April 3, 2016

Second Sunday of Easter, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer

Sisters and brothers in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen

Here we are on Week 2; the Sunday after Easter. There’s something special about those of you who come to church the week after Easter. Don’t get me wrong, Easter Day is great.  I love all of it — the brass and the choirs, the garden, the new dresses, the fresh haircuts, the grown sons and daughters come home, the little ones with fresh stuffed animals, and candy wrappers and Easter bonnets, the sellout crowds lined up in the narthex ready to find seats as soon as an earlier service concludes, the “Alleluias” that just won’t quit. It’s a fantastic celebration of joy and life and promise and hope.

But I always wonder what those who only come on Easter think about the rest of us. Do they think that we “every Sunday types” are different somehow? Do they suspect we’re more faithful, more convinced of it all?

Because if you only worship on Easter Sunday, you can probably get by thinking you’re only here to please your mom, or because the Widor Toccata is your favorite. Maybe you come because you ordered lilies for the altar, and want to pick them up before brunch. Nobody can judge you for worshiping on Easter Day.

But if you come back on Week 2, well, that’s saying something. Maybe they never really give us a second thought, but I sometimes guess that to others, those of us who worship on Low Sundays look like lunatics, like we really are the True Believers, that we drank the Kool Aid©, and signed the pledge. We don’t doubt, but believe.

So it’s funny that we always read the story of Thomas on this, the Second Sunday of Easter. Shouldn’t this story be read by those who are curious but not sold? After all, we’re like the disciples who were in the upper room right from the start. We didn’t miss anything; we’ve been here all along. If anyone needs convincing, it shouldn’t be us, right?

Yeah, Right…. Would it shock all of those “Christmas-and-Easter”-Worshipers to discover how full of questions and doubts we are, too? Would they be surprised to hear that we come not because we’re so convinced, but because we’re more like Thomas than they’ll ever know?

I suspect most of us (even if we’re here every Sunday) feel as if we somehow missed the memo–as if Jesus showed up to the others, but that while he was here, we were out back, getting our microphone checked, or running to get something from the car. I suspect many people think everyone else is more sure than they are, and that the questions or doubts or areas of suspicion we hold regarding this whole faith thing are unique to us, and are somehow shameful or disrespectful.

But those of us who muster up the strength to come on Week 2 of Easter hear the truth, that the questions and the doubts and the need-for-more are part of the faith. Thomas is a beloved, accepted, respected leader of the church, and his questions are the same as ours.

Last week, I read a beautiful devotion by Rachel Held Evans, who blogs about her Love/Hate relationship with the institutional church. Her Holy Week devotion[i] talks about doubts that nag at her like a rock in her shoe, or a splinter caught in her skin, agonizingly reminding her of their presence, no matter how much she tries to ignore them.

Week 2 is a reminder to us that even the very first disciples, even the eye witnesses to Jesus, had their doubts and questions. Even John’s gospel, which normally has descriptions of total clarity, contrasting light and darkness, life and death, belief and ignorance, offers us this story of Thomas as a gift, reminding us that our curiosity and need for clarification are healthy and normal.

What’s even more telling to me, is how Jesus appears to Thomas, not as a shiny, good as new, resurrected superhero, but as a wounded, broken body. Isn’t that somewhat counterintuitive? I understand that Jesus gave Thomas exactly the signs he had asked for, but why would he want to see those signs?

Certainly, Jesus had died, you’d think Thomas would have been sure of that much. It’s the resurrection that seems iffy. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for him to ask to see Jesus doing something that showed he was fully living– taking in a deep breath and exhaling, maybe? Eating or drinking? Wouldn’t he have wanted to see some clear signs of life to believe the resurrection? But it’s Jesus’s wounds, his scars and bruises that convince Thomas. The broken, damaged, wounded body of Jesus leads him to faith.

Rachel Held Evans has a similar experience. It’s not those who claim an emphatic, perfectly sound, absolutely strong confession of faith that give her hope. It’s those that are willing to ask questions, those who admit that there’s a lot of this that is hard to understand, those who sing from the heart, even when their heads need more convincing.

Evans describes the freedom and the hope that springs to life for her when she hears people honestly wrestling with questions of faith. Like someone gasping for their first puff of breath after being freed from a tomb, the honest questions feel like a resurrection to her. [ii]

That’s what those of us who come even on Week 2 are seeking. I don’t think it’s Thomas’s convictions in the resurrection that reassure us, but his questions, his doubts, his wonderings. It’s not Jesus’ fully healed and triumphant body that brings us hope, but his still wounded, broken form that inspires us.

Because we know Christ’s body is still broken. Although we are people of the resurrection, we struggle in a broken, hurting world. Cities and judicial processes are still torn by racism, as we learned again this week. Our communities are plagued by poverty and classism, pollution and violence. School children go hungry over the weekend, even here in Highland Park. Presidential politics are marred by insults and hatred. Our very earth is scorched and struggling; violent winds steal the top soil; rising tides erode the coast line.

The church isn’t immune, either. We hear of arguing and disagreements ripping apart congregations and church bodies. And perhaps most painful of all, we learn of marriages and families in turmoil, young people struggling with addiction and mental illness, signs of infidelity, and the sad recognition that love has died.

The body of Christ is broken and hurting. And “the Second Week of Easter Christians” know it.

But here’s the miracle – we don’t hide that brokenness. We come here to share that pain with others,       to tell each other we’re grieving, discouraged, lonely, and confused. We come here to be connected to others who are hurting too, who can openly say to us, “Peace be with you.” “I am so sorry,” “I am here with you,” or best of all, “I believe in you and will stay with you.” We gather with those who hold us and week after week, praying for the renewal of all creation.

Like Jesus, we invite each other to touch our wounds, to hold one another in our hurt. We come here to name our loss and sadness, to recognize the disappointments and needs we face, and to hear from one another that the brokenness does not get the last word.

Though it may make no sense to those who are not with us, the admission that we are hurting and need one another is the breath of fresh air that feels like Easter to us. It is the gift of trusting that God will not let the hurt claim us, that God has never stopped resurrecting us, that Jesus heard Thomas’s questions, and loved him anyway, that the Lord of Life is with us in our sorrow, in our doubts, in our pain and our loss, and lives to carry us to the new day.

Week 2 Christians are here because we know that Easter Life is the only hope we have–that somehow, in spite of the wounds and the scars, a resurrected savior is here, and yes, is breathing life into us, and offering us a meal of the finest bread and wine we’ve ever tasted.

Week 2 Christians are those who show up not only on Easter morning, but for the next week, too, to paint the church, to water the flowers, to seek answers to our questions, and companionship in our sorrow, and even when our head is still wondering, to sing from the heart, “Hallelujah! Christ is risen.” Christ is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

[i] http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/holy-week-for-doubters

[ii] ibid.