Sermon Earth Sunday April 24 2022 John 20:19-29 Rev. Betsy Hogan
Pause a while with me in that Upper Room on the evening of that first day. When the disciples have heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus has appeared to her, risen and alive again. But they're still locked down.
Because they don't believe her. There really isn't any way around that. They simply don't believe her. What she and the other women report to them, they've dismissed it as nonsense, an idle tale, ridiculous – and to be honest?
How we can actually blame them for that? It's one thing to contemplate the notion from the literal and metaphorical distance of two thousand years of Christian thought and Christian experience and our human capacity for locating essential truths in the stories we tell and retell to make meaning in our living –
But it really is quite another to bury a broken body on Friday, and believe two days later that it's not stayed dead. And in fact is risen.
It's less fair for us to condemn the disciples for their unbelief than it is in fact entirely fair for them to dismiss the women's witness to them as nonsense. We might tut at them that it's unattractively unkind, from the pleasantly smug distance of two thousand years of entrenched cultural storytelling, but we'd frankly be wrong.
It does sound like nonsense and it's entirely fair that the disciples need to see Jesus for themselves, in order to believe that it's not.
Which in short order they do – and then they believe. They see Jesus for themselves. They see the wounds in his hands and his side. The evidence has entered the room, as it were: indisputable, concrete, tangible. Unavoidable!
Which may seem like a strange word to use in this context, but pause a while with me in this Upper Room, where the disciples have retreated after following their Beloved, their Teacher, their Leader and Lord in this new Way of Love, who's been tragically executed.
Because they're bereft and they're in mourning and they're at sea and overwhelmed and afraid – but what they AREN'T at first, at least initially, is a group of disciples who have to consider, because it would be nonsense – what it might be like to be the disciples of a Beloved and a Teacher... who didn't stay dead.
Like, for years they've been following someone who was manifestly alive. And certainly it hasn't always been easy – certainly they were forever having to contend with challengers and naysayers and grumbling scribes and Pharisees – but he WAS at least manifestly alive.
So what on earth is it all going to look like to STILL be following him if he hasn't stayed dead? In all their initial grieving they haven't had to consider this.
But now they very much DO have to consider this. Because the evidence has entered the room, as it were. It's unavoidable!
They're now the disciples not just of a Beloved, a Teacher, a Leader and Lord – but the disciples of a Beloved, a Teacher, a Leader and Lord whom everyone knew was very much dead.
And now here he is, in the room, hands and side, and he inescapably ISN'T.
And they don't know what to do with this. A week later, they're still in that Upper Room. And this time, Thomas – who presumably hasn't been terribly helpful to their attempts to figure OUT what to do with this, since he HASN'T as yet experienced this inescapable and unavoidable evidence – this time, Thomas is with them.
And now he can't avoid it either. They're ALL now, the disciples who know. The disciples who've seen. The disciples now required to translate that experience of indisputable, concrete, tangible evidence into a new Way of Love that's reshaped by it.
Because they've had, they've been following, Jesus' Way of Love as it's been. A Way of Love about reaching out with compassion, with caring, with welcome. About binding up the broken hearted and feeding the hungry and seeing the PERSON and not the affliction or addiction or differentness. About resolute kindness and challenging cruelty and choosing forgiveness.
They've been following Jesus' Way of Love as it's been. And now it's still ALL those things, but it's no longer just a better, gentler, more loving way to toodle along through life.
It's now writ large: it's now THE WAY OF LOVE that expresses and embodies Godness so fully that it can't be killed because it can't stay dead. Because it's the fullness of what Creation was made for, what we were made for as a human family, this Way of Love. It's our connection to our Source, to the Spirit of Goodness, to a fullness of life that transcends death.
It's been flooded now with overwhelming existential import. It's not just the same Way of Love they've been following by Jesus' side for all these past years –
The evidence has entered the room, hands and side, inescapably, unavoidably – and now it'll have to be a Way of Love reshaped by that.
The disciples are now going to have to translate that evidence they've seen and believed into living the NEW Way of Love that evidence demands, with all the urgency of its existential import. And oh my, says Jesus to Thomas, when Thomas realizes this. Imagine how hard that's going to be, for those who HAVEN'T seen.
And indeed. And how blessed indeed are all who manage it.
But if Thomas and the rest of the disciples were honest, they might in fact have replied that it's frankly not even that easy for those who HAVE seen.
Because to BELIEVE if they've seen? Oh yes, absolutely. And even Thomas is on board now. But it's been a week. And they're still in that Upper Room. It's been a week. They've seen the evidence. They believe the evidence. But they're still in that Upper Room. They're stuck.
So how much more evidence do they need before they'll finally get out there and start actually LIVING the new Way of Love that evidence demands?
But softly now, and pause a while with me in that Upper Room, while this entirely reasonable question rings out and then fades...
As Jesus turns to us on Earth Day. And says to us quite pointedly "And how much more evidence do YOU need. Before YOU get out there and start actually living the new Way of Love that evidence demands?"
We believe, as people of faith, in an astonishing amount we can't see. We believe in Godness, in a Spirit of Goodness, in an ineffable and transcendant and uplifting Spirit of Life. We look at each other and the world around us and we manage to see more than just random manifestations of the periodic table of elements getting up to chemical mischief.
A crocus can catch our breath, the ocean can give us courage, a smell can transport us back in time: we're masterful as people of faith at believing in truths and realness we can't see. In a somethingness that's a moreness, that encompasses and also transcends all that's merely concrete and tangible and confirmable with our own eyes.
And you know what? Blessed R Us indeed, believing in what we can't see, because it DOES matter in how we live. And we TRY to make it matter in how we live. We TRY to embody its goodness in compassion and care and furious advocacy for justice.
And no, we're not superduper perfect at it, but we do try. Not only because it's better and gentler and a nicer way to live, but because it's what Easter's shown us is what the world was made for – that vision of wholeness and wellness and peace that can't stay dead because God won't let it.
So we do believe in what we can't see. And try to make that matter in how we live. And that IS a blessing and a gift to be grateful for.
But honestly, on Earth Day, Jesus might perhaps be pardoned for gently or not so gently suggesting that it maybe wouldn't do us any harm, on Earth Day, to maybe take a step back or two, into that Upper Room in that first week after the resurrection –
To get firmed up, alongside the disciples, how to make it matter not just what we can't see, but what we CAN. Because honestly, how much more evidence do we need before we'll finally get out there and start living the new Way that evidence demands?
Because yes. The disciples were stuck. They saw and they believed, but they were still stuck. Just as we are. Knowing the new Way is essential and awaits. Knowing it's compelled by our faithfulness and love.
They were stuck, just as we are. Until Thomas in their midst fell down on his knees and said "My Lord and My God, how much more evidence do we need???"
And they opened the door, and went out to start fresh. Go and do likewise, Jesus says to us. It's time. Amen.