2004—Second Sunday of Easter—C
Last week at the Easter Vigil, when I baptized two new Christians, I was in the baptismal pool with each one and when it came time for the profession of faith, I was doing it by heart rather than from the book. I asked
- Do you believe in God the father almighty?
- Do you believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried?
- Do you believe in the Holy Spirit...
Do you see what I left out? The resurrection! I left out the resurrection on Easter! Can you believe it? I know why it happened. Going by heart, my mind was trying to remember if "suffered under Pontius Pilate" was part of the baptismal formula or the other creeds. I was so focused on the suffering that I forgot the Resurrection!
But isn't that just like a Christian! It's easy to focus on the pain and suffering of Jesus. It's so graphic. The images are so concrete and powerful. And we know in our own bodies and minds what it is to suffer pain, and even betrayal. But the resurrection is "something else". All of our attempts to depict this event are so simplistic. We don't have the physical evidence for the resurrection that we do for the death of Jesus. We can read historically about Roman crucifixion but when it comes to "Resurrection" what do we have as evidence. An empty tomb? That evidence wouldn't hold up in court. "Someone could testify that they saw his disciples coming under the cover of darkness, rolling away the stone and stealing the body. An empty tomb isn't incontrovertible evidence.
In today's gospel, Thomas is looking for physical evidence that Jesus is risen. He's not going to trust the verbal testimony of his friends. He needs to see for himself. And he does see. The risen Jesus comes again into the midst of his disciples and says: Go ahead, touch me. Feel my wounds! Thomas becomes the patron saint of those of us who need "physical evidence" of the Resurrection.
The reality though is most Christians are not given the opportunity to touch the Risen Christ in the way that we hear Thomas does. Most of us have to rely on another way of "seeing" the Risen Lord. And if we don't have "physical evidence" to prove that he is risen from the dead, we have the possibility of sharing in the experience of those first disciples as they came to see the Risen One.
What do I mean by that? If you listen closely to the stories of the appearances of the Risen Lord to his disciples, we see that they encounter him in ordinary places and events in their lives. In an upper room where they had been many times with him. In a garden where they had seen him buried, on the road where they had walked with him, in the breaking of the bread, in a meal that they had shared with him, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where they had gone fishing with him and there he cooked them breakfast. It was in the ordinary, everyday "stuff of their lives" that the Risen Lord came to them to offer them Peace and profound Joy!
But how does that happen to us? Today, 2000 years later in a world where the suffering of people dominates our concerns? How does that happen to us in a world where Christians do not always witness to the peace, joy and love that are meant to be the gifts of the Risen One to his followers?
I said at the beginning that I left out the Resurrection because I was going "by heart". In fact "going by heart" is the only way that we can really witness to the resurrection. "were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us on the way" the disciples on the road to Emmaus say. It is in the "Change of heart" that we may see the Risen Lord. It is in the "heart to heart" conversations we have about our faith in the Risen Lord, Jesus that we may see the Risen Lord. It is in your heart of hearts, when you are deeply moved to love in a way that you never thought imaginable that you may see the Risen Lord.
This past week I had a number of experiences that led me to say "I have seen the Lord". No I have no physical evidence. These experiences happened in my heart and in the hearts of some others who had experienced great loss and now were finding a new heart and soul. I will share with you only one experience in which I could say with Thomas " I have seen the Lord" It came in the form of a poem written by our newly baptized.
The water is blessed before me
Scooping and pouring from on high
Its purity revealed
Shimmering light shining through it
Magnifying it and its beauty
I feel warmth yet goosebumps arise
My faith is questioned with sincerity
I do renounce Satan
I do Believe
Voicing it make me feel powerless
I am at your mercy
Your spirit is seen
Through the eyes of your servant
I trust you
I will let go
Do not be afraid is what I hear
Down I go into the holy water
"In the name of the Father!"
It feels deep, cold, and shocking
I want to scream out
Noooo! but also, Yesssss!
I am scared, I think
Yet unexplainably want to laugh
At the sheer incredulity of it all
Briefly return to reality
In the air, breathing rapidly
I am so wet
Down I go again
"And of the Son!"
I know what is coming
It is easier, and nicer, and warmer
I know that the hands on me
Will be there to lift me up
My friend's got me
Back out again
I sense no reality in the air
The water beckoning me back
Down I go for the third time
"And of the Holy Spirit!"
I plunge into what before was water
But I feel no wetness
I feel no boundaries
I feel nothing
Out of the darkness
I am pulled up by a surprise tug
Above the water
Where am I?
The hands become arms
And I am embraced
Embraced with Love
Which is the first thing I recognize
Don't let go, is my very first thought
My eyes open to see the light
And the wonder and awe around me
And I realize that I can stand
On my own feet
While still feeling the Love
I climb out a small man
I think people are clapping
But I am so unworthy and humbled
That I can't face them and I retreat
I am moved to pray and praise
I feel a smile coming from within
That overcomes me and spills over
And out through my outer smile
And I get to share it that way
No doubt I feel a newness of my being
Freshness, liveliness, and mirth
Yet ironically, there is incredible familiarity
Like I am home again
Thank you, my Friend
You have given me life again
I promise to do the best I can
To remain within your embrace
Now and forever
Because I know
You won't let go. AMEN