Backdated: Easter for the lost and the lonely

This was the post I had intended to use today, you know, before today happened. This sermon was preached on “Low Sunday” last year, April 11th 2010, at St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lakewood, Ohio:

Do you remember this story? 

A shepherd had a flock of sheep, and when night came, and it was time to fence them safely up in the sheepfold, ninety-nine of the sheep came in, but one was missing. And the shepherd closed the gate on the ninety-nine, and he went out over the darkening hills, climbing and calling and searching until he found the one who was lost and brought it home, safe and sound with the rest.

 Or this one:

A woman had ten silver coins, but she lost one, so she lit a lamp and searched high and low, under the bed and between the sofa cushions, until she had found it, and she was very glad when she did.

 What about this story?

Jesus Christ had many disciples, and he appeared to them after he was raised from the dead and showed them his wounds, and breathed peace upon them and new life into them, and commissioned them to share their faith with all the world. But one disciple was missing, and he was so angry and upset at having missed the Lord, that he almost fell away. So the risen Lord, unwilling that this one should be lost to him, returned again, and showed him his wounds, just as he’d shown the others, and wouldn’t give up until the disciple was fully restored to faith and cried out, “My Lord and my God!”

 We are used to hearing today’s gospel story as one about Thomas’s doubt, but what if, instead, it is about Jesus’ persistence, about God’s insistent love for God’s people?

 On the evening of the first day of the week, Easter Sunday night, when everyone was still afraid that there might be more arrests and even more deaths, and they were confused and upset by the empty tomb and the strange stories of angels and encounters, the disciples were gathered together for comfort and safety, behind locked doors.

Jesus arrived. He greeted them with words of peace to calm their fear. He breathed on them. Just as God had breathed on the first earth creature to make him a living human, Jesus breathed on his disciples and breathed into them new life in the Holy Spirit.

 But Thomas was out when Jesus came. Thomas had left a house full of broken, grieving, fearful men and women. Broken, grieving, fearful Thomas came home and found everyone rejoicing and singing and babbling with excitement, “He was here! You missed him! I can’t believe that you missed Jesus!”

 Poor Thomas. “I can’t believe it either,” he said, and he slunk away, his grief doubled. He must have felt as though he had lost Jesus twice in the space of three days.

 “I want to see him!” Thomas insisted. “To see the wounds in his hands and feet. I want what you had: nothing more, nothing less. It’s just not fair.” Behind the cry of a disappointed child, sad and angry and bereft, you could almost hear the echo of Jesus’ own words, the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Hope is hard when you’re grieving. Joy does not come easily to the left out, or the left behind.

 A week passed this way. Then it was Sunday again. This Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. And the disciples were together again, just like before, and this time Thomas wasn’t going anywhere, just in case. And Jesus returned with his words of peace, and he understood what Thomas needed. “Here,” he said. “Thomas, see my hands, my side. Don’t drown in your grief and your anger. Don’t resist the love which God offers you. Believe that I am here with you, here for you, now and always.”

 And Thomas believed, and was finally able to share in the joy of the household. He came out of his corner and with a smile from ear to ear finally greeted his risen Lord, God among us, Jesus Christ.

 Then Jesus blessed us. Standing there right next to Thomas, Jesus blessed you and me. It’s right there in the story.

 Two thousand years ago, a week after the first Easter, Jesus pronounced his blessing on all of us who would come after Thomas, who would not see and touch that body of flesh with its wounds of death and its promise of resurrected life.

 Jesus blessed all of us who would come to believe because Thomas and the other disciples passed on all that they had learned about God in Jesus, and let us know of God’s love for the world, a love so deep that it overcame death.

Just as Jesus breathed new life into the disciples, Jesus blessed all of us, so that we might have new life in his name.

 Because this story, like all of the others in the gospels, isn’t about Thomas, but about Jesus. It is about the shepherd who sought the sheep, and the woman who searched for the coin, and about Jesus’ persistent and insistent love for all of God’s people.

 This story is one of hope for those among us for whom hope comes hard, for whom fear overwhelms joy.

 For those among us who are angry at the unfairness of life. For those of us who are angry at God.

 For those among us who feel that our faith is wavering, or struggling, or incomplete.

 This story is one of hope for those among us who feel left behind by last week’s resurrection.

 There’s another story, that the prophet Isaiah told about God’s chosen one: “A bruised reed he will not break,” he said, “and a dimly burning candle he will not extinguish.”

 We may feel bruised sometimes, or as though our light is burning more dimly than it used to.

 We may feel as though we, with Thomas, have been left behind, overlooked.

 We feel overwhelmed by the tragedies that we see on the news; and the tragedy that we experience in our own lives, when loved ones die, or are estranged from us, when fear, and fighting words drown out the words of love we want to speak and hear.

Perhaps we are fearful about the future; reluctant to hope in case we are disappointed; fearful about job prospects, about the political climate, about the direction of our relationships with our children, our spouses, our neighbours.

And then there are those around us who regularly feel left out of our society, because of their background, their economic status, or even simply because of whom they love.

There are many reasons to hold back from singing alleluia. There are many among us who, with Thomas, are bewildered by the empty tomb, bereft by the loss of life, and just plain mad that everyone else seems to be rejoicing except us.

A bruised reed he will not break. A smouldering wick he will not extinguish. A lost sheep he will not abandon. And a broken-hearted disciple he will not reject.

Jesus blessed us who, unlike the other disciples, unlike even Thomas, never got to see his risen body in the flesh. And here is a sign of that blessing.

Every Sunday we who never saw him in his earthly life remember Jesus anyway, just as he commanded: “Do this to remember me.”

We who never felt his breath on our faces feed on him in our hearts, and know that he lives in us.

Every Sunday since that first Easter, Jesus has invited us, the spiritual ancestors of Thomas the Twin, to see his broken body, even to take it in our own two hands.

A bruised reed he will not break. A lost sheep he will not abandon. And a troubled soul he will not leave alone.

Of course, we meet Jesus at other times, and in other places, and thank God for that!

 But here, today, as we remember the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost disciple, we are especially invited, even in our brokenness, even with our doubt. We are sought out by Christ and invited, with Thomas, to enter into that confession, that Jesus truly is risen, our Lord and our God, and that he has not, and will never leave us alone.

 And we are commissioned to find a way to share that invitation, that good news of God’s persistent and insistent love with those of our world who find hope hard, and who feel left out of our Easter joy.

 Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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One Response to Backdated: Easter for the lost and the lonely

  1. jon white says:

    Lovely as always. It is a lucky church that gets to hear your thoughts and insights on a regular basis. I especially liked the bit about God breathing life into the first earth creature – artfully dodged.

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