Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grieving Thomas

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

John 20:19-31

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.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 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.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Have you ever waited for something – never quite believing it could really happen? Have you ever been sure something would never happen – much as you hoped that it would?

Then you will understand the joy and the astonishment, the awe and the excitement, of the disciples when Jesus came and stood among them on that first day of the week. He stood among them, and he said, “Peace be with you.”

Shalom aleichem. Peace be with you. This means much more than just, “Howdy!”

It means that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and you and I are in covenant relationship with God and with each other, in the joy and peace and harmony that only the peace of God can bring.

It means that the day has come – that this first day of the week is the first day of a new order of the ages. The power of death and sin is broken. Now God and humankind are reconciled in Christ. Now can begin a new way for all people to relate to one another.

This is not the first time Jesus has announced that the kingdom of God – the kingdom of shalom, the peace of God – is at hand. At the beginning of his ministry, …

Luke 4:16-21

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

At the start of his earthly ministry, Jesus identified himself with the servant of God foretold in Isaiah, the one who brings God’s deliverance. He began the process of restoring shalom, Godly peace.

The advent of the Messiah was the dawning of the age of shalom, the harmonious reign of God, a kingdom that will never be undone or superseded.

That present and future kingdom, the age of shalom, is one in which God’s rule is fulfilled everywhere in every aspect of life, bringing liberation for the oppressed, harmony in relationships, healing, justice, peace, righteousness, reconciliation with God and right relationship with all of creation.

The vision of shalom is of a world in which individual people and whole communities live in prosperity and wellbeing, enjoying safety and protection, inner harmony, rest, and completeness. They are becoming the people of God, and they experience God’s compassion and love.

When God’s people truly worship and obey him – when they are faithful to his calling and covenant, is this not the offering that God prefers?

Isaiah 58:6-12

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Jesus’ followers are to be the pioneers of this kingdom.

2 Corinthians 5:14-21

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them…

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

"You and I are called to be ambassadors for Christ, pioneers of shalom. We have the privilege of bringing the good news of God’s Kingdom to those who will receive it.

"What in the world is God doing? God is, right now, bringing his Kingdom. He is doing this through the work of Jesus, made known and extended by God’s faithful people. He is reconciling all things to himself. And we get to be part of what he is doing!"

We get to be a part of what he is doing – as his disciples, the disciples to whom he showed himself in the upper room that first day, were part of what God is doing.

* * * * *

Have you ever waited for something – never quite believing it could really happen? Have you ever been sure something would never happen – much as you hoped that it would?

Then you will understand the grief and the disbelief, the doubt and painful faith, of Thomas. You will understand the doubt and the alienation, the estrangement and fear, which Thomas felt when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”

One thing was clear to Thomas, some thing that others may have doubted: Jesus really died. On Good Friday, Jesus of Nazareth died. With him died many hopes for the Messiah. The Anointed One of Israel was not going to save them, not the way they’d expected him to.

Jesus was dead. There could be no doubt about that.

So when he appeared to the disciples – sans Thomas – and showed them his hands and his side, they knew it was real. “Peace be with you,” he said, and they rejoiced. “Peace be with you,” he said again, and breathed on them – ‘Receive holy Breath, holy Spirit’ – and sent them on the mission he had been given by God.

Now they were sure of two things, two things that were really real:

1.) Jesus died.
2.) Jesus lives!

He rose from the dead – he had been crucified, and showed the wounds to prove it. It was really him! – And he was alive.

Thomas was not there to see this, or to receive Holy Spirit, and he doubted. He was still in mourning – deep in the grief where the wrenching truth of the inevitable and irrecoverable fact of death is sharp and painful, and almost unbearable to acknowledge.

Into this grief step the other disciples with their incredible announcement, a la Mary Magdalene: “We have seen the Lord.” It’s incredible, impossible: truly beyond belief. He had nothing to go on, no proof, but their word.

I want to see it for myself. I want to know that it is real, that the good news of Jesus Christ is tangible fact.

1.) Christ has died.
2.) Christ is risen.

This is the good news just as Paul had heard it and passed it on – and then, there in the midst of them, with Thomas, Christ comes again: “Peace be with you.”

Go ahead now Thomas, he says, as if his mere arrival were not overwhelming enough.

He says to Thomas things Thomas had said when Thomas was sure Jesus was not there.

This is not the first time Jesus has said something to someone, that indicated he was aware of them when they could not see him. Remember how Jesus greeted Nathanael by the lakeshore – Behold! An Israelite in whom there is no guile – I saw you under the fig tree – and rest assured, I will show you greater things than these. Now here is Thomas:

Christ greets him, offering to him what he had demanded as proof of the resurrection.

