Reeking of resurrection

A sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, 2023. John 20:19-31

Usually at this time of the year I come to tell those of us for whom resurrection is slow, delayed, or feels too hard that this story, of Jesus coming back for Thomas, is for us. Jesus gets it when we need time to raise the alleluias, or even our heads. Jesus loved Thomas, lost in doubt and depression, knotted into his grief, enough to come back just for him.

All of that is still true. But there’s something else bothering me about it this time around.

Thomas was in the midst of his friends, who were also the people closest to Jesus, who had become his family. And they were simply unable to persuade Thomas, to show him, that love of Christ that raises even the dead.

It made me wonder: how well are we doing at showing those around us the love of God in ways that they can truly grasp and believe? Are we making real the mercy of God, the joy of resurrection, in our neighbours’ lives?

The week before Easter, we had a call come into the office to tell us that children were playing basketball in our back parking lot. Well, we knew that. We gave them a trash can, which has helped tremendously with the litter situation. And yes, we have noticed the fence damage; some of it may be from the games, some has historically been from more mature neighbours using the lot as a turnaround. The neighbour who called had no complaints for us, but they did want to complain about those children playing.

The next day, a couple of youngsters were out there playing ball, so I went out to strike up a conversation. It both was and was not their basketball hoop, they gave out, and I told them that I was happy for them to play, if they would be careful of the cars that might come in and out of the lot; only that there were times when the fence was getting hit, and times when the wind storms came through that the hoop came down, and I asked them what they thought we could do to make it safer to play out there, for them and for the fence. They suggested moving the hoop a little way. I agreed. I left them, reiterating that I was fine with them playing out there, only if they could take care of the fence that would save me some complaints, and that they were not, under any circumstances, to get themselves run over by cars coming in and out.

The next time I looked out, they had the hoop set up on the street, as they used to do before the neighbours complained about that. I had told them, at least twice, that it was ok for them to play outside here; I don’t think that they believed me. And it breaks my heart to think that I was the source not of encouragement to these young people, who are in sore need of it in these days, but just another barrier to the understanding that they are beloved, well-beloved children of God, who belong in God’s garden, yard, parking lot, what have you.

So I guess, for once, reading today’s Gospel, my heart was less with Thomas than with his friends, who wanted to comfort him, to encourage him, to convince him that Jesus’ resurrection was real, that God was still with them, that all was not lost, and that, on the contrary, death itself had lost the battle against life, and that the powers that be had fallen before the pitiful; but Thomas did not believe them.

“Have you believed because you have seen me?” asked Jesus. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” And blessed, he might have added, are those who have the words, the wisdom, the love, and the compassion to show them how to believe in the overwhelming love of God in Christ.

This is not, by the way, about converting people. It isn’t about telling anyone that we have the right way to God and they have the wrong idea. Rather, it’s like this:

When it was evening, and Jesus came to his disciples, he breathed on them: “Peace be with you.” He breathed on them the forgiveness of sins, which, forgive me, I imagine smells like olive oil, pressed from the groves in the Garden of Gethsemane; oil for the troubled soul, the conscience of the betrayer, the healing of the ears of the slaves. He breathed on them the scent of grave-clothes and spices, the scent of myrrh and aloes. He showed them the wounds on his hands and his feet. The house must have reeked of him!

Imagine, then, the disciples going about their business in the days to come, shedding the stench of mercy wherever they went, turning heads with the aroma of resurrection, breathing with each passing greeting the sweet fragrance of, “Peace be with you.”

Imagine them living as though they could not shake off the residue of Christ and his sacrifice, the Cross and the tomb, and all that it meant for how much God so loves the world; as though they could not wash away the new smell of resurrection, that had filled the upper room with wonder.

That is how the disciples blessed those who had not seen, but yet believed.

For Thomas, it was not enough, but that did not mean that he was lost, nor that they should worry about him, still less badger him with the truth. They cared for him in those sorrowing days, understanding his depression, and patient, because they knew, because they had seen it happen, that Jesus would come back for him, too.

Because they knew the love of Jesus, they were able to be that loving kindness for those who would believe, and for those who waited for the touch of Christ himself upon their shoulder, even for those who would not see.

“Have you believed because you have seen me?” asked Jesus. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” And blessed are those whose lives reek so strongly of mercy, of grace, of resurrection, that all who encounter them know that God is indeed living and loving and with us yet.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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