Alleluia Christ is Risen!
He is Risen indeed Alleluia!!
While we tend to make a big deal about celebrating the one-day of Easter Sunday, the joy of the season of Easter is that we get to celebrate it for six weeks following Easter Sunday all the way until Pentecost. Every Sunday is a Resurrection Sunday, but for six weeks we focus specifically on the Resurrection, we focus specifically on the stories of Jesus, which speak of the Resurrection, or the stories from the Book of Acts, and the effect of the Resurrection on Jesus’ disciples and the Church that followed from the sharing of their experiences with the Resurrected Jesus.
Six weeks might seem like a long time, but the reality is this is the event that shapes our Christian life, this is the singular event that we as Christians believe shapes the whole course of human history. And so for six weeks we get to grapple with the resurrection, we get to grapple with what this Story means, what is revealed to us about God, and how we begin to live and share the story of the Resurrection in our own lives.
And so as we grapple with the Resurrection we often try to find ways to understand it, we often try to find metaphors to explain the Resurrection. We like to say the Resurrection is like a seed going into the ground – new glorious and beautiful life springs up from the death of the seed. We like to say the Resurrection is like a butterfly – the body of the caterpillar goes into the darkness of the cocoon and emerges in the glory of the butterfly. We like to say that The Resurrection is like the transition from the darkness and death of winter to the brightness and glorious new life of springtime. The problem is that none of these is sufficient to get at the truth of the matter, none of them confronts the reality of the Resurrection for what it is: the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, following his gruesome death on the Cross and after laying in the tomb for two days.
John Updike, famed American poet and novelist once wrote a poem on the occasion of Easter:
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
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 walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.
We cannot merely seek to find metaphors to explain or domesticate the Resurrection: when we do God confronts us not with mere visions of Jesus, not with transformations from one body to another, not with the transition from winter to spring but rather with the defeat of death itself, with the “same hinged toes and fingers, with the same valved heart” that died upon the Cross. This is not a charlatan’s trick, this isn’t God playing smoke and mirrors, we are confronted with the physical rising again of Jesus, body and all. We are ultimately confronted with the fact that Jesus is really God, not just an exemplary human that God wants us to emulate; not just a zealous and powerful prophet favoured by God; but God: the very God that created the universe, the very God that created you and me, the very God that sustains all life in the universe in his very own life.
This is ultimately at stake in our Gospel reading today, it is not just one disciple’s doubt about the Risen Christ, this isn’t merely a story about Thomas’ doubt alone but rather the doubt that all the disciples had – (they did continue to lock themselves in a room, even a week after they had seen Jesus!) – the doubt that we all harbor about whether Jesus was really God, because if he was then the resurrection isn’t an issue, it flows logically that the source of all life would defeat the power of death; it flows logically that neither the chains of sin and decay nor the prison of the tomb could contain the very life of God, the source of life itself. If we believe that Jesus was fully God, was the creator and sustainer of the universe come down to dwell among us, then we shouldn’t need proof of the resurrection, we shouldn’t need to touch the hands and feet that were pierced.
When we look to metaphors and explanations that make the resurrection ‘more palatable’ or more ‘believable’ what we are saying is that we don’t really believe that Jesus was God, we don’t really believe that God would come down to be with us, that God would come and live a human life – a fully human life; that God would die a human death – a fully human death, in all the gruesome and violent glory that our world could muster – a human death with us, by us and for us. Butterflies, flowers and the seasons of the year do not speak to death, they do not speak to raw and abundant power of life itself, they do not speak of sin and decay being overthrown, they do not speak to skin and bone “regathered” and restored to life.
The Resurrection is inseparable from the Incarnation: they are not two distinct pieces of theology, they are eternally entwined as the very life of God: The God who gave up the glory and honour of heaven to come down to live on Earth, the God who gave up his Son to die, to suffer the brutality of sin and death, the God whose abundant life is offered to each of us through Jesus, the God who deigns to share his abundant joy and love with us forever.
In our efforts to domesticate and explain the Resurrection to make it fit our view of Earth we have lost sight of Heaven, we have lost sight of God who shares abundantly of himself and offers us peace, who offers us life, life filled to the brim. Like Thomas we cannot believe until we see and touch; until we can be convinced by things of this world; until we are given good enough arguments or logic for the resurrection, because then it becomes something mundane, something that we can grasp, something we can handle and not something which points to a God who breaks through the tombs which we find ourselves in.
Thomas’ words are our own, we want to touch and see, we want incontrovertible proof; we want answers that we can understand and grasp. And yet… and yet in spite of that Jesus comes in our midst and declares “Peace be with you!” Just as he did with the fearful disciples in the locked room, just as he did when Thomas was gathered with them in his doubt, Jesus comes to us and declares “Peace” to us, declares that all is forgiven, that in spite of our hesitancy, our fear, our doubts, our reluctance to believe, or perhaps even our outright refusal to believe – he comes into our midst, comes to offer us the way of life, to reveal to us again and again the very life of God, the very life which is available to us all.
Thomas and the disciples don’t do anything to earn Jesus’ words of peace – they lock themselves in a room, despite meeting him in flesh and bones – but nonetheless Jesus offers them his peace. Likewise we do not do anything to earn Jesus’ words of peace, and yet they come to us, they come to us here and now. They come to us when we seek to know and hear God in prayer; they come to us as we encounter Him in the words of Scripture; they come to us when we break together at this table; they come to us when we share a sign of his peace together in reconciliation; they come to us when we seek to share the good news with others.
The Good News is also that when allow ourselves to encounter the peace that Jesus offers, Thomas’ other lesser celebrated words can become our own. After encountering Jesus, Thomas declares “My Lord and My God!” It takes a physical encounter, it takes the Resurrection, but Thomas finally believes that Jesus is God, finally believes and is the first to declare it, the first to share his faith in the risen Christ. These are our words too: “My Lord and My God”. Last week with Mary at the empty tomb we declared that, “we have seen the Lord!” and now with Thomas we can declare that our Lord, this Jesus that we follow is truly God. May these be your words this Easter Season, may you see the Lord and know he is your God, may you experience the peace of the Risen Christ, today and forevermore. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia!