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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 4/12/2015

Wouldn’t it be weird if there were more people here today than there were last Sunday? There aren’t; not here or anywhere and that’s just the way it is. For many there is still something in them that tells them that they should be in church on Easter even if they rarely attend otherwise; the old C and E, Christmas and Easter people we joke about. I’m glad they show up though because there is an increasing number of people for whom attending church even on C and E isn’t a priority; for those folks Christmas and Easter have become strictly secular observances.

So attendance is lower today but for those who are here today and in the coming weeks the challenge begins to make Easter more than a one day happy ending to Lent and Holy Week. Easter is and always has been a 50 day, 7 week, 7 Sunday celebration but even for regular church goers including pastors, maybe especially for pastors, there is an inevitable let down, even a sigh of relief after the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday marathon of Holy Week is over. It’s all good, but still…it is exhausting.

But here we are; we’re back. We’ve had a few days to catch our breath and… it’s still Easter! One day is simply not enough to celebrate the good news of Jesus’ resurrection so in church, we persist. In confirmation a couple of weeks ago we were talking about Lent as a time of repentance and reflection and one of the kids said, “So we’re supposed to feel bad during Lent?” I said, “Not exactly, but we are supposed to be honest about ways we fail to be the people God wants us to be.” But, on the other side of Lent is Easter and I think it would be accurate to say that during Easter we’re supposed to feel good!

As we heard last week, “He has been raised! He is not here!” and that changes things. Our Easter challenge is to live the new reality of resurrection throughout the 50 days and beyond confident that despite the messiness of the world that still surrounds us, in and through Jesus God has begun the process of setting things right. There is reason to celebrate and that’s what we do on the seven Sundays of Easter. Actually that’s what we do every Sunday during the year, but during these weeks there is an extra special focus on joy and feeling good; it is a special time.

Of course joy and feeling good was not the primary response attributed to the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the Risen Christ in the biblical accounts. There are hints of joy, but fear seems to have had a much larger place which, when you think about it, is not surprising. If you were a firsthand witness to such things, reports and sightings of someone who was dead and is supposedly alive again, don’t you think you’d be wondering, “What is going on here?” Ultimately it’s good news, but at first there has to be some fear because this is not how the world works. You thought there were some things you could count on, but someone who was dead being alive again throws it all up for grabs. If this is true, you can’t be certain of anything anymore and that’s scary.

Then, after fear, and after some time had passed, don’t you think doubt would begin to creep in? “Raised from the dead?? That doesn’t happen. There must be some other explanation.” That had to be a common response and Thomas of course becomes the poster boy for this but as is always the case with John’s gospel, you have to go beyond the surface of things and ask yourself what point the author is trying to make in portraying Thomas this way.

When you’re dealing with John, first of all you have to remember that it’s not an eyewitness, historical account and it doesn’t pretend to be. Writing some 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus John takes pieces of the remembered tradition, teachings and sayings and stories about Jesus and creatively works with them, crafting his proclamation about Jesus in story form. In some ways he follows the pattern set by Matthew, Mark and Luke, all written much earlier, but he has his own distinctive style and agenda.

Often the stories John tells aren’t exactly linear like we’re used to with a clear beginning and ending, but instead are rather poetic, creating characters and images and inviting the reader to work with them. In doing this John tells his story in ways that make theological points that he thinks the audience needs to hear. Most importantly, with what he writes, John provides his understanding of the significance and meaning of Jesus. What’s amazing is how effective his writing is in addressing us, a very different audience, almost 2000 years later.

With that in mind, John gives us the character of Thomas. Writing many years later, what’s most likely is that John knew of many Thomases, people for whom proclamation about a crucified and risen Messiah just didn’t make sense. But John also knew many other people, people who had not seen but still believed. So this is a story written for believers, written to provide them with reassurance about what John and others proclaimed, reassurance about what they had come to believe about Jesus. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

With his questions, Thomas then becomes a representative character, one who represents all of us at one time or another with our own questions. Thomas is someone with whom we can easily relate and perhaps that’s why this is always the gospel text on the Second Sunday of Easter; either that or it’s because the story takes place “a week later” and here we are, a week later. But I tend to think it is more because Thomas, with his demand for proof, is a character we can relate to.

That raises the question though, what exactly is it about Thomas that we relate to? He will forever be known as “Doubting Thomas,” we can’t do much about that, and perhaps we can relate to him as such because no matter how much we’re told that doubt is OK, that it’s actually part of faith, we still feel like it shows a lack of faith and it’s something to be avoided. No matter how much Thomas’s doubt is defended in Second Sunday of Easter sermons it’s still hard not to feel like we’re not supposed to be like him, we’re supposed to be like those who have not seen yet have come to believe.

Another possibility with Thomas though, is that he was more disappointed than he was doubting. He was disappointed, maybe a little envious that he had missed out on the encounter with the Risen Christ that the others had experienced. Seen from that angle, Thomas then becomes representative of any of us who are sometimes disappointed with our own religious experience.

Sometimes I get a little uncomfortable and a little skeptical when I’m around people who seem so certain about their faith and Jesus’ presence in their life, you probably know the born again types I’m talking about. They can make me uncomfortable but is part of it because I’m disappointed that for the most part that’s not how my faith is? For me, that overwhelming sense of Jesus’ presence can be pretty elusive. If it is disappointment, I get over it, comfortable and confident again that my experience, while different from theirs, is equally authentic with the moments and glimpses I get along the way.

But is that maybe what Thomas is supposed to illustrate for us, that faith isn’t a comparison game but there are different kinds of experiences with the Risen Christ and one is not necessarily better than the other because all make Christ known in some fashion? For some of us though, our faith is not so much an overwhelming “We have seen the Lord” kind of thing but it’s more about hanging in there, being persistent, waiting for, hoping for those glimpses that make it all real.

One of the things I always think about relative to the Thomas story is that a week later, he was still around. Despite his doubt or disappointment or whatever it was, he didn’t give up; he hung in there with the others. In our time that might be the most important point concerning this story. So many people do give up on God, Jesus, the church, because of doubt or questions or disappointment or any number of other reasons. For those who hang in there though, all of those things, doubt, questions and disappointment, they’re all part of the journey, all part of the Easter journey with the Risen Christ. For those who persist, as was the case with Thomas, in his own way, in his own time, Jesus will make himself known.

That’s a good reason to feel good as the Easter celebration continues.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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