Base on John 20:19-31
The disciples asked among themselves, “Where is Jesus?”
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.”
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them, take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen. This was the prayer that Reno Harp, the rector of St. Stephen’s Richmond where Patsy and I grew up, said before every sermon.
Can you remember the feeling of a time, perhaps a dark night alone, when you were snug in bed and you heard a noise in the house? Or maybe that grip of fear came when you were in a foxhole, or in a doctor’s waiting room or sitting outside the boss’ closed office door.
When we lived in Mons in Belgium, we had a new baby and I took the older two children to the town square for a celebration on St. George’s Day, complete with dragon. Kate, a small 6 year old, was on my shoulders and Jason, a husky 9, held my hand. The square began to fill up and the press of bodies against us was alarmingly uncomfortable. This sensation escalated to near panic as the crowd began to move, carrying me with it whether I wanted to follow or not. I became convinced that if I dropped Kate or let go of Jason’s hand, they would be trampled.
How much more fearful must the disciples have been, locked in the same room perhaps as the one where just 72 hours before Jesus had broken bread and offered wine: “Take, this is my body. This is my blood”. Where he told the 12 that one of them would betray him, saying “Judas, don’t play games with me. Do what you are going to do and do it now. The room where Mary Magdalene came to announce the empty tomb.
Where is Jesus?
The disciples were frightened…confused…whipsawed by the tumultuous events of the previous 8 days: the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, Jesus’ arrest, and his death by slow asphyxiation on the cross.
Have we not all had times when our happy expectations fail, the floor seems to have fallen away and our world seems upside down? Triumph and success suddenly crash and burn.
And Jesus suddenly appears among them...without fanfare.
And he says to them - what?
“Let me explain all that has happened?”
“Let me quote to you from the Tanahk, the Old Testament to show you how all this was foretold?”
“Why didn’t you stand by me?
No. He says “Peace be with you.”
In Aramaic, shlama alekhun. Chill out.
This was a time for hot cocoa, a hug and a “blankie”. Jesus was the one they leaned on in life.
Hear from John 13:23 One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him with his head on his shoulder.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to be in his presence? Perhaps you have been in a group when someone of importance or heft arrives: a rock star, a diva, a beautiful person who makes heads turn. The room changes shape and size – one’s attention and whole body is pulled forward as if by a magnet.
Imagine what the 10 disciples must have felt, to see Jesus – definitely dead 48 hours before, a limp bloodless corpse with nail holes and wounded side, now surprisingly and comfortingly alive.
After Jesus “departs,” who walks in? Thomas. Do we know Thomas? Of course we do. He’s practical, down to earth, stolid, logical. He wears stout shoes and remembers to have them regularly resoled. I mean, the other 10 have been hunkered down, terrified that they will be betrayed and killed painfully and Thomas has gone out - for a beer or to see a girlfriend or to the grocery store or to have his hat blocked.
“We have seen the Lord” – or words to that effect, probably a babble of competing, enthusiastic voices asking him to share in their joy. “Can you believe it? Jesus was here, in this room, talking to us. Absolutely no question that it was him.
And Thomas’ response is much in the vein of Eeyore, friend of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. “Oh, sure. Pull my other leg. Seeing is believing and I haven’t seen.” And then, he does. He sees and he believes.
After that, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen me in the flesh and yet have come to believe.” This is an interesting phrase, a remarkable choice of words, isn’t it? Come to believe. Not arrive at belief but journey…struggle… overcome obstacles…go through dry patches…take wrong turns…suffer doubt and confusion…withstand questioning…even ridicule and contempt…ignorance.
So why do we do that? Why do we persist in coming to believe? Is it because we have found early in life - or much later for us slow learners- that life without Jesus, without Abba, Father God, without the Holy Spirit is stale, shopworn, fruitless, dull – auf deutsch, langweilig, en francais, ennuyeux, en espanol, aburrido – not worth living?
Will you read aloud with me? The last sentence of the Gospel, beginning with “But these things…”
But these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and through believing you may have life in his name.
There was a PBS series long ago about Joseph Campbell, long time professor of Comparative Mythology and Comparative Religion at Sarah Lawrence, author of many books, known for his signature phrase, “Follow your bliss.” Bill Moyers asks Campbell about man’s search for “meaning.” Campbell corrects him, saying that women and men search not for “meaning” but for the experience of being alive. And this is what Jesus offered then and offers now: the experience of being fully alive. (Young Frankenstein, Gene Wilder: “It’s alive!”)
This winter, in Florida, Patsy and I heard a sermon in which the topic was the impact of Jesus’ message. But I left the church somewhat confused. Had I nodded off when the priest told us what the message was? Was the message so obvious that it didn’t need to be stated? Did the priest forget to tell us what the message was?
I certainly don’t want you to leave with similar questions. Jesus’ message is this: God’s Kingdom is here, right now, as close to you as your next breath. It is a “free gift” as they say on TV. All you have to do is let it in.
This is easy because we receive it by Grace. We don’t merit it. Don’t deserve it. Can’t earn it.
But it is extremely difficult because we forget. From minute to minute, our knowing slips away. We fall asleep to this most crucial piece of information. And what disguise does that forgetting wear? False pride, sloth, unreasonable anger, self-pity, defensive anxiety and fear, overbusyness, intellectual perfection, chasing the brass ring?
So shaming and frustrating when we pull ourselves up short and say, “I’ve done it again.” Fallen asleep to Jesus’ teaching, his fundamental message.
Where is Jesus?
Even good things, like maturity…experience…intelligence…riches…learned degrees…material and personal success …seem to make no difference and may even be detrimental, to be barriers to receiving the gift and being fully alive. Consider: There is no road map. Rules don’t work. The only way is The Way – capital T, capital W - alertness to the reality of the moment as God gives them to us, seeing Jesus in every one we meet.
And how do we do that? Is it teachable? Is it learnable? Are we educable? When the traveler asked at the Grand Central Station Information Desk, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” the chorus of bystanders intoned, “Practice, practice, practice.” And what constitutes practice? Prayer…meditation…study…confession…earnest conversation with others.
Here is William Wordsworth from 1798, giving voice to his sadness and bereavement in one of the Lucy Poems. We can ask ourselves: who is Lucy to the poet? What has he lost – a love… innocence…hope… his faith?
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove
A maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye
Fair as a star when only one
Is shining in the sky
She lived alone and none could know
When Lucy ceased to be
But she is in her grave
And, oh, the difference to me.
Well, Jesus is not in his grave
And, oh, the difference to me.
Where is Jesus?
Where, oh where is Jesus for you?