Easter is absurd. Death on a cross followed by resurrection after a few days? That’s crazy. The miracles Jesus performed in his life before that? Also, absurd. When I stop and think about the billions of Christians over time who have bought into this story, I kind of can’t believe it.
But on the flip side of that, I think, “Wow!” Billions of other people throughout history and over the world also think this story is real. Their belief inspires me and bolsters my own faith. In fact, my personal faith relies on theirs.
Today’s Gospel text is familiar, particularly the second half of it. It’s Easter night. John tells us the disciples – we don’t know exactly how many or which ones – are locked in a house “for fear of the Jews” (aka the Jewish authorities.) Suddenly Jesus appears. “Peace be with you,” he offers, and then shows them his hands and his side. The Gospel account doesn’t give any more detail than that, but I find it interesting that Jesus automatically shows them his body to prove it’s him. And only after he does this do the disciples rejoice.
These disciples are never called “doubting,” or “unbelieving,” but mustn’t there have been reason for Jesus to show them his body and prove his identity? Regardless, he then breathes on them and says, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This prayer or wish for his friends is a bit like a commissioning for their work now as apostles. He has shown them that he is risen, that the prophets and predictions were correct, and now they are to go out and share his story through their lives and words.
Then we come to Thomas, known familiarly as “doubting,” though “unbelieving” would be a more accurate translation. I have always identified with Thomas. Like I said before, Easter is absurd. I question it every year. I question the resurrection most Sundays at church. I want proof, the way Thomas wanted it. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The Holy Week and Easter events – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, into Holy Saturday and Easter – present us with mystical, fantastic stuff, and I find it all really hard to believe.
“This is when I turn to everyone else.”
This is when I turn to everyone else. To the whole Christian family, the community described in today’s reading from Acts, or celebrated in the psalm appointed this morning. What Acts describes sounds almost utopian: “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul…everything they owned was held in common.” Then Psalm 133 begins, “how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
Christianity requires community. It compels us to live together. It requires of us a willingness to engage and share with one another, to love one another as Jesus loved us. I believe in this way of life because I think it’s what God wants for us. It’s what God envisioned when we were made in God’s image – we are all united and connected, and all worthy of each other’s respect and love. But I also believe in this Christian community way of living because I need it. I, alone, do not have the strength of belief that is required to keep buying into this crazy Christian story day after day.
But others do. We are all in different places on our journeys with God, and when my faith is weak, someone else’s is strong. And that is what is so meaningful to me about corporate worship. The Acts reading and the psalm for today are both about being of one body in Christ. That is what we are when we come together in worship. Many bodies, but one Body.
In a way, we are all evidence of faith for each other. I grew up in a congregation of high performing, driven, successful people in the suburbs of New York. Maybe we were all one body and one heart, but we were definitely not all of one mind. I would show up to church on Sunday morning and see some people with whom I had tons in common, and some with whom I had very little. But the fact that we were there for an hour each week, listening to and buying into this absurd story together, is meaningful. That’s the amazing, fantastic nature of our faith life together.
How perfect to read these texts and reflect on this message this Sunday, the first in nearly five months that we have been able to gather together in person (at least for one service this weekend.) I have missed you all, have longed to hear you profess the words of your faith through the creed, to hear your shouts of “amen” as we pray for God’s Church and the world. I know we have had Zoom, and I thank God for that technology. But this feeling of being together in person, this strength of many believers all together at once. This is what helps my belief.
Belief doesn’t happen on Easter morning when the stone rolls away, or in the upper room when Jesus appears. It’s a lifetime’s work. Sometimes I wish I had the kind of certainty that would allow me to simply believe in this story without any question or struggle. But then I would lose the beauty of the struggle, the stuff that’s fun and exciting about the lifetime journey we are on with Jesus. The lifetime journey that I am on with you all, and with the people I went to church with growing up in New York, and the one I am on with people I haven’t even met yet. That mystery, that questioning and doubt and desire for belief – that is what makes faith fun for me. And that is what God wants us to continue exploring, together. Thank you for exploring with me.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog