At my last church, when the Christmas Eve Service was over, the first questions I routinely was asked, “When can we put the tree away?” Being Presbyterians, we don’t really celebrate Epiphany. Once New Year’s Day arrives, we like to have the decorations gone, the Christmas tunes behind us and get on with our lives. We put up with a reference to the Wise Men, but if we had our druthers, we would just as soon the wise men and shepherds arrive at the same time and not mess with all the theological implications suggested by Luke and Matthew.
I have no problem with that. By the 25th of December I have said all I care to say about the birth of Christ. I am ready to move forward to the baptism in the Jordan and the Temptations in the Wilderness. Christmas celebrates the beginning of the story. It is just the start of life of Jesus.
But Easter is different. There are a lot of loose ends connected with the death and resurrection of Christ. Last Sunday we once again heard that incredible story that defines our faith. But the miracle of Easter doesn’t end at the Empty tomb. What do we do with Peter, who we last saw wandering around the courtyard denying Jesus? Why did only women go to the cemetery? What did they really see at the grave? What about Judas? Did he hang himself as suggested by Matthew or did he trip over a rock clearing the land he bought and bleed to death as recorded in the Book of Acts? What happened that turned those faithless, cowardly disciples who flinched at their own shadows, into a unified group that changed the course of the entire world? The answer seems so simple. They saw Jesus and believed. They saw Jesus and everything made sense. They saw Jesus and they were no longer afraid of death. They saw Jesus and declared Easter as the greatest of God’s mighty acts. Well, the truth is, 10 of them saw Jesus. It seems Thomas was out on an errand the first time Jesus dropped by. 10 of them believed, 10 of them were ready for the next step in history, 10 of them were primed to declare the good news of God’s saving grace, but Thomas wasn’t so sure. He needed proof. He needed to see with his own eyes. Hearing wasn’t good enough for old doubting Thomas. Because of his doubt, because of his unwillingness to go along with the other disciples, poor old Thomas has taken a beating over the past years. But I have to tell you I am grateful for Thomas. His story makes us stay with Easter a little longer. His story causes us to hold on to the miracle of God for another week. The lilies might be gone, the music isn’t quite as rousing, and the pews aren’t quite as full, but because of Thomas, Easter doesn’t get dismissed as quickly as Christmas. The plight of Thomas continues the Easter message for another week as we the faithful have come back to hear the entire story.
We need to hear the story of Thomas because is not just an isolated moment in time. The story of Thomas is the story of the Church. It is the story for anyone who didn’t see the empty tomb, didn’t touch the risen Lord, but still claim this ancient miracle which fully revealed the power and grace of God.
I suspect there is a little bit of skeptic in each one of us. When I stand in line at the grocery store, I am prone to glance at the reading material that adorns the aisle. Did you know that we have found proof there is life on Mars? Well I have to assume there must be life on Mars because National Enquirer has reported that a Martian is having Brad Pitt’s love child. I know somebody had to make that up because if Angelina had wanted to add a Martian to her family she would have adopted one. Truth is, we are too smart to be fooled by ridiculous rumors that make the headlines of the National Inquirer. Do you really think that Big Foot runs around naked in Northern Idaho? We all know there are laws against indecent exposure. Do you really believe UFO’s landed near Roswell, New Mexico? I have been there. No intelligent being would ever spend a night in Roswell.
We are daily bombarded with incredible stories that make us laugh. We are way too smart to be tricked into believing the ridiculous. Odd things might happen but if we search long enough there is always a logical explanation. We are not children who are mystified by strange occurrences that go bump in the night. We turn the lights on and expose all the shadows.
At yet, there is that one story which defies logic, that one story which has existed for years, that one story that is bigger than Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster rolled all together. It is the unbelievable story of a man being publicly executed, declared dead by the local physician, placed in a grave, and then three days later appearing among his best friends. The only reason we are here this morning is because we believe this story to be true. The folks who are sleeping in, or sipping their coffee while reading the newspaper, must laugh at how naïve we are. Where is our proof? Has anyone here actually seen Jesus? Have any of you put your hands in the nail prints? Has anyone here seen the scar in his side? How could we intelligent people get caught up in such a fabrication? How silly we must appear to those folks playing golf this morning. And yet here we sit, with no real proof, no reliable witnesses, just a handful of stories, and the faith of the folks who came before us.
I realize more and more we are becoming a visual people, tied to our 52 inch high definition TV’s as our primary source entertainment, but in my mind there is still nothing more fulfilling than a good book. I read it, and understand it at my own pace. I come back to it time and time again. Even if I know the story by heart, I continue to wrestle with the nuances of each sentence, marveling at why a particular word or phrase was chosen. In one of my favorite short stories Isak Dinesen writes, “We tremble before making our choice in life, and after having made it we again tremble in fear of having chosen wrong. But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace makes no conditions and singles none of us out in particular. Grace takes us all in its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. That which we have chosen is given us and that which we have refused is also granted us. That which we rejected is poured upon us abundantly. For grace and mercy have met together, and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another.”
I have been reading that paragraph from Babette’s Feast for almost 30 years. Each time I read it I am touched in a different way. As I grow older and grapple with life decisions, those words bring great comfort. They are more than just words expressed by an aging General at the dinner table of an old friend. They are words of faith which find their genesis in the stories which evolved from that holy event in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. It is an event not seen but heard over and over again. It is an event no longer witnessed by eyes but revealed through the words and stories of countless millions. For me, “He is risen” evolves into “grace and mercy have met together. “Feel the nail prints” emerges into “righteousness and bliss have kissed one another.” The story is told and retold in a thousand different and yet similar ways. And we hear it, and believe it, and come here, the Sunday after Easter, void of proof but filled with faith.
Have any of us placed our fingers in his side? Have any of us seen the Lord in the flesh? It hardly matters. The story of Thomas reminds us that those who have not seen and but have believed are blessed. We may not put our fingers in the nail prints, but the mark of God’s covenant is eternally imprinted upon our lives. The story of God’s love is forever. Each day that story touches the hearts and souls of both the living and the dead. It raises us up to new life, new hope, and new joy. Because Christ is alive, God’s grace abounds. Because Christ is alive, God’s mercy is forever. Because Christ is alive, we are blessed by God’s everlasting love.
Tell the Easter story. Share it with your children, your friends and those who have been captured by a world void of miracles. Tell the Easter story. Resurrect someone you know from the hopelessness of their own disbelief. Tell the Easter Story. You never know when you might be talking to Thomas.