April 25, 2011
The Gospel Lesson the Second Sunday of Easter is always John 20:19-31 and the story of Thomas missing out on seeing the risen Christ that Easter evening. When told, by the other disciples, that they had seen the Lord, Thomas says, “I won’t believe it until I can touch his scars.” A week later he made sure he was present with the community of disciples, and sure enough he saw the Lord.
Thomas did not see the risen Lord the first time, because the resurrection of Christ makes no sense apart from the community of his disciples.
Early in the movie The Big Lebowski, Walter is talking to Dude. Donny, their other close friend, keeps trying to interrupt and ask a question. Walter dismisses Donny with a line that has become famous, “Shut-up Donny, you’re out of your element.” (Or something like that.) In other words, when you’re out of your element, what you say doesn’t make sense.
In John 20, the resurrection of Jesus didn’t make sense to Thomas because Thomas was out of his element. His element was the community of disciples of Jesus gathered in worship and prayer. Since he was not with them, he missed Christ, and resurrection made no sense to him.
Apart from in-the-flesh people living the resurrection out, it makes no sense. Apart from a worshiping and disciple-making community, explanations of the resurrection make no sense. They are out of their element or, as Rick Lischer says, they are immaterial. (see Richard Lischer, “We Have Seen the Lord,” Christian Century, March 17, 1999).
So, if the resurrection of Jesus only makes sense within the people seeking to embody this resurrection, how do we see it? How do we see the Lord? Theologian Marianne Sawicki defines the church as the community of those who have the competency to recognize Jesus as the Risen Lord. We specialize in seeing, discerning the Risen Christ (Seeing the Lord, Augsburg Fortress, 1994, p. 6).
All four of the Gospels are full of incompetent witnesses. The disciples themselves are terribly incompetent. Every time you turn around they misunderstand Jesus. They can’t figure out what he’s talking about. On Easter, they are especially incompetent; it is as if they remember nothing of what Jesus told them before. They are confused, afraid, running over one another, and of course, not recognizing the resurrected Jesus when he talks to them. In Luke, two disciples leave Jerusalem and head home to Emmaus and do not know the risen Lord walking beside them. And here in John, Thomas is incompetent in understanding what the resurrection is about.
Yet they all have this in common. As long as they keep talking with this One, keep showing up and dialoguing with Jesus, then their darkness breaks into dawn and they see the Risen Lord. They become competent witnesses.
William Faulkner was once asked how he would counsel those who read The Sound and the Fury once or twice but still didn’t get it. “Read it three times,” he said.
Sometimes we have to keep at it in order to get it. We keep talking, keep showing up in worship, keep praying, keep singing hymns, keep forgiving and receiving forgiveness, keep feeding the hungry and giving a cup of cool water in his name, keep practicing the Way of Jesus and we too will see the Risen Jesus.
By our continuing dialogue with Jesus, we are trained and taught by him in how to see him. It is as if the scales slowly fall from our eyes, and one day we look up and we recognize the Risen Christ in ways and places we never had before. He was in front of our noses the whole time.
That is why the only witnesses to the Resurrection were the disciples, and not Herod, not Pilate, nor the soldiers who were right there guarding the tomb. Only the disciples who had been trained by Jesus to learn to recognize him and when they remembered and practiced what Jesus taught them, they then recognized the Lord.