Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Doubting Disciples Sunday (BTW, that's us.)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our crucified and risen Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

I still remember the April fool’s joke I played on my poor Mom one year, while I was on internship in Minnesota. I called her up and left her a message that one of my cats had surprised us all by having a litter of adorable calico kittens, that looked just like her. And my mom totally bought it.
"Not funny, 'Mom'."

And that isn’t even the funniest part. My Mom had completely forgotten that I had called her about taking Patches to the vet… to be fixed… earlier that week. I told her all about how funny the cat looked after being shaved, and about how I had to watch her for a few hours after while she was still a bit loopy from the anesthetic. All just the week before. How soon my Mom forgot!

But, to be fair, she hasn’t forgotten that story since then. When I asked her permission to share it, my mom told me she still has the voicemail I left her about it. This was back in 2010.

I can’t rub it in TOO much, because we’ve all been there, though, including me. How soon we can all forget what we have just seen and heard.

It is one week after Easter. It’s only been one week since we heard the account from Luke of the women finding an empty tomb where they expected to find the body of Jesus. It’s only been one week since we stood around in the memorial garden, rubbing our hands together in the early light of dawn, busting out the first “He is risens” and “alleluias.” It’s only been one week since the kids waved the Alleluia sheets in this place newly adorned in white and lilies, while Mike cranked the Easter hymns on organ up to 11. That was only one week ago, people. But how soon we forget what we’ve seen and heard.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like it’s been an entire month since Easter. Probably because after Easter, I still had to go grocery shopping, pay the rent, figure out life, and deal with a world that seems to get scarier by the day.

But the world out there is perhaps is not as scary as we might think it is. Trying to figure out what to do with this whole resurrection thing – now THAT is actually a whole lot scarier. Because that means I actually have to leave the tomb. And I for one kind of like it here. It’s darkness is familiar to me, and I don’t really like change. And I’m SURE I’m the only one here that applies to. In some ways, Lent may feel more natural to us, or at least closer to our real-life experiences – wandering around in the wilderness, waiting in the in-between, longing for a life that has been promised, but perhaps hasn’t yet arrived.

But what has been promised to us HAS ALREADY COME. One week ago. Lent is OVER, and Easter is HERE. All seven weeks of it. That’s right folks. We have six more weeks of the Easter season left to go, six more weeks until the Holy Spirit arrives at Pentecost, six more weeks to figure out what in the world does it mean for us to be called out of our tombs by our resurrected Lord who bears the scars of death on his body. And THAT, my friends, scares me to death.

But perhaps if I had actually been there. Perhaps if I had actually seen what had happened, this resurrection business might be a little easier to wrap my head around. Don’t you think that might be true for you as well?

It seems that it might have been the case for Thomas. Poor, poor, Thomas, forever to be saddled with the nickname “doubting.” He gets such a bad reputation. We can’t really blame him for his reaction to the other 10 disciples. If I were him, I might think that the rest of them were playing some cruel version of an April Fool’s joke concocted while I was out.

But I want to make the case that Thomas is not actually the most egregious doubter in this resurrection account. The true doubters are the other 10 disciples.

Earlier that day, according to the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb of Jesus, only to find the stone rolled away. And later, after Peter and the other disciple had corroborated her story and went home, Mary encountered the risen Jesus while she was still weeping outside the tomb. Their Lord was alive! He had risen from the dead! And what do you think happened next? Did they start running around, telling people the good news? NOPE. On Easter evening, they locked themselves in a room. How soon they had forgotten what they had seen and heard.

And so that is where Jesus found them, when they were all together, except for Thomas, locked in a room out of fear. That is where Jesus found them, when he burst INTO their locked room, just has he had burst OUT of the tomb.

But that in itself does not make them into doubters “worse” than Thomas.  It is instead what they do next. After other ten disciples saw Jesus for themselves, a week later - one week after Easter – where did Jesus find them? Take a look in verse 26. Again they were in the house. And again THE DOORS WHERE SHUT. Yet again, they were sealed up in their old familiar tombs out of fear. And so Jesus had to bust in YET AGAIN.

How soon they had forgotten what they had seen and heard… only one week before.
So really, this day would more accurately be called “Doubting Disciples” Sunday. And the accusing finger is also pointed right at us. Because really, WE would be right there along with them, barring the door and bolting the locks, just one week after Easter.

Not just to keep the scary world OUT. But perhaps to keep Jesus out as well.

Because our locked rooms and our dark tombs are comfortable and familiar. Resurrection and new life means that change is a-comin’, which is super scary.

But we have seen and heard what Jesus does with sealed tombs and locked doors. We have seen and heard what Jesus does with the bonds of sin, with the sting of death, and the captivity of the grave. So let’s not forget so soon what we have seen and heard.

The Good News of Easter, which is just as true today as it was a week ago, is that Jesus has busted open the stone of your tomb like it as if it were nothing; he has ploughed through the doors of your locked rooms as if they were butter. He stands in the doorway, reaching out to take your hand, showing you the marks of the crucifixion that still remain his body. And he calls you, as he did to Lazarus, while standing outside of that dead man’s tomb, calling to him, “Lazarus, come out!”

And Lazarus came out of his tomb.

Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” and then calls us forth like Lazarus. Come out of the tomb. Come out of the locked room. Now, it’s time to leave.

It’s time to leave, because we do not belong in dark tombs and locked rooms. It’s time to leave, because we are being drawn out to the new life that is not IN HERE, but OUT THERE. It’s time to leave, because the one who calls us out has also been marked by the scars of death, as we all have in our various ways.

Fortunately Peter, our favorite open-mouth-insert-foot disciple, and the rest of the apostles DO eventually get out of the locked room. In Acts, Peter testifies before the high priest about Jesus, saying “We are witnesses to these things.” Because it was time to leave the locked room. It was time to get out, and be sent out.

As God has sent Jesus, so Jesus sent Peter, Thomas, Mary, the other women, and the rest of the apostles to live in light of the resurrection, to leave the locked room, and to remember what they had seen and heard. And as God sent Jesus, so Jesus sends all of US to do the same. To share what WE’VE seen and heard. To, in the words of Farmer-Poet Wendell Barry, to “practice resurrection.” To be like Jesus and call others out from THEIR dark tombs and locked rooms.

Walking through walls optional.