A sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When Thomas heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, he was not convinced.
He wanted evidence. His mind couldn’t make the leap of faith based only on the testimony of his friends. I certainly would not rely on them, would you?
They had denied and betrayed Jesus in different ways. Now they had locked themselves up in the upper room. They might speak of things they imagined, things they wished could be true. Such testimony is highly questionable. What Thomas needed was evidence. In my mid twenties, I could identify with Thomas.
I started to research the historical Jesus, reading Marcus Borg, John Crossan and Bishop John Spong. Their scholarship helped me to read the New Testament through a political and social lens leading to their conclusion that the Resurrection is a metaphor, a sign that Jesus’s cause goes on.
But my gut feeling told me if Jesus did not rise from the dead, I would do better to remain a follower of Confucius. The Gospels maintain that Jesus is not just a social reformer, or one more prophet; he is the Son of God.
When I looked at the preaching of the first Christians, I didn’t find a word about Jesus’ teaching, I didn’t find a word about Jesus’ philosophy, or his subversive insights. What I heard over and over again was that Jesus was raised from the dead.
I shifted my focus on the imponderable questions like the problem of evil, or the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, God’s providence and our free will. It led me nowhere and everything became fuzzy. Then I developed a mentality which is to live with the mystery. At the same time, I let Jesus become the focal point, and hey! Clarity started to emerge and everything was making more sense.
I am not saying that we should abandon our reason, tradition, experience. No. It is the opposite: we use those tools to deepen our faith.
I can’t imagine Paul saying, ‘I want to proclaim a dead man who is very inspiring.’ The first century audience would not take him seriously. Instead, what Paul said