Peace be with you.
It’s not always easy to believe. Last Saturday evening’s Easter Vigil gospel (that precedes today’s reading from John) had Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb early in the morning, and finding the stone rolled away, running and telling Peter and the disciple Jesus loved. They ran to see for themselves and found it as she told them. They went in and saw the linens lying there and rolled up neatly. It says the disciple Jesus loved saw and believed. But then they went back to their homes. Because, John says, they didn’t or couldn’t understand. It’s not easy to believe.
It was Mary Magdalene who went back, who stood and cried outside the tomb, and looking in saw two angels sitting where Jesus’s body was to be. And all they said to her was, “Why are you crying?” Mary tells them someone has taken the body of Jesus and she doesn’t know where to look for him. Turning around, Mary sees Jesus standing in front of her. But she doesn’t know it’s Jesus. Who would, who could recognize a dead loved one standing in front of you? And then Jesus asks Mary the same question as the angels, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” And Mary believing this must be the gardener asks if he’s taken the body of Jesus somewhere and to please tell her where and she will take him away. Then Jesus calls her by name, “Mary!” And she answers “Teacher!” And Jesus tells her what to tell the others. And she announces to them, “I have seen the Lord.” and everything Jesus told her.
It’s not easy, but Mary believes.
I wish we had asked Angela to read this Easter Vigil gospel for us to hear this morning, instead of my summarizing it. She had spoken it at the Vigil, with the musicians, on guitar, piano and accordion, playing quietly under the words. Angela didn’t so much read as tell the resurrection story for us, and it was beautiful. I and many others cried with Mary. It think it was the most powerful telling of the resurrection story I have ever experienced. And all of us joined in singing Alleluia! following the story. And I, and I am sure others, believed!
How’s believing going for you? Is it easy or not so easy to believe? As we hear, that very evening, the disciples are behind locked doors out of fear. It’s not easy to believe.
But Jesus appears among them and says, “Peace be with you,” and shows them his wounds, and they rejoice in seeing Jesus. And Jesus says again, “Peace be with you,” and then breathes on them the Holy Spirit of resurrected life and tells them they are sent by God as he is, and have the power to forgive sin, and the power to hold on to sin.
It isn’t easy, but they believe.
But as we know Thomas wasn’t there. We are not told why. Did Thomas decide he couldn’t sit around in fear? Did he try to go back, to do what they had seen Jesus do, meeting, feeding, healing, praying for, outcast, hungry, suffering people, willing to die trying, as he told Jesus he would?
What we do know is, it’s not easy for Thomas to believe. He says he needs to see and touch a living Jesus’ wounds to believe. A comment I read this week pondered if Thomas represents any and all of us who are absent and miss out, recognizing the struggle to believe. But seeking, longing to see and touch and believe. It’s like the question Jesus’s asks potential followers at the beginning of the Gospel, “What are you looking for?” It’s like the question Jesus asks Mary at the tomb, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” There’s an honouring of those who are looking for something to believe. It’s true of each of us. But isn’t it especially true for those who are not insiders, those who’ve missed out like Thomas, or are left out, pushed out, because of difference or poverty or lack of opportunity? Jesus’ question honours those who are looking for something, someone to believe. How true is that in our time?
Joseph Campbell, twentieth century professor of literature and in comparative mythology and religion, once said in an interview, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive… of the rapture of being alive.” Campbell could be describing Thomas, who will take nothing less than the experience of Jesus not dead, but alive. Was is it so that he too could experience being not dead, but the rapture of being alive again with Jesus?
Campbell could be describing anyone and all of us who are seeking, in the midst of doubt and real fears and death: personal, particular to ourselves or those we love, or local, global, political, social, environmental, racial, queer, cultural, religious… doubts and fears and death, seeking to experience, for ourselves and others, being alive again! For us as followers of Jesus, to see, touch, to experience Jesus being alive again, and the rapture of our being alive again with the risen Jesus.
And so how great and gracious is the opportunity given to Thomas, and any of you who have come seeking, showing up to see and touch and maybe, hopefully, believe; that a week later, on the first day of the week, as we gather again, Jesus comes and stands with us, and invites Thomas and all those seeking and all of us, to see and touch Jesus, alive! and believe.
“My Lord and My God!” Thomas answers, in as clear an expression of belief as there could be. Can we join Thomas in that belief, in that life in Jesus, your and my Lord and God, in the rapture of being alive again in the risen Christ?
Showing up may be enough. Diana Butler Bass in her book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, speaks of the process of coming to believe as belonging, behaving, then believing. She writes, “We belong to God and to one another, connected to all in a web of relationships… We behave in imitation of Jesus, practicing our faith with deliberation… We believe with our entire being, trusting… the God whom we have encountered through one another and in the world. We are; we act; we know.”
And so seeking, today, and all our lives, Jesus meets us, saying, “Peace be with you,” and breathes on us the Holy Spirit of risen life, that we may come to believe, and say, “My Lord and my God!”
In a beautiful book, When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, a memoir of a brilliant neurosurgeon, neuroscientist, just beginning a promising career, confronted at age 37 with the diagnosis of stage four lung cancer, struggling with questions of “what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life,” sharing that journey with his spouse and new born child, family and colleagues, and everyone through his book; his spouse shares an intimate reflection on life together:
She writes about their being in bed and holding each other in the midst of his illness and laying her head on his chest, but then asking, “Can you breathe okay with my head on your chest like this?” He answered, “It is the only way I know how to breathe.”
To live seeking to know the rapture of being alive, to be, to act, to know together with all others, is to experience the presence of Jesus alive! in and with everyone and everything, breathing the Holy Spirit of new life upon us and all creation. It is the only way we know how to breathe, to live, to know the rapture of being alive again in the risen Christ Jesus, now and forever. In all our relations, let it be so. Peace be with you. Amen.