Christ is risen! Alleluia!
It’s still Easter! And it will be Easter for another 6 weeks. But I have to admit that I feel somewhat deflated after last Sunday, the glorious Easter Sunday. I saw a great tagline somewhere on Facebook last week: He is risen! Now what?
Good question, isn’t it? Now what? What do we do with the amazing news that Christ conquered death and the grave? What do we do with the amazing news that God gives us and all creation a new life?
How do we deal with God’s vision of life for a world, in which so many life-destructive forces are at work? Just yesterday, we commemorated Earth Day. In a perfect world, we would just marvel at nature’s beauty and power and celebrate on that day, but, as we all know only too well, this planet and many life forms on it are suffering. That’s why so many people took to the streets everywhere yesterday as they ‘marched for science’ – to protest against ignorance, which includes the doubt against and denial of the human influence on the climate change we’ve been experiencing, an influence which has been documented very convincingly by countless scientist.
We human beings with our growing numbers and seemingly insatiable needs and wants for more food, more resources, more everything are forcing many of our co-creatures out of their natural habitats; we destroy delicate and balanced eco-systems and somehow don’t see or don’t want to see how at some point, this will come back to bite us in the behind – in fact, the destruction of our eco systems has already started to come back and haunt us, and if not us, then our children and children’s children.
Bee populations, for example, are dying, and guess what? Without bees and pollination, there is no fruit of the earth. Rising sea levels as a result of climate change may threaten poorer nations far, far away right now, but eventually they will affect our coastal areas as well.
And the worship of the golden calf of the economy and mindless consumerism, as we find it especially in this part of the world, contributes to the further destruction of the earth, God’s creation, and, let’s face it, the only home we have. And because the destruction of our own life space is an inconvenient truth to those who make most profits, there is doubt and outright denial among some that climate change, for example, is real. I can’t tell you how sad and angry and frustrated I am that we see so many forces at work around us that willfully destroy. Christ is risen – so what? Now what? How do we proclaim the message of life for all in a world that so often is indifferent or ignorant?
Now I take comfort in the fact that I am not the only one who feels challenged by the aftermath of Easter. We just have to look into today’s gospel story to find a similar attitude among Jesus’ disciples. Today’s gospel story begins on the evening of resurrection day. Maybe 12 hours have passed since Mary Magdalene proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ resurrection among his disciples: he is risen!
He is risen – now what? – the disciples seem to ask. All this is absolutely unexpected, they don’t know what to do with this information, they can’t imagine what their new life after the crucifixion – and resurrection – of Jesus might be like. All they have experienced is trauma and betrayal and violence and death and grief. Jesus’ resurrection hasn’t changed the political situation in Jerusalem, Pilate and the Romans still call the shots, there is still the threat that the disciples might be arrested and tried and killed themselves as followers of a convicted criminal. Seemingly Christ’s resurrection hasn’t changed a thing. Now what?
The disciples play it safe. They hide. Some or all of them may even doubt the good news Mary shared with them. In any case, the news hasn’t changed their lives – yet. It takes a dramatic intervention by Christ himself to stir them up. He sneaks in on them, locked doors are not an obstacle, and shows them: it is I! He clearly identifies himself by showing the wounds he sustained on the cross. Then, we hear, then they rejoiced when they saw the Lord. We tend to single out poor Thomas for not trusting the witness of the other disciples that Jesus has risen, he even has become the proverbial doubting Thomas, but, to be fair to Thomas, all of the disciples need something more than just a verbal testimony, mere words, to believe.
Back to the ten who were there on that evening of Easter Day. If you listen carefully to the story, even the sight of Christ himself, even the reception of the Holy Spirit hasn’t really changed their attitude. The ‘now what?’ phase continues. For we hear that, a week later, there they are again, in the same house, with the same locked doors. They are still hiding. However, this time, Thomas is with them, and I cannot blame him for doubting his peers’ witness – because they act as if Jesus was still dead. They are just as clueless and confused as they were a week ago. Again, Christ appears, again, he breathes on the disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit, and he shows the marks of his suffering and death to Thomas, just as he showed them to the other ten before. It is then that Thomas can proclaim, ‘My Lord and my God!’ It is then Thomas’ doubt and denial are eradicated once and for all. This is real.
But, spoiler alert, even this encounter doesn’t turn the disciples’ lives around. It takes one more appearance by Christ before the disciples understand that they are on a mission: to continue the work Jesus has started. To take care of the poor and vulnerable. To proclaim the kingdom of heaven in word and deed. To speak a word of defiant hope to all who suffer from various demons and oppression. Jesus may say to them at the first encounter, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you – that’s what!’ But it takes a while for this mission to sink in – and then be carried out. And people may not see the risen Christ – but they see Christ and his mission become flesh in the love and mercy and forgiveness of the Apostles. And that’s how people come to believe, and that’s how this Christian movement spreads, steadily. It’s not just words.
The words of Jesus we heard in today’s gospel spoken to Thomas, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’ have often be interpreted as an appeal to blind faith. I have trouble interpreting those words this way, especially in the context of the entire gospel according to John, which is all about seeing, about comprehending, about experiencing God in Christ.
And, as history has shown, blind faith in any ideology or leader can have catastrophic consequences. When we put on our blinders and are just focused on a certain thing or a certain outcome, we lose sight of everything and everybody around us and often leave a path of destruction as we plow on to reach our goal. Many leaders in this world originally had good and honorable intentions as they started out, but turned into monsters as they single-mindedly tried to achieve their goals and put their ideals over compassion. For me, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin would be such an example, and you probably can think of other, more recent, examples. But even throughout Christianity, we have countless examples how the zeal for establishing the kingdom of God on earth led to persecution and oppression and violence against those with different opinions, ideas, or beliefs, and torture and killing in the name of God.
No, we have to keep our eyes and ears and minds and hearts open at all times. We mustn’t believe blindly what politicians or the media or those who make a profit in this world tell us. Doubt is good, because doubt keeps us on our toes and also keeps us open to all kinds of different possibilities around us. Thomas and the other disciples doubted, but they could be convinced by the sight and physical experience of Christ that he has risen, indeed.
Something we saw and experienced made us believe at some point in our lives that Christ is risen and the kingdom of God is growing among us – maybe it was the faith our grandparents or parents lived, maybe it was in the community of the saints we encountered at church, maybe it was through the merciful and compassionate deeds of strangers. We all witness somehow. And then, of course, it is up to us to give witness to the God who gives new life. It is up to us, like it was up to the disciples after the resurrection of Christ, to embody Christ in this world and continue Christ’s work. To take care of the poor and vulnerable, and that includes our wounded planet, God’s creation. To proclaim the kingdom of heaven in word and deed. To speak a word of defiant hope to all who suffer from various demons and oppression. For Jesus’ words still are valid for us today as they were for the disciples roughly 2,000 years ago: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
Christ is risen – and bestows his peace and encouraging and empowering Spirit on us. We have received new life. And so Christ’s work, God’s work, continues through us. He is risen – that’s what!
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