Resurrection? A Sermon for Easter 2A

In these bright days after Easter, we have had time to think about what we proclaimed with such joy last Sunday:  Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed!  The strife is o’er, the battle won!  God has acted, death is vanquished! The Lord is risen, indeed! 
That’s a pretty wild claim, isn’t it? 
Thinking back on Easters past, I remember when I was a little girl, my mother always made me a special Easter outfit.  I remember the way my patent leather shoes squeaked when I rubbed them together and the itchy crinoline petticoats; I remember fingering the pearly button on my little white gloves and trying to stretch the tight elastic strap that kept my Easter bonnet on my head.  I remember the egg hunts in the sunshine and the fuzzy cheeping baby chicks and Easter baskets filled with sweet jelly beans and a soon to be sticky chocolate bunny.  I remember singing Jesus Christ is Risen Today.  The Easters of my childhood were full of sensory experiences - sounds, smells and touches.
What I don’t remember is anybody offering any explanations for all of this.  No explanation of what chocolate bunnies and chicks and jelly beans had to do with Jesus coming out of the tomb.  No suggestions of what do to if you don’t understand how Jesus rose from the dead, no offering of conversation about what resurrection means to us now.  As I grew older, I found that I had a lot more questions than I ever got answers for about how or why the Lord is Risen indeed.
Perhaps you’ve had this experience yourself.  And if you have, don’t you wish Jesus would show up at your house one day and invite you to touch his wounds the way he did with Thomas?  Don’t you wish Jesus would arrive on your doorstep to explain to you personally, finally, how this all works?  Because in these bright days after Easter, it is difficult to get our heads around such an idea as resurrection.  
We haven’t had the kind of encounter with Jesus that Thomas, and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus, and Mary and Martha of Bethany, and the beloved disciple and Peter and all the rest had with Jesus - we haven’t had that.  And we’re not going to - Jesus even says so at the end of the reading.  And so, even more than Thomas, we may have trouble understanding and believing ourselves.  
What we do understand is that when we look around the world this week, we still see destruction and devastation.  We barely have time to register one disaster before another comes along - earthquakes and volcanoes, tsunamis, the threat of nuclear meltdown and now wildfires and wave after wave of tornadoes - while in the background guns and planes and bombs keep the drumbeat going, announcing war and war and more war.  We know that coffins and graves and orphans are what come out of those wars.  We know that children are still dying from water-borne diseases, that people are still suffering from lack of work, lack of medical care, lack of food and shelter, lack of love.  We know that people are receiving scary diagnoses and suffering from abuse and mental illness that isolates them from their friends and families.  
As much as we may deplore these things, we believe in them.  Many of us or those we love have been touched by them and we can understand hiding behind locked doors in the face of a frightening and violent world.
We believe in those things, and we also can see with our own eyes that they have not been transformed by the resurrection.  And so, like Thomas, we want to touch something ourselves - in this world - so that we, too, may believe. 
This is where the other part of today’s Gospel story comes in:  Remember that, before we got to Thomas, Jesus commissioned the gathered faithful, his followers.  He said, “As the father has sent me, so now I send you,” and breathed on them, just as God breathed life into Adam, just as God breathed life into the dry bones of Ezekiel’s valley.  The gift of the Spirit that Jesus bestows in this scene is the gift of power that inspires - breathes into - new life, not only for those gathered there but us gathered here who participate in this story thanks to both the witness of the Gospel itself and the witness of faithful people ever since.  
This gift, this commission, is the consequence of the resurrection, it’s the aftermath of the resurrection, and for us it powers the part we need to get on with.  
We can’t touch Jesus but we can touch others.  Our faith is not expressed by correctly believing a doctrine; ours is an incarnational faith.  It needs to have skin on it, eyes and voices and hands and feet.  Our faith needs expression through touch and smile and relationship, through food and water and clothing and the offer of sanctuary.  Stuff you can see and feel and smell and hear.  Jesus lived out his ministry on earth and then commissioned his disciples, and through the Gospel commissions us, to continue that ministry after him, tangibly.  
And so we can let go of our need for cognitive mastery of the mystery of the resurrection and turn to the part about abundant life.  Remember how Jesus told Martha when he came to raise Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Remember how Jesus told his disciples, “I came so that you all might have life and have it abundantly.”  This wasn’t just for the people in first century Palestine, for those who actually touched Jesus in person.  He was talking about life for all of God’s people, then, now, there, here.  Abundant life freed from fear and shot through with all sorts of hope.  
All throughout this Gospel Jesus has shown us what abundant life is like.  It’s like wine overflowing at a wedding; it’s like baskets and baskets of life-giving bread, and nets so full of fish that they can hardly be hauled out of the sea.  It’s like breakfast on the beach after a long night of nothing; it’s like a well of living water to an abandoned woman; it’s like the restoration of sight to a blind man; it’s like giving back life to a dead man.  
There is so much life that God wants us to have.  This is what Jesus has been trying to show us through his life on earth.  And now, because Jesus is on earth no more, it’s up to us, and our children, and their children after that, to proclaim that abundance and to touch others and allow them to touch us in such a way that they and we all might experience abundant life, even in the midst of a world full of devastation and misery.  Resurrection is what comes out of devastation because of love.
The New Zealand Prayer Book has a beautiful prayer for us to pray today and any day we find ourselves asking again, what am I supposed to think and do about/because of the resurrection:  It goes like this:
Living God, for whom no door is closed, no heart is locked, draw us beyond our doubts, till we see your Christ and touch his wounds where they bleed in others.
To touch his wounds where they bleed in others.  
In the last few weeks, tornadoes have ripped through several southern states, destroying schools, churches, stores, and homes. Many homes.  
On Saturday, a report came in from Bishop Benfield of the Diocese of Arkansas about what’s going on in his area in the aftermath of this destruction: He said, "An Arkansas Episcopalian whose house was destroyed ... by a tornado ... said that among the first people he saw were Church of Christ volunteers passing out boxes containing supplies that families would need in the first 24 hours after losing a home. As clean up from the storms began, three congregations in downtown Little Rock - Second Baptist Church, First Methodist Church, and Christ Episcopal Church - organized volunteers to assist in debris removal.  Another church is taking in the pets of people who have no place for them now that their owners are living in emergency shelters...."
These people in Arkansas are touching Christ’s wounds where they bleed in others.
In the virtual world, the blogger Rachel Held Evans has created an online Rally to Restore Unity in which people are asked to send in pictures of signs proclaiming love and unity instead of hate and intolerance (such as “we may disagree, but I’m pretty sure you’re not a heretic,” and “God loves Samaritans and Pharisees”) and in the name of Christian unity has asked her readers to donate to the foundation Charity: Water to raise $5,000 to dig a well in one of the many places in the world where, because of the lack of access to clean water, babies still die from water-borne illnesses and women and children walk for hours a day just to get to a muddy water hole they share with the local wildlife.  
The people who respond to Rachel’s challenge are touching Christ’s wounds where they bleed in others.
If you listen to National Public Radio, you may have heard the series of stories last week, from Nashville, Tennessee, about Magdalene House, which was started by an Episcopal priest, Becca Stevens, and is a program for women who have been trapped in lives of addiction and have a history of incarceration for prostitution.  The women who successfully go through the two-year residential program sometimes drive over to the strip in Nashville to offer sanctuary, and sometimes just a cold drink and a bag of chips, to women who are still on the street.  And some of those women, when the get to the brink of some kind of death, will end up knocking on the door and entering the program themselves where they live together with other women just out of jail or off the street to support and share in one another’s recovery.  The women have their own company where they make body lotions and balms under the label Thistle Farms.  Their slogan is “Love Heals.”

