This sermon can be seen online during a video of the worship service at the Suttons Bay Congregational Church on April 11, 2021
A Sermon for the Suttons Bay Congregational Church
by The Rev. James E. Eaton, Pastor © 2021
Second Sunday in Easter/B • April 11,2021
…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…John 20:19
Sounds like they were quarantined, doesn’t it? We’ve spent a lot of time this past year confined by fear of a virus. Last winter, my wife Jacquelyn had COVID-19. I remember how she stayed in our room upstairs; I stayed downstairs. I remember texting between floors, I remember leaving her food outside the closed door and calling out that it was there. Fear makes us hide.
In states where tornadoes are common, homes have shelters and every family knows the drill. It’s stormy and there are dark clouds and you keep an ear out. You listen to the radio or the TV. Sirens go off and someone says, “I guess we should go downstairs”. You huddle in the basement or you go to the tornado shelter and light the storm lights. You listen and you talk nervously, which is what I imagine the disciples were doing. We go to the closed, locked room when we are scared, when things we don’t understand take over our lives. And we sit hoping the walls and the door will keep the dangerous world outside.
Do you know this room? Anne Frank was a young, teenage girl when the Nazi’s started rounding up Jews in her Dutch community. In July of 1942, Anne and her family fled to a place that had been prepared.
Miep took us quickly upstairs and into the “Secret Annexe”. She closed the door behind us and we were alone. Our living room and all the other rooms were chock full of rubbish…Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, p. 19
Anne and her family lived hidden there until September, 1944, when they were arrested and deported. It is believed Anne died in a concentration camp early in 1945. Aleha ha-shalom: peace be unto her.
The disciples are sitting in a familiar place. Only a few days before, they had celebrated Passover there, a noisy, festival where you eat and tell a story and argue and wonder about old miracles. They were there when Jesus added something to the Haggadah, speaking of the bread: “This is my body, broken for you.” I imagine the disciples tried to ignore it; that’s what we do when someone says something uncomfortable at dinner, after all. Now they’ve witnessed the cross, they’ve seen Jesus die, and surely they are hoping no one will come looking for them. So they’re back in the room but this time the doors are locked and I’m sure the conversation is quiet. Some people are missing: Judas and Thomas. There is a strange story about the tomb and Mary claims to have seen the Lord. No one believes her. Better to rely on a good solid locked door.
The disciples are hoping the door will hold up but Jesus passes right through it. Who is Jesus? He’s someone who passes through locked doors, enters locked rooms. American cultural religion makes much of “coming to Jesus” but the gospel suggests what really happens is that Jesus comes to us, even when the door is locked, even when we push him away. Anne Lamott talks about her conversion as a process she fought tooth and nail. She remembers feeling like Jesus was following her for days. She would come home and shut the door, shutting him out. Finally one night, she says she finally said to him, “You might as well come in”
So here he is: Jesus in person. He’s passed through the door and the disciples are staring. He says simply, “Peace to you,” a common greeting but also the blessing for someone who has died. Here he is: the man they thought dead, addressing them as if they were dead. Who is Jesus? Someone who gives peace.
But then he goes on; his peace isn’t an escape, it’s preparation. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you….receive the Holy Spirit.” I imagine everyone there, certainly everyone here, had a lot of questions about what’s happened: “what’s it like to die?” “how did you get past the grave?” But he isn’t answering those questions. He’s answering this question: what now? What he does is a new creation story. When God set out to create a companion creature, God took bits of earth and formed a shape but it was when God breathed life—spirit—that a human was created. In just the same way, Jesus gives these disciples, the first church, the same gift: the breath, the spirit, of the living God. He gives his life not only for them but to them. “As I was sent, you are sent. Who is Jesus? Someone who gives life and purpose.
What now? Go forgive sins: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them”. He’s recreating them and now he’s sending them out to do the same thing in the world. Sins doesn’t mean that list of things we shouldn’t have done, like the fact that I at bacon the other day in defiance of my doctor’s warning about high cholesterol. Sin is that ongoing tendency to substitute our own judgement for God’s way. God’s way is grace and peace; our is rules and winning. But winners and losers divides the family of God. It leaves us with an ongoing burden. “How can you say I’ve never forgiven you,” someone once said, adding, “I remember every time I’ve forgiven you.” What Jesus means is the forgiveness that removes the burden of keeping score. How do you do this? The best way I know is simple. Every time you think of someone with whom you have a grudge, pray for them. If you turn from the scoreboard to God, the burden lightens, forgiveness becomes a natural practice.
Finally we come to the story of Thomas, a week later. Thomas missed the meeting. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus found the disciples. Maybe he was less scared and thought he’d better hide on his own. Maybe he was hungry and had gone out for a snack. He missed meeting Jesus and refuses to believe Jesus is alive; he can’t imagine there is any continuity between whatever vision the disciples had and the terrible, wounded, crucified Jesus he last saw on the cross. He says as much: he will only believe what he can see and touch with his own eyes, his own hands.
Jesus doesn’t argue; Jesus doesn’t quote a creed or preach, he simply shows Thomas his wounds and invites him to touch them. This is finally who Jesus is: someone wounded, just like us, someone who shares his wounds. Richard Rohr is a theologian who said,
Jesus dies for us not in the sense of a substitute but much more in solidarity of all humanity since the beginning of time. The first is merely a heavenly translation of sorts; the second is a transformation of our very soul and the trajectory of history. That’s atonement, that’s the power of realizing our sin, confessing our sin, getting right with God and one another… It is a solidarity with all humanity.Lectionary Lab Live for April 11, 2021
Churches on the whole don’t like Thomas. He makes us uncomfortable. He says things we would never say. “Unless I touch the holes in his hands…”, Thomas says; we’d like to offer some gloves to cover them up. In this moment, as Thomas speaks his doubts, Jesus lets Thomas touch him; he lets Thomas feel his wounds. Jesus doesn’t argue: he just shares his wounds. Who is Jesus here? The one broken for us.
Notice the details of this story. First, Thomas is there; the community doesn’t exclude him, doesn’t disfellowship him, they include him. This is a signature reality of the new community of Jesus: everyone welcome. When Acts depicts this community, it says,
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…There was not a needy person among themActs 4:32-34
Later, one of the first baptisms will be an Ethiopian eunuch who everyone knows has no business being in the church according to the rules but is so important, angels stage the encounter. We like rules, we like doors; Jesus walks right through them every time.
Jesus is one who gives peace, gives life and gives a purpose. The purpose is to lift the burdens of others, to live in solidarity with them, to share our wounds and make it possible for others to share theirs. That’s what he says: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is just a statement of fact; burdens linger and wear us down. Jesus is broken for us so that we will know how to receive others who are broken. Jesus is broken for us so that we will know that peace doesn’t come from better locks or stronger doors, it comes from sharing our wounds and living his life in ours.
It’s ok to be afraid; the disciples were and that’s when Jesus came to them.
It’s ok to come with doubts, Thomas did.
It’s ok to come with wounds; Jesus did.
Wounds and doubts and fear make a place for encountering Jesus.
This is who Jesus is: peace giver, life giver, one whose wounds became a means of new life, who calls us as one broken for us and asks us to share our wounds, share forgiveness and come out of the tomb with him.