Editorial note: I’m working on correcting spacing issues. Thank you for your patience in the meantime.
A few months ago,
I was talking with a guy who grew up in a small town during the Great Depression.
His family ran a small grocery store.
He remembered that times were tough—
–running the store as an enormous challenge.
Inventory was difficult.
Often they would sell out of important staples and have no resupply for weeks.
Other times, they would get stuck with a product—
–let say cans of beets—that just wouldn’t sell.
What would they do then?
“The best thing” he said, “was to put the cases of beets
right by the front door,
and slap a sign on them that said:
‘LIMIT–TWO PER CUSTOMER.’
And they’d all be sold in a few hours…”
I think we tend to approach this text about Thomas
in the same way we view the market manipulation
that makes beets sell.
A presumed world of scarcity makes you buy beets
when you really don’t want to buy beets,
but you’d better buy them
because the sign says there’s a LIMIT.
And, if there’s a LIMIT—there might not be enough.
And, if there’s NOT ENOUGH – you may miss out!
A presumed world of SCARCITY is a world
where Jesus shows up ONCE…and you win!
But if you were missing—then you LOSE!
Too bad for you, Thomas!
After all, blessed are those who believe and have NOT seen!
The world where we spend most of our time is a world of SCARCITY.
It’s a world where we can’t imagine second chances,
free gifts of…anything…
…Despite the flowers, real, not plastic,
despite the triumphal music last Sunday–
it’s just NOT a world where it can be Easter all the time. Right?
The world of SCARCITY we know so well…
…is the world where, despite last week,
it is STILL more like Good Friday.
Besides, belief is hard.
On a morning where we welcome our some new members
where we celebrate the sacrament of Baptism…
God’s gift of welcome, unmerited, overflowing, wildly abundant welcome
let’s say what we all know,
and what they already suspect:
In a world like ours, belief…can be hard.
The disciples, mostly huddled in fear in the days following Easter,
they would AGREE: FAITH is NOT easy.
In a portion of his poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter, John Updike says:
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages . . .
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty . . .
Let us walk through the door.[i]
…But to take Easter as EASTER—
–To treat it NOT as metaphor or monster, takes vision and courage—
–in a world that has settled well into the more benign realities of Good Friday.
It’s hard for any of us—disciples, members, seekers, inquisitors, all of us—
–“to walk through that door.” The door of life.
Thomas, throughout history,
has gotten the bad rap of being the one who “DOUBTED.”
But notice, in the text,
ALL the disciples need more or less exactly the same thing.
They all needed to confirm the reality of the Risen Christ.
That first visit, Jesus also shows his hands, his side.
The only difference is that Thomas wasn’t there
the FIRST time Jesus came to show them that he had Risen.
The text suggests a crisis of timing, NOT of “belief.”
We’ll miss something if we get hung up on Thomas’ doubt…
Notwithstanding the strong message that Mary Magdalene
announced to the disciples earlier in the day,
the curtain rises on the scene of this passage
with the disciples (all of them, save Thomas)
FEARFULLY meeting behind locked doors.
John shifts the focus from the empty tomb…
…TO the resurrected Jesus
appearing to these frightened disciples
where he says to them: “peace be with you.”[ii]
Now, Jesus spent a lifetime of ministry
teaching his followers NOT to be afraid.
He implores them time and again not to WORRY, not to mind for tomorrow.
YET, even after Easter,
our Good Friday eyes,
our Good Friday way of living remains…AFRAID and FULL of WORRY.
Which makes me wonder if those disciples—
–Thomas AND the rest of them—
–remembered any of Jesus’ teaching, that week after Easter.
In that time of fear, could they remember the Sermon on the Mount?
Could they bring back to mind Jesus’ words:
“Therefore, I tell you, do NOT worry about your life…
…do NOT worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will take care of itself…”
Those are EASTER words,
so out of place in a Good Friday world!
