ďBeing an Easter PeopleĒ

John 20:19-31

April 27, 2003

 

Itís hard to believe that Easter Sunday has come and gone for us.It only seems like yesterday that we were outside up on the hill by the cross celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.Yet, even though Easter Sunday has come and gone, we are still an Easter people.The event of the resurrection may have been one moment in time, but we continue to live as a people in the light of that one moment.

For us in our personal lives, Easter may have been last week, but for the church Easter continues.The resurrection continues to have profound implications for who we are and what we have been called to do as Godís people, but the resurrection also has one more important aspect, and that is itís affect on the individuals who make up the church, you and me.

Even though the testimony and witness of the church is not my testimony alone or your testimony alone, but rather a chorus of voices throughout history, nevertheless, the church can only proclaim and witness to the resurrection in so far as each one of us in some way or the other can witness to our own personal experience with the risen Christ.

This is what makes Christianity so amazing and so special.Christianity is not a set of ivory tower doctrines, nor is Christianity a feel-good utopian belief, but rather Christianity is the honest, sincere, and sometimes doubting faith that each one of us has a relationship with the risen Christ.

There is no doubt that the event, which turned a band of fearful men into a group of faithful, evangelical disciples, was not the empty tomb, but the appearances of Jesus after he was raised from the dead.The empty tomb in and of itself is no proof that Jesus was raised.If Christianity is based on the empty tomb alone, then we believe in nothing but just that, an empty, cold stone tomb.But our faith is not in the empty tomb, but rather our faith is in the resurrected and living Christ, who appeared to his disciples after he was raised, and gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

††††††††† Jesus appearance to his disciples on the night of that first Easter is a telling reminder of who we are as Godís people.We must not lose sight of the fact that Jesus calls us as a people in community.Jesus appearance to the disciples that Easter night reminds us that when two or more are gathered, he is there giving us what we need to go out into the world.I cannot emphasize more clearly how important it is to be in the church.In this post-modern times, there are many who believe church doesnít really matter for them.ďAs long as I believeĒ, they say, ďthen Iím fine.ĒBut this is not Christianity, it is spiritualism and spiritualism is idolatry.

If we are only concerned with ourselves and our own salvation, then we have missed the point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we have called for a vote of no confidence in the promises of God.It is only by being in church that we are fed by the hearing of the Word, nourished by the body and blood of Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit for loving service and faithful witness.Christianity is made up of individuals for sure, but there can be no individual Christianity, for Christianity by its very nature is communal.

††††††††† For John, the gift of the Holy Spirit and Jesusí declaration of the communityís mission to go and forgive are intimately and inseparably tied to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.When the church celebrates Easter, it also celebrates the beginnings of its mission.When the church celebrates the beginning of its mission and its empowerment by the Holy Spirit, it also celebrates Easter.Easter and mission go hand in hand.

We cannot be an Easter people, if we are not Godís people in mission.For John, the churchís ongoing life as a community of faith, as the people who continue Jesusí work in the world, derives from Jesusí Easter promise of his continued presence with us and his gift of the Spirit, and our mission is not to be the arbitrators of right and wrong, but to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

††††††††† Well, all of this is truly good news for us as a church, but sometimes for us, as individual human beings, this is easier said than done.Sometimes we arenít so sure about who we are and what we have been called to do as Christís disciples.This is why I love the story of Thomasí encounter with the risen Jesus.

††††††††† For many, Doubting Thomas is an example of bad faith, the kind of faith a person is not supposed to have.I canít count for you the number of times I have heard someone say that a person should never doubt, that if a person doubts then he or she isnít a Christian.

I remember two summers ago when I was doing my internship at Decatur Presbyterian Church, I spent some time with a woman who was tormented by the things she saw in her mind, but for her they were not in her mind.They were just as real to her as real as I am standing up here.Everyday she would watch a certain television evangelist who would over and over again to say to his people that if they doubted a single bit, then they were lost and needed to repent to find salvation again.ďA good Christian,Ē he said, ďnever doubted.Ē

With each time that I meet with her, she continued to think that she was one of the lost, that if only she could believe a little more, or have a faith that never doubts then her visions would go away and she would be saved.In all of my attempts to convince her otherwise, she believed that a person with doubt was unfaithful and under divine judgment.

††††††††† I would rather have a small church with people who sometimes doubted and questioned than a mega-church with people who, like robots, simply went through all the rituals and said all the right words and never bothered to inquire about anything.

††††††††† My friends, Thomas was not a bad Christian, he was more faithful than any other disciple in that room.Just simple testimony of the disciples was not enough for him.He had seen Jesus die on that cross, and he knew that dead meant dead.

Not one of us here in this church today believes in the risen Christ because someone told us to.Not one of us here in this church today believes in the risen Christ because we go through the motions of our church rituals or because we hear the Word read and proclaimed.

We believe in the risen Christ, because in one way or the other, Jesus has come to each of us, one by one, and showed us his wounds.We believe because each of us has had a personal experience with the risen Christ who without judgment or condemnation, but with agape love and divine grace, willingly shows us again and again everyday who he is.

††††††††† Thomas is not a contradiction to faith, he is the example of faith.The faith we have been given was never meant to be a stagnant faith, it was meant to grow and to change.It was meant to get us to question what we see and hear and feel and think, it was meant to get us to doubt so that we might discover again and again how God continues to work in our lives through Jesus Christ to make us a more dedicated and more obedient people of faith for Him.

For it is only when the living presence of Christ breaks into our lives in our times of doubt and questioning, that we are changed and transformed, and our faith is strengthened.Let the peace of the risen Christ rule in your hearts and minds, so that you may live every day as if it was Easter.And may the presence of Christ cause you, like Thomas, to confess with all confidence and with all conviction, ďMy Lord and my God.Ē