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- Texts for 2Easter: John 20:19-31 and “Mysteries, Yes” by Mary Oliver
You see what he did there, right?
It was clever, I’ll give him that.
”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.’”
Remember, the Gospel
is not a Court Recorder’s verbatim version
of how things went down
in the first century.
Rather, this is John improvising
on the lips of Jesus.
Those of us who need proof,
who need to put our fingers in the bloody holes,
are not blessed…according to John.
But this year, staring
at the story about Thomas
I decided to look at all four Gospels
to see what stories
each of the story-tellers
decided to place
right after the Easter Day empty tomb story.
Jesus’ first post-tomb appearance in John
is the one we just heard,
appearing among the disciples who were hiding
for fear they would be arrested.
Thomas of course, being the foil
of that story.
Matthew has Jesus meeting the disciples
on a mountain in Galilee
where he told the women at the tomb
to meet him.
It is there that Jesus gives the disciples
their marching orders.
Luke has the road to Emmaus story
in which Jesus appears, unrecognizable
to some travelers who had witnessed
the crucifixion, and only
when they break bread together
do they recognize that it is Jesus.
Mark, the first story told
of the four, has no appearance of Jesus.
It ends with the empty tomb
and the young man sitting in the tomb
tells the women
to tell his disciples
that Jesus has risen
and will meet them in Galilee.
It ends by saying the women ran away
and said nothing to anyone
for they were afraid.
(There is another ending to Mark
but there is a consensus
that it is a later ending added on
by unknown sources.
They are the verses
that the Christian snake handlers
get their ritual from).
Though these are different stories
with different characters
and different settings,
there is a common theme.
They are looking forward
They are looking ahead
to where Jesus will
and they are concerned
with connecting Jesus
with the future community.
Ponder that with me for a moment.
Can you imagine
two-thousand years into the future
and what in the world
humankind will be like?
I cannot, at least not with any
sense that I can really imagine it
with any kind of accuracy.
We could be back to living in caves,
or we might be synced with AI
and a totally new species.
Do you think John
had any notion
that the Jesus-movement
they were part of
could or would become
what it is?
Surely they could not have imagined
a Mega-church of one million people
in Seoul, South Korea
or an amplified music-filled
Pentecostal tent meeting
in Central Park.
None of this,
none of what we do,
even though some of it is
pattered after what we think they did,
would be recognizable to them.
Our wafers and shot glasses
are a far cry
from a dinner table
in someone’s home or an
Imagine Jesus saying to Thomas,
two-thousand years from now
there will be stone buildings as big
as the Jerusalem temple
all over the world
full of high priests and scribes
with volunteers counting the collections
in back rooms.
Someone will play an instrument
louder than any natural noise
known to us,
while people in strange robes
will stand together and sing
while everyone else is lined up in neat rows
pretending to sing.
Thomas would have found that as unbelievable
as sticking his fingers in nail holes.
Here is what I know.
There are a myriad of ways
to have faith.
Some people, unbelievable to me,
will believe something
just because the right person
or the right book
tells them it is true.
There are other people who,
if they can imagine it,
will believe it.
Still others conjure up
what they wish to be true
and then embrace it as truth.
Some of us are experiential learners —
and can only accept
what we have experienced for ourselves.
Still others want proof
of whatever they are told,
and it must be independently verified
by the scientific method.
Christian orthodoxy of various kinds —
whether Orthodox with a capital “O”
or Protestant or Roman Catholic orthodoxy —
traveled a very long way
upon its own authority.
It has been proclaimed and received
as the truth
based upon its own authority
to claim it as true.
And that worked
for two-thousand years.
It still works for some people.
But then there is Thomas
and those of us who are like Thomas —
we need to see it,
talk to it.
Better yet, laugh and cry with it.
I think that is why
so many people will say
they connect best with God
or the sacred,
Nature evokes awe
and awe opens a window
in our heart
for the Holy to blow in.
We can touch the transcendent
in the majesty or exquisite beauty of Nature —
we can feel it
and smell it
and hear it.
Some of us need that,
while others can apprehend the sacred
on the back of a compelling idea.
Boom — the “Ah ha!” experience.
So there is nothing I can say
to add to the obvious:
we all come to this thing
in different ways
and with different means
of opening to it.
It shouldn’t need to be said
but obviously, given
what all of us have encountered
in organized religion
at one time or another,
it does need to be said.
As Mary Oliver wrote,
“Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising…
Let me keep company always with those who say
‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”
On the second Sunday of Easter season,
let’s remind ourselves
that we all come to this mystery
with hearts and minds
that work somewhat differently
and we need a variety
of ways to be nurtured.
If we can remember that,
the community will prosper.