Harvard preacher and professor Peter Gomes, who died a few years ago,
once told a story of the time that he gave the commencement address
at a very posh girls’ school in Manhattan.
“Many of the brightest and best of the girls went…to elite colleges,” Gomes writes.
“They were able, aggressive, and entitled young women
on the threshold of conquering the world,
and I rejoiced in their achievement.”
So Gomes chose this text from Matthew as his text for that day:
“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
He thought it very appropriate
for this group of over-achievers,
to have them hear Jesus’ words:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”
And many of the graduates appreciated what he said.
But Gomes recalled that NOT ALL in the audience were pleased that day.
The father of one of the graduating girls came up to Gomes at the reception,
and told him that his remarks were a bunch of nonsense.
Gomes replied that he didn’t say it, Jesus said it.
“It’s still nonsense,” the father went on.
“It was anxiety that got my daughter into this school,
it was anxiety that kept her here,
it was anxiety that got her into Yale,
it will be anxiety that will keep her there,
and it will be anxiety that will get her a good job.
You are selling nonsense.” [iii]
A world of scarcity thrives on labeling Easter as NONSENSE.
The world of Good Friday NEEDS for God’s care to be unreliable.
Good Friday’s world needs us to fret at whether we
will end up at the wrong place at the wrong time
–and MISS the Easter HOPE
that the Risen Christ brings.
If it is Good Friday – then WORRY about everything.
If it is still a Good Friday world – then Thomas doesn’t have a chance.
If it is still Good Friday—these folks in our new Member Class,
not to mention all the rest of us…
might as well give up before we start—
–ALL we have to look forward to
is a world of striving and struggle,
with LOTS of worry about tomorrow…
But here’t the thing: John’s Gospel, through Thomas,
is telling us that the Good Friday world
is most CERTAINLY FINISHED!
One of the most prolific theologians of the last century was Karl Barth.
But about Easter, Barth wrote concisely:
“The context of the Easter event was NOT
that the disciples found the tomb empty . . .
but that, when they had lost him through death
THEY were sought and found by him
as the Resurrected [one]. . . .
…Christians do NOT believe in the empty tomb, but in the risen Christ”[iv]
What does that mean?
Well, Thomas wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared
to those fearful disciples in the locked room. Right?
They got to see Jesus.
They got to witness Jesus’ wounds.
They got to experience the Risen Christ.
Thomas missed it…
…but Thomas need NOT WORRY about tomorrow…
…because Jesus came again
and that time, Thomas was there…
…and HIS affirmation of faith was the boldest in scripture:
“My Lord and My God!”
But what if Thomas had still been missing
when Jesus appeared that second time?
Then, EASTER tells us,
Jesus would have appeared to them again.
–with anything Thomas needed, until he could believe.
…With anything WE need…until WE can come to believe…
…With anything WE need so we can have life, real life, in abundance!
Or, to put it another way,
I read this commentary this week:
“Jesus did NOT come to be a competitor for space in the world.
Rather, in his life, death, and resurrection
the human map is being redrawn
the world turned upside down,
and the whole world of rivalry and defense and fear
Or maybe you’ve read Shakespear’s King Lear,
where old Lear has gone mad out on the heath…
…and his daughter Cordelia—
–who he has COMPLETELY wronged—comes to him.
Lear thinks she will come with vengeance
(what else does a Good Friday world know?)
but she comes in full grace, and full of love.
And Lear, who has been completely crazy for this part of the play,
responds by saying: Am I in France?
And everyone responds by telling him
NO, he is in his own kingdom.
But, in fact, by that loving act of his daughter,
he’s in a whole new world.
He’s NOT in France—he’s in EASTER…[vi]
Easter means – whatever you need in your life,
whatever you need in your faith—
–DON’T worry about any of it—
–because God will provide it.
Jesus will keep on showing up
–EVEN in the hardest places of your life—
–until you finally can experience God’s Easter world.
