Sunday, April 12, 2015

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 148
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

...and these things we write, that our joy may be made full.

Jesus appeared to many people during the time He walked on earth after the Resurrection, twelve appearances in all. He appeared to Mary (Mark 16:9; John 20:10-18), the women returning from the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12-13), Peter in Jerusalem. (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5), His disciples except Thomas in the Upper Room (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23), Thomas and the disciples in the Upper Room (John 20:24-29), seven of His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-24), five hundred believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6), James (1 Corinthians 15:7), eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:18-20), along the road to Bethany, on the Mount of Olives before He ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:50-53), and Paul on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8). We also know that in the forty days between the Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus spent time with the disciples, augmenting the knowledge He had given them before His death.

It is worthwhile reading these texts to see that the witness of these disciples and followers is true. They were witnesses, not only of the great work Jesus did before His death, but of the reality that Jesus didn't stay dead. He is alive, and those hundreds of people saw it for themselves.

We tend to be like Thomas, though, don't we? We want to have the proof for ourselves. Thomas was not there the first time Jesus appeared before the disciples in the Upper Room. We don't know why he was not with the other disciples on that first night, but he was unwilling to believe their testimony when he finally returned to their gathering. Aren't we like that? Don't we want our own proof of the things people tell us?

I watch some of the television court programs during the day. In judicial law, the judge can make determinations based on a person's testimony, particularly in small claims court. However, the judge usually wants more than their word. The judge wants proof. "Do you have receipts?" "Did you take photos? Every phone has a camera now." "Did you get that in writing?" The judge will absolutely not accept hearsay. "Why isn't that person here to allow me to ask questions?" The judge wants all the information before making a judgment. The judge wants proof. So do we.

Yet, we give Thomas the critical name "Doubting Thomas" because he refused to believe without seeing Jesus for himself. We forget, however, that the other disciples had the same reaction when they heard the testimony of the women. They didn't believe that they saw Jesus. They doubted, too. It took the proof of Jesus standing before them for them to believe. Even then they thought they were seeing a ghost. He showed them His hands and His side, only after seeing the wounds were the disciples were glad to see the Lord. They got their proof, and yet we call Thomas the doubting one.

However, Thomas should be called the believing one. His confession of faith was absolute when he saw Jesus. Jesus offered to allow Thomas to touch His hand and side, "Do not disbelieve but believe. John doesn't say that Thomas actually touched Jesus; Thomas simply answered, "My Lord and my God!" The other disciples rejoiced greatly that Jesus was alive, but it was Thomas who recognized that Jesus was everything He said He was, Lord and God.

I don't know any people who have gotten the kind of proof that Thomas was given. Jesus reminds Thomas that those who believe without proof are the ones who are truly blessed. We haven't quite learned that lesson in the two thousand years since Jesus' Resurrection. We still want concrete evidence for our faith.

John writes, "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name." The point of the scriptures telling His story is so that we will believe. It is a hard thing that Jesus asks of us, but He knows we are human. He knows that we are no different than His disciples. He knows that we will doubt, but we are reminded that we will find the blessing in faith rather than proof.

It is very important to John that we understand his reason for writing. In the second lesson for today, John's first letter, John writes, "...these things we write, that our joy may be made full." John was there. He saw the risen Lord, he heard His voice. He listened as Jesus reminded them of everything that He taught throughout the three years. John was there when Jesus appeared out of nowhere and breathed on the disciples. He was there to experience the joy of knowing that Jesus fulfilled all His promises. The joy he felt on that first day was a joy that needed to be shared. We don't believe in Jesus for a personal, private faith, we believe in Jesus with an active, public faith so that the light of God will shine to the world. John wrote so that others would believe and would join in the fellowship of the faithful. We are sent into the world to continue this work. This is the life that God has promised us. This is the life that begins today.

