, yet you love him, and without seeing you believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory.”
That’s quite a charge Peter makes, quite a challenge. Do you feel it? …
Thomas’s story reminds us that Easter doesn’t arrive all at once. The Church strings Easter out for fifty full days. Why? Because Easter is hard to catch. But catch it and it should show.
“You have never seen him, yet you love him, and without seeing you believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory.”
So has it happened to you yet? Have you visited the tomb of your hope and found it empty? Have you met the half-recognised stranger speaking your name? Have you felt the touch to bring you back to life and inexpressible joy?
Listen to the words of Jesus in today’s story: Peace be with you. Peace. Receive the power to forgive. Peace. Believe. Do you think he’s trying to tell us something? When the Risen Christ speaks, his words are only ever consoling. All the noise and doubt and confusion and accusation in the story comes from elsewhere. “Peace be with you!” Jesus says over and over again. “Shalom!” And he gives this panicky little group of traitors—the people who ran away and left him for dead—he gives them the gift of forgiveness. He gives them the gift of peace and the means to make it real. So that forgiving others freely they might find themselves forgiven and free.
And he shows us where Easter might happen. Poor Thomas is a sign, not of doubt, but of what happens when you are alone. Easter happens best in the gathered church. And in the gathered church a week later—today—Thomas can touch the wounds that heal his soul and can forgive Jesus for dying. And we all need that—the vulnerable, solidity of people to forgive and, in the forgiving, find our Easter.
The way Luke tells it, the new Easter people of Jerusalem experienced the brief flowering of dream—a gathered church where no one held back what another needed. Where bread was broken together, God was worshipped together, and all things were held in common. A dream soon woken from, for in the very next verses dissension arises and arises precisely over property, property owned rather than offered. And from then till now we have needed that gift of forgiveness which Jesus breathed into us. Oh, how we have needed it!
But I’m speaking as though forgiveness was a consolation prize, a second best for not quite making it. But, if that golden age of Christianity ever existed outside Luke’s imagination, it exists to draw us forward and not back. That tidal pull of the heart draws us on, to our own Easter, here, this morning, and asks us to give up whatever we are holding back from each other. And to give up whatever we are holding against God or think God might be holding against us. The prize of forgiveness is consolation, is joy, is glory. Somehow it is better that the dream was broken because in the forgiving we find Jesus among us—only he can make it happen. And he is here this morning. We are here and he is here. And he says, “Peace,” and speaks your name, and holds out a wounded hand, and says the words you need to hear. …
He is here. And because of it we do something extraordinary this morning. We know what happens when forgiveness fails—we know it better this week than for decades. Community falls apart, violence reigns, and the full price of peace is revealed. Here this morning we promise to pay our part. What we do might seem insignificant weighed against the hatred of Kosovo but it is something. We welcome someone new into our Easter family. Most of us don’t know ____________. In another place and time he might be the child of our enemy. But today we claim him as our own and we take responsibility for him whoever he turns out to be. Since he can’t speak for his own faith quite yet we promise to hold his faith in trust for him. We promise to hold nothing back from him. We promise to forgive each other as often as needed so that there’ll still be a community here when he is old enough to stand up and ask for his faith to be recognised as his own. One day, if we do our job right, he will say for himself: “I’ve never seen him, yet I love him, and without seeing I believe in him, and I rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory.”

April 11th, 1999


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