Wherever you are—God will be there.
Wherever you are in need—the Risen Christ will bring Easter THERE!
Tony Campolo is a professor of sociology and a preacher who,
although he’s white,
belongs to an African-American church in Philadelphia.
In fact, Campolo is in the occasional preaching rotation at his church.
And he says that it’s the most fabulous thing to preach with responses,
people shouting, “Amen, Amen…”
or “Keep going, keep going…”
One Good Friday, there were seven preachers preaching back to back to back.
Campolo was second to last.
In describing the occasion, Campolo…
…well, he parked his modesty at the door.
“I was good!” he says.
“The more I preached, the more…that congregation got turned on,
and the more they turned on, the better I got.”
He said he had his “A” game with him that afternoon.
He even says he got so good, he wanted to take notes on himself!
Well, the congregation thought so too,
there were hallelujahs throughout the room,
and when Campolo was done,
he sat down next to the senior pastor,
who was to preach the final sermon of the day.
The pastor reached down and squeezed Campolo’s hand: “You did all right!”
And in another fit of braggadocio,
Campolo responded, “Pastor, are you going to be able to top that?”
The old man smiled. “Son, you just sit back,
‘cause this old man is going to do you in.”
And Campolo says that the old man did Campolo in with just five words:
“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!”
He started real soft:
“It was Friday; it was Friday
and my Jesus was dead on the tree.
But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!”
“It was Friday and Mary was cryin’…the disciples were runnin’…
But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!”
“It was Friday.
The cynics were lookin’ at the world and sayin’
‘As things have been so they shall be…’
But those cynics didn’t know…
That was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!”
“It was Friday!
And those forces that oppress the poor
and make the poor suffer were in control.
But that was Friday! And Sunday’s comin’!”
“It was Friday!
On Friday, Pilate thought he’d washed his hands of trouble.
On Friday, the Pharisees were struttin’ around,
thought they were back in charge…
…but they didn’t know:
That was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!”
He worked those five words for 20 minutes,
a whole hour—over and over…
Finally, he reached his crescendo:
all the evil in the world that causes such pain,
all the suffering that God’s people have endured,
all the sin that the world has ever known—
all the SCARCITY we think we know so well–
And in one motion, all five hundred people in the pews
yelled back with one loud voice, “But Sunday’s comin’!”[vii]
What John wants to say to Thomas…is DON’T worry—
it may be Friday for you, but Sunday is coming.
The Risen Christ will be EVERYTHING for you.
Because Easter is REAL.
–Easter is REAL.
And the Risen Christ will be present with you
each and every moment
you need HOPE,
What John, through Thomas, is trying to say to ALL of us is:
It may be Friday…but Sunday is coming!
In this room right now,
there are people who have been in pain
for a long, LONG time…for you, it’s Friday.
In this room, there are people who are scared—
scared for a loved one,
scared for your future,
and you don’t know where to turn.
For you, it’s Friday.
In this room, there are folks caught by temptations you can’t control,
demons you didn’t know you had,
fear that makes your life feel like a prison…
…for you, it’s Friday.
But the Gospel truth,
the EASTER truth is:
It may feel like Friday…but Sunday’s comin’!
I said, it may sound like Friday…but Sunday’s comin’!
I said, it may look like Friday,
it may hurt like Friday,
it may actually BE Friday in your life right now…
But Thomas can tell you—
The Risen Christ will be EVERYTHING for you!
Jesus Christ is Risen today!
[i] John Updike, “Seven Stanzas At Easter”, Collected Poems: 1953–1993
[ii] Cameron Murchison, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Lent/Eastertide, edited by Barbara Brown Taylor and David Bartlett
[iii] Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, 1996
[iv] William Placher, Mark: A Theological Commentary, p. 246
[v] Cited by Roger Gench in Feasting on the Word, op cit
[vi] Suggested by Working Preacher podcast, April 25, 2011
[vii] Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story, 2000.