Even as Thomas was expressing his doubt – unless I see, unless I touch – Christ Jesus was present with him. Even as we are feeling our sharpest doubts, the most painful absences of the sense of God’s presence, God is with us, Christ is present right there.

As he was in the midst of them, even when they were grieving his demise, Christ is now here among us – and remains with us even when we can hardly go on, or bear our selves.

Shalom – peace be with you – the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The reconciliation with God and peace among his people promised of old is here now – and you and I are part of it. This is what Christ offers; this is what he announces, as he shows the disciples the truth of his death and resurrection. The forgiveness he offers – to those who, let’s face it, we last saw in the garden of Gethsemane, going over the back fence – is real. The reconciliation he offers, being made right with him and through him with God, is real.

And he offers Thomas more than proof – he offers him a restored place in the community. Resurrection works both individually and communally. The community is restored and the individuals within it are reconciled, in the peace of God’s provision.

And so Jesus says to Thomas, go ahead: see, touch, and believe. And he says to Thomas, as he had said long ago by the lakeshore to Nathanael, things Thomas had said when Jesus wasn’t even there. Go ahead now: touch these wounds and trust me.

But Thomas needs no further proof. Behold! Here is another Israelite in whom there is no guile. He has found the Messiah: “My Lord and my God.”

We know him in the breaking of the bread. We know him in the witness of his people. We know him because the disciples received Holy Spirit from him – and spread the good news of the forgiveness of sins across the world.

And so I pass on to you, and exhort you to pass on to others, what I have received: that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures said, that he was buried; that he rose again on the third day, as the Scriptures said, and that he appeared to many – not least of all to Thomas. Thomas, whose grief had overwhelmed his belief in the future, now sure in the knowledge of the presence forever of his risen savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Now what? May we as we celebrate, in the Eucharist, Christ’s death until he comes, be sure in the knowledge that love conquers death. Death no longer has the last word. The word at the end of life is the same word that was at its beginning. The Omega and the Alpha are one: the Messiah, the Word, the Son of the living God. Let us spread that news, that hope and that knowledge, through our own words and deeds.

Peace be with you: Shalom: the harmony and peace of God. Bear witness to the risen Lord. Breathe the Spirit and bring the news to others that faith in Christ Jesus is saving faith. Make God’s spirit to shine forth in the world. Be bearers of light and life – and laughter, in the joy of knowing that Christ is risen. Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

* * *

Sources and inspirations:

Sarah C. Leech, "You and I are called..." from "What in the world is God doing?" curriculum resource for World Concern.

Ryan Marsh, insight into Thomas' grief and doubt, in pastors' text study.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

everything has changed

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb …

Going to the tomb, what do people expect? A Sufi sheikh from Lebanon told a story, recently, of a road being built in Syria – and the engineers’ planned route mean they would have to demolish the tomb of a saint, centuries old. So they opened it – and reported the smell of roses. The road was re-routed. This is the story that he told us.

When the Russian saints died, the expectation went, their bodies would not decay – they would not be corrupt. So, in the novel The Brothers Karamazov, when the saintly Father Zossima dies, the people are scandalized: for after four days there is a stink.

When Jesus went to Bethany, to the home of his friends, he arrived after Lazarus died. When he went to the tomb, they warned him: they knew what to expect, a stink. But he called, “Come out!” Out Lazarus came, tottering, still wrapped and banded for the tomb.

What did Mary expect, coming to the tomb, early in the morning, while it was still dark, on that first day of the week?

Thursday at supper they had expected that in the morning Jesus would show himself at last, had they not? For the festival was at hand, Passover, when the true king of God’s people, their redeemer, their liberator, their savior, could show himself. The people would be vindicated, when the Anointed One was revealed.

Friday morning those hopes, those expectations, had been crushed in bitter humiliation. He was crucified. Then all became dark and grim and silent. They expected – the end of the world.

Now, on the first day of the week, what could she expect? What was left but to mourn?

And yet – Jesus overturns all expectations. There is no smell – no roses, no corruption – and the grave clothes are neatly folded, their use forgotten. There is no body lying there.

Something beyond expectation has come to be.

All relationships are altered by his reality; everything is changed by his presence.

Mary! He calls. The good shepherd knows his sheep, and they know his voice.

Rabbouni! She replies. Master!

Their relationship is changing, even as they speak. For the mission of Jesus on the earth is over, completed – God has been glorified in him – and the glorified Christ now must go to his Father.

Not to his father only: he goes to ‘my Father and your Father, my God and your God’.

All relationships have changed. We are now one in Christ, and in Christ one body.

As Jesus prayed, so it has come to be: as he and the Father are one, so are his disciples one, with him, and with each other. So he says ‘my Father and your Father’.

He greets Mary as sister – and he greets her as messenger: Go! Bear the glad tidings.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

Christ’s messengers go forth and begin to make disciples of all nations.

Peter preaches to the household of Cornelius, a Roman officer. He brings the good news to these Gentiles. There is one God for all, one gospel for all, and peace with God for all, through faith in Christ.

Fear God and do what is right, he tells the gathering. All are justified before God by grace through faith. Jesus is Lord. Reconciliation and restoration to right relationship with the ruler of the universe can now be possible.

Every one who puts their trust in Christ receives this reconciliation, peace with God, forgiveness of sins, and rightness before God, the maker of all, and his son Jesus, the one Lord and judge of all.

Christ’s death and resurrection we celebrate - as those who ate and drank with him in the sacred meal, the witnesses to his resurrection.

We receive light and life, and communion with God, in Christ.

Paul passes on to the Christians at Corinth the good news which he has received: Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, and was buried; Christ was raised, on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, and he has appeared to one and to many: to Cephas, to the Twelve, to more than 500; to James, to the Apostles, and to himself.

Christ has died for our sins. Christ has risen from the dead. Christ will come again.

And in him our lives are made whole and right. We receive from him light and life.

This is the good news, the gospel, ‘which is NOW bringing YOU salvation.’

This is the good news, and we bear the glad tidings to the world.

Alleluia! Christ is risen - and everything has changed.

Acts 10: 34-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
John 20: 1-18


Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Christ has to be risen for each one of us. For the belief that Christ rose on the third day is based more on encountering Christ in experience than the discovery of the empty tomb. We have to be prepared for an encounter with the risen Lord. He will then lead us in the triumph of the resurrection wherever we are. And every day will become a celebration of his feat of victory. We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song.—John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

It has been a long road from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday; the work is accomplished. Jesus from the Cross has himself said the words: “It is accomplished.” God’s gift of himself in the Person of His Son, the Beloved, his life and his death brought forth for our salvation, is completed in the one perfect offering of himself, in the integrity of his being, on the Cross.

But that is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning, of the one great story (as C. S. Lewis called it). That is the story of the glory of God and of God’s people becoming one in Christ.

And the new chapter of the story, the unexpected chapter, comes when the Sabbath is over, on the first day of the week.

It is just after sunrise. The streets are quiet. Nothing stirs. Then a knock on a door and a silent figure slips out to join another, and another joins them. They make their way out of town to the tombs, bringing with them the aromatic oils and spices for the anointing of the dead. They arrive at the tomb of the Beloved. One last duty.

“What are you doing here?” a strange question, from a strange figure, arrests them. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? See! He is not here – he has risen! And he goes before you into Galilee. Go! And tell the others.”

It takes awhile for the news to gather them, but the disciples, the followers of Jesus, find their way again to an upper room, this time to await – what? The knock on the door? The soldiers come to take them away? But one appears among them, greeting them, “Shalom! Peace – the peace of God – be with you!”

And soon they were joined by a crowd, and spoke to them in the languages the people would understand, of the good news, the wonderful deeds, of the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior, come to bring the peace of God to the whole world. The song of praise began.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.’
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’.
(Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16)

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

* * * * *

Inspirations from Dr John Sentamu (Archbishop of York), C. S. Lewis ("The Last Battle"), Rev Paul Pfotenhauer, Dr Hugh Stevenson, and G. W. F. Handel.


eucharistic ministry

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)

Serving in the liturgy (Gk., leitourgia, ‘the work of the people’) can involve something that looks simple – but has deep meaning. Once while hitchhiking home from a community college class, I had an encounter that stayed in my mind. A fellow student picked me up, an older guy from my class. He said he used to be a nuclear warhead mechanic – but retired. “It’s time for somebody else to play god.”

At the holy Table, we work with elements much more powerful: the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, in the gifts of bread and wine at the Eucharist. We, who serve at the altar, clergy, acolytes, and Eucharistic ministers, take in our hands the offerings of the people, as they are transformed by the Spirit of God into the presence of the Lord. We offer them: “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven; the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

What we have in our hands is Life itself. As we take part in the thanksgiving, we bring into the present the great event of Christ – his life, his death, resurrection, and ascension, and we proclaim that self-offering, until his coming again.

In ourselves we are not worthy; it is in the very sacrament we take in, that we are made worthy. What we are doing at the altar is holy. It is the transformation of bread and wine, and of ourselves, into offerings giving glory to God – and transforming the world.

Take Jesus in – and live. Take Jesus in – and have grace enough to share in abundance. Take Jesus in – and proclaim the good news.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)