Sermon, April 28: The Only Way

Easter is the single most sacred moment in the Christian story. I say this because sacred is a way of looking at reality that points toward meaning at a time when everything seems to be shrouded in fog and incoherence. In the face of mortal realities, Easter says that there’s far more to life than existence, even if you can’t taste, touch or feel what that “far more” is.
But then, Easter made itself known to those first disciples through their senses, not their thinking. For Mary, it was hearing her name. Early on that first Easter morning, she went to the tomb ready to learn what had happened to Jesus’ body and she found nothing. A little later, she sensed Jesus in the garden, he spoke her name and she ran back to the others calling out “I have seen the Lord!”
Later that day, the disciples on the Emmaus Road said that sight was what had confused them. Their sense of Christ’s presence came through the sharing of food – it’s aroma, its taste, the way it looked in his hand.
For Thomas, the confirming sense was touch. Thomas was the only one able to touch Jesus after he died. John says that Jesus had pulled away even from Mary whom he loved. So who was this Thomas and what about him was so different?
The first we heard of Thomas was in John’s account of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus and the disciples had left Bethany for a while so they might avoid the increasing hostility of the authorities. When the news came that Lazarus had died, and Jesus said he’d go back to Bethany, most of the disciples objected. “What sense does it make to go back into that kind of danger?,” they asked.
But Thomas argued against the caution of the others. “Let’s go,” he said, “that we may die with Jesus.” It’s a curious response, don’t you think – the words of an all-or-nothing sort of person. But it tells us something about how important it was for Thomas to be with Jesus. Wherever Jesus needed to be, Thomas needed to be with him. Even death could be faced, as long as Jesus was beside him. This is great, great faithfulness.
The next we hear from Thomas is during the Last Supper. Speaking to his best friends about leaving them, Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He was going to get things ready for them, he added, and there was no mystery about it. They knew the way to where he was going. Except this time, Thomas has the chutzpah to break into the poetry and say “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And by asking it, Thomas gave Jesus one more chance to get his truth through to his friends.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he said, telling Thomas and all the others – then and now – that there was no map he could give them. Telling them that his truth is not to be found in intellectual abstraction. That it has to be sensed moment by moment, experience by experience – by reaching out and touching.
Perhaps at the end, Thomas reached the point where it simply hurt too much to hope one more time. Even so – he reached out one more time. And, one more time, he waited. He waited in the darkness of his unbelief for Jesus to do the unimaginable. In the end, of course, he received the reassurance he had so desperately longed for.
But what about us? As Jesus pointed out, those who came later would also have to believe without seeing. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That would be us. And that’s what we need to do too, if we are going to receive the assurance this story is offering us.
Because, in retrospect, the resurrection stories tell more than the story of Jesus. They tell us how a group of terrified disciples became the ones so radically changed that, only one generation later, they had taken their message of the living Christ to Rome and to Antioch and India.
They found the courage to do that, they say, through God’s holy spirit – God’s same holy spirit who gets us through the times when all we know seems like a dead end. We describe our experiences differently today, but the essence stays the same: somehow, even in the depths of the pain, we know – really know – that we are not alone. Someone out there somewhere, cares. How you know this is between you and God. But you know deep inside yourself that Someone out there somewhere, really cares.
The Easter stories also say there’s more to life than existence. They tell how the risen Christ came to each person then and comes to each of us now – in the awareness of our separate senses and strengths and weakness. Some to whom Jesus came said they saw the Lord.
Thomas says this Lord is God. We too will find the Christ, he says, as we walk the path he walked – a path which may wound us as it wounded him, but which leads to abundant life. We find him, and share him as we live the life he lived. It’s not magic. It’s not easy. It’s what we so often fail at. But it is, for Christians, the only way. Amen

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

Leave a Reply