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Encountering the risen Christ

 Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’  And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.

John 20:19-21

Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

John 20:28

Last week we heard the first part of the story of the first Easter Day. We saw the women come running form the empty tomb and telling Peter and the other disciple of the empty tomb. The men ran and discovered the tomb as the women had said but Mary lingered at the tomb afterwards. Mary’s encounter with Jesus was the beginning of the experience that would change human history. I alluded to our story of Thomas encountering Jesus.

John gives us a rich account of that first day. John wants us to know that the disciples encountered the risen Jesus in a way that was very tangible. He wants us to know that the experience of the disciples was such that when they conveyed their story to others, intelligent, clear thinking people, they will say no, that’s rubbish. Thomas effectively said to his friends, you are all fruit cakes. Unless I see Jesus for myself I am not going to believe a word you say. Now Thomas knows these disciples. He knows their faults and failings but he also knows they are basically good honest people. Even so he needs more than their word. I believe the beauty of this story is that it gives us permission to doubt, to feel confused, to ask questions, to say, “I don’t get it”.

Thomas placing his finger in the hole in the risen Christ’s wrist

Two scholars have written a book looking at the whole of the Easter story, if you like, with the doubters and questioners in mind. It is called “The Last Week”. It is a day by day account of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem. One is Marcus Borg a Lutheran Scholar and the other is John Dominic Crossan a Catholic scholar. Their desire is to give the doubters a way to discover deep truth without being hijacked by a simplistic or fundamentalist reading of the Bible.

Their premise is that since the enlightenment of the seventeenth century our culture has had a very rigid sense of truth. We want scientific evidence such that a jury can come to a unanimous conclusion. Crossan and Borg point to parables as having profound truth even if the story used in the parable is a made up story. We all know and love the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son but we don’t need to prove that a particular Samaritan walked down the road to Jericho and encountered a badly beaten man. Nor do we need to discover a particularly lazy man who once used up all his inheritance on wanton living before coming home to a forgiving dad. In deed I have told the story of the Good Drug addict, the Good Aborigine and the Good Asylum Seeker. All of course are made up but hopefully all contain the same truth and the same challenge. We had recently the youth drama of a young woman wasting her inheritance and coming home to a loving and forgiving mother. Again the truth of God being a loving and forgiving parent would be the truth of the story.

“We want scientific evidence sufficient to convince a jury”.

Borg and Crossan would content that we are better off to read the Gospel narratives of the resurrection in the same way.  What are the deep truths at the heart of John’s narrative?

The empty tomb is a constant theme throughout all the Gospel accounts. The kernel of truth at the heart of this is that God’s love, the grace of God, indeed God incarnate cannot be bound or defined by death. We see something of this truth when we see the devastation of a bush fire, NQ ravished by flooding, or drought parched SEQ but see all these places again just months later completely rejuvenated. Of course, the violence and ravishes of the horrific terrorist attracts we have seen take years and even decades to recover form. Never the less whole nations stand up determined  not to cow tail to terrorists. So again we see something of the truth, that God’s grace cannot be defined by violence and death.

To Borg and Crossan this theme is encapsulated in the phrase, Jesus lives. ‘He continues to be experienced after his death, though in a radically new way. He is no longer a figure of flesh and blood, confined to time and space, but a reality who can enter locked rooms, journey with followers without being recognized, be experienced in Galilee and Jerusalem, vanish in the moment of recognition, and abide with his followers, “to the end of the age.”’[1]

In deed throughout the centuries some Christians have had explicit visions of the risen Christ. Most of us have had to rely on the words in John’s Gospel spoken to Thomas, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. John is keen that we should not feel we must see the risen Christ for ourselves to believe in Jesus and the resurrection.

Borg and Crossan sum up the second great truth of the Gospel narrative as “God has vindicated Jesus”. In other words, God has said yes to Jesus and no to the Powers who crucified him. Importantly God effectively condemns similarly violent oppressive powers today. All powers from the bully in the school playground, through the Bikies manufacturing and selling ICE to the regimes like ISIS or right wing racists are all denounced. Those who follow Jesus in that they embrace love are vindicated by God.

In John’s Gospel today, we heard Thomas say, my Lord, and My God. If Jesus is Lord and God then the lords of this world, the bullies, the terrorists etc. are neither God nor Lord. That phrase “my Lord and my God” had a very political connotation in the 1st Century. Caesar Augustus had declared that he was the Lord and Saviour of the world.  So as Christians began to declare that Jesus was not only the long awaited messiah but that he was also Lord and God meant that they gave their allegiance to him rather than to Caesar.

For us in the 21st century in modern democratic nations the power of this phrase is diminished politically. But maybe if we reflect on the early Christian community in Acts of the Apostles this Phrase will take on a new power. The early church is depicted by Luke in Acts as sharing all their property in common. We heard this morning of Barnabas bringing to proceeds of his land sale and putting at the disposal of the Church. In the 21st Century if anything claims to be lord and god it is wealth and commerce, and perhaps, my race, my nation, my religion over against yours.

Let’s renounce aggressive capitalism and choose love over violence

Our whole society seems to have been sucked into capitalism so profoundly that we can barely function without money. The Christian faith and especially Franciscan spirituality seeks to live simply as a way of truly rejecting one of the “Gods” of this world. But it is extremely difficult to join Thomas saying, my Lord and my God and, thereby, turning one’s back on capitalism.

Many nations across the world today seem to make decisions out of fear of chaos and terror. To some extent this is not without good reason. But when we start from fear we tend to create an unhealthy inward-looking nationalism that exacerbates the problem.

Let’s join with Thomas declaring Jesus to be our Lord and God. Let’s renounce the gods of capitalism and terrorism.

 

[1] The Last Week, A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan, HarperCollins e-books Page 204 of 216

 

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