The people - volunteers, staff, residents - of Magdalene House are touching Christ’s wounds where they bleed in others.
This is what believing in the resurrection looks like: that we, having been forgiven and freed, are inspired to come out of our cozy and safe rooms to become part of something much larger than ourselves - to become a vessel for God’s love by touching others in the midst of this broken world.  To bring to others the abundant life Jesus came to give us all.  Resurrection is what comes out of devastation because of love.  
In these bright days after Easter, let us live out that wild claim of ours.  Let us make the resurrection something real and tangible: something as soft as baby chicks, as warm as lambswool and duck down; something as fragrant as lilies and jelly beans and lavender body balm; something as bright as Easter bonnets and colored eggs and shiny as patent leather shoes; something we can hear like beautiful music and running water; something that sustains and heals like bread and wine and love.  Let us make the resurrection something real and tangible in the world again.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  The Lord is Risen indeed!
The Rev. Penny A. Nash
St Simon’s Episcopal Church
Easter 2A


Perpetua said…
What a GREAT sermon, Penny! I do wish I could have heard you preach it.
Thank you, Perpetua! I hope I did a good job delivering this sermon; I had the good fortune to preach it in two parishes this week.
June Butler said…
Penny, yours is a lovely sermon. The terrible disasters that have happened recently tend to overwhelm me when I think of them en masse, but as Oscar Romero said. "...we can only do as much as God makes us able to do;..."
Thanks, Mimi! We can only do as much as God makes us able to do, truly. And we do so by just continuing to keep going, one step at a time.