A Sermon for 8 April 2018 – Second Sunday of Easter
A reading from the gospel of John 20:19-31. Listen for God’s word to us. And remember, this story takes place later on the first Easter. Listen:
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
If you’ve ever been west of the Mississippi – like to California, Oregon, Montana, or Nevada – then I’m guessing you are grateful for the adaptability of the men named Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. It was 1804 and the newly formed nation just had acquired a huge expanse of land called the Louisiana Territory. Wanting to know what they had gotten and determined to find a water route that connected the eastern United States to the Pacific Ocean; President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery under the command of Lewis and the one Lewis made his co-captain, Clark.
A book called Canoeing the Mountains, quotes historians who describe the defining moment of Meriwether Lewis’ life. “He was approaching the farthest boundary of the Louisiana Territory. The Continental Divide. The Spine of the Rocky Mountains, beyond which the rivers flow west. No American citizen ever had been there before. This he believed was the Northwest Passage, the goal of explorers for more than three centuries. The great prize that Thomas Jefferson had sent him to find and claim for the United States. With each stride, Lewis was nearing what he expected to be the crowning moment of his expedition and his life. From the vantage point just ahead, all of science and geography had prepared him to see the watershed of the Columbia; and beyond it, perhaps a great plain that led down to the Pacific. Instead, there were just more mountains” (Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, Tod Bolsinger, pp. 87-88). Captured in his expedition journal, Lewis writes: “’Immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us, with their tops partially covered in snow’” (Ibid.).
Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains, writes: “At that moment in the daunting vista spread out at the feet of Meriwether Lewis, the dream of an easy water route across the continent – a dream stretching back to Christopher Columbus – was shattered” (Ibid.). It’s been said that as Lewis and the Corps stood atop the Lemhi Pass in what would become the state of Idaho, the geography of hope gave way to the geography of reality. Though wanting to cling to the known, as all of us do; Bolsinger writes: “Lewis wasted no time in casting off assumptions once the brutal facts of his reality were clear. There was no water route. There were miles and miles of snowcapped mountain peaks in front of them. They had no trail to follow. Food was scarce in this rugged terrain. And winter was coming.” Bolsinger writes: “This is the canoeing the mountains moment. This was when the Corp of Discovery faced for the first time the breadth of the challenges posed by the Rocky Mountains and came to the irrefutable reality that there was no Northwest Passage. No navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean. This is the moment when they had to leave their boats. Find horses and make the giant adaptive shift that comes from realizing their mental models for the terrain in front of them were wrong” (Ibid., p. 93). Canoes would not get them over the mountains. That which had served them well thus far, no longer would work.
They could have responded to the challenge differently – especially because the order from their Commander in Chief specifically charged them to find a water route from sea to sea. Bolsinger writes: “They could have decided that they had indeed discovered the vitally important, but certainly disappointing reality that the long-hoped for Northwest Passage and its water route was a myth. . . . They could have turned back. They could have returned to Washington, made their reports, and told Thomas Jefferson that another crew more equipped to travel long distances through mountain passes should be launched on a different expedition. But they didn’t” (Ibid., pp. 93-94). History is defined by this moment and all the other things they could have done. Nevertheless, Bolsinger writes, “at that moment, without even discussing it, Meriwether Lewis simply proceeded on” (Ibid., p. 94). Deep within, he knew – as did Clark and the rest of their men – to what they really were called – not just some specific order from President Jefferson; but as men of the Enlightenment – even if it meant they would have to learn a whole new way through uncharted territory – Lewis, Clark, and their men were 100% dedicated to discovery in service to others as what gives meaning to life. . . . They kept going – re-committing to the principles that lie in the core of their being. Leaving behind the familiarity of their canoes, they literally left the map. They journeyed on.
It’s one week after Easter; but later that night according to the gospel of John. Though Mary Magdalene had come from her garden encounter with the Risen Christ, the other disciples did not yet know what to make of the news. Frightened, perhaps, that when the religious leaders caught wind of the story that the tomb was empty; their own crucifixions would be next. Pick them off one by one, over some talk of “he is not here but has risen.” Until every last preposterous voice was silenced. There were no known mental models for how to live after your dead rabbi had risen from the grave. No easy course to travel after one who had taught and healed and inspired was crucified, dead, and buried . . . only to appear to them alive again just a day after the Sabbath rest???!!! Standing in their shoes, we too would likely lock ourselves away in fear. Not knowing the next steps to take after Mary burst in to declare she had seen the Lord! It was their defining moment. The moment all of heaven held its breath to see what this little ban of humans would do.
The gospel of John tells the story differently than do the gospels of Matthew and Mark, where the disciples later are given the great commission. The gospel of Luke links with Acts to expand upon the reception of the Spirit 50 days after Easter at Pentecost. But the gospel of John tells that it was on that first night of the week, the very night the tomb was discovered empty; the Risen One comes to his faithful followers breathing peace, in order to send them out into the world. Somehow, he expects them to release others from their sins – a charge likely to clear those who had crucified him; so that the hearts of Christ’s followers would remain open. Pure. Ready to give witness to a revolutionary love often unseen on the world’s stage. “Peace,” the Risen One says to those locked in fear. “Now go.” Get on with it – all he had commanded them pre-crucifixion. They were to live the peace of laying down their lives for another, even as he had laid down his own for the sake of all the world. “By this,” he had told them just a few nights ago at the supper when he knelt before them to wash their feet, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Almost like Acts of the Apostles records in that part of chapter four that we heard earlier – though it seems like a hyperbolic exaggeration. The vision of a beloved community enacted. Living in one accord – heart and soul fully committed to one another so that all was freely shared for the common good. Giving powerful witness in word and deed to the way God always brings new life. Epitomizing grace as any in need found themselves filled. According to scripture, these were the first marks of the ones who followed Christ’s Way. No matter if the world around embraced the Way or not, together they journeyed on.
Theologian Marcus Borg – as many others – likens the moment in which the church today finds itself to be much like the moment those first followers faced on the eve of Easter. Locked in fear for what might come in a world that seemed hostile to the Risen One. Another wise scholar of today describes us as those needing to learn to be “apostles on both sides of the door” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, D. Cam Murchison, p. 404). “The missionary people empowered by this peace and this inbreathed Holy Spirit to bear the forgiving, transforming love of God into every sphere of human experience” (Ibid.). The territory isn’t entirely unknown; for the first followers found their way post-resurrection. Scripture also inspires us with the way they did finally leave that post-resurrection Upper Room to continue the adventure begun by their crucified and risen Lord. Changing the course of history day by day in witness to the One whose life, death, and life again showed the Way of the great Creator of the Universe: the abiding strength of love that triumphs even over death! . . . Though the current terrain may be unlike anything the church has enjoyed – at least since the founding of this nation; it is not impossible to traverse. For remember, we worship the One whose very own mother was told at the announcement of his birth: “nothing shall be impossible with God!” (Luke 1:37). It’s what Easter Sunday tells us! What resurrection is all about! . . . That even when we stand metaphorically at the Lemhi Pass in Idaho – nothing but mile after mile of mountainous, off-the-map wilderness before us; the Risen Christ comes to us. Breathing peace. Helping us to let go of our cherished canoes. Saying: “Go. Get on with it! As the Father has sent me, so I send you!” (John 20:21).
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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