I wrote yesterday about the Easter Octave. Sunday, April 12th is the eighth day. The eighth day is the first day of the rest of our lives. It has not ended; we continue to dwell in the eighth day. While the earth still turns and the sun still rises, we no longer live in darkness. We live in the light because the Light is Christ. He lives so that we might have life. He shines through us to overcome the darkness.

We'll begin the cycle of the Church year again after we get through the Easter season, Pentecost and the season of Pentecost. We will live through the promise of His coming, His birth, life, death and resurrection as we do every year. However, we will no longer have to fear sin and death because Jesus overcame them both for our sake. We dwell in eternity in the here and now even while we wait for eternity in the future. Life does not come to us by physical proofs, but from the faith that we know that God is faithful to His promises. As we dwell in this reality, we are called to continue sharing our faith with others in word and in deed. We are called together to be the body of Christ in the here and now as we wait until the day when we will all be joined in eternal praise and thanksgiving to the God who is victorious over even our sin.

What does that look like? Christians have been trying to figure that out for two thousand years. We all have our idea of the perfect church, although I can't imagine that anyone has actually found it. We can love our church, but it is made of imperfect people and we will all continue to sin while we are still in the flesh. We will make mistakes. We will fail our neighbors. We will hurt those we love. We are fallen people. Even so, we are saved by Christ who died and doing so appeased God and fulfilled the requirements necessary for reconciliation not only for us but for the whole world. Sometimes it is hardest to remember that when we are hurt by a brother or sister in Christ. It is sometimes easier to believe that Christ died for our non-believing neighbor than for the sins of our Christian brethren. They should know better, right? We also forget that we continue to need Jesus just as much today as the day we first believed. As John says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

We all have sins that need confessing; we all need Jesus. However, we can live in the joy of the eighth day for the rest of our lives. This day is a day of joy. The psalmist knows that even the most terrifying things of the earth and the most mundane aspects of life here, we have reason to praise God and given Him thanks. "And he hath lifted up the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye Jehovah."

You can't praise God with sad faces; the eighth day is a day for joy. As a matter of fact, it is a day known as Holy Humor Sunday. The Greeks saw the humor of the resurrection: that Jesus played a practical joke on the devil. The devil thought he won, but Christ rose from the dead. The week following Easter were called the "days of joy and laughter." They held parties and played practical jokes on one another. The Octave culminated in "Holy Humor Sunday" the second Sunday of Easter. Some churches have recently taken up the practice again, using humorous liturgies and throwing parties to celebrate the joy of the resurrection.

We have been given the witness of those who have come before us, and though we are just like them, we also have something they didn't have: we have the Holy Spirit. He gives us the faith to believe based on their witness rather than on proof. Though we cannot experience the flesh of Jesus as they did, though we can't see Him or touch Him or hear Him as they did, we can believe their words. The Resurrection was not something spiritual, it was real, physical and according to the scriptures. To reduce it to something less diminishes the witness of Peter and the others. It also diminishes Jesus because He fulfilled everything that was promised by God through the Old Testament prophets. It all may seem ridiculous and impossible, but the story of Jesus' ministry, Good Friday, Easter, and Eternity is as God intended. Jesus lived, died and rose again by God's hand and for God's plan so that we will live in joy forever.

The devil didn't see the joke coming. It was outrageous and preposterous. It was unexpected. Celebrating Holy Humor Sunday gives us a way to laugh at ourselves, as perhaps Peter and Thomas and all the disciples must have laughed after they realized everything that was happening was real. Holy Humor Sunday gives us the opportunity to look at this beloved story in a new way, with new eyes, without taking ourselves so seriously. We've heard it all before, but can we still hear it with fresh ears? Can we tell jokes about ourselves, about our fear and our doubts and laugh in the joy of God's forgiveness? Can we trust that God is merciful and that we can experience His grace in laughter and merriment? We can be glad and rejoice because what God has done is really a great joke that has brought salvation to the world.

John wrote his book and his letters to share the joy he felt every day, the joy of faith that brings light into the world. We continue to share our joy with others so that they, too, might become part of the body of Christ, shining the light brighter with every new forgiven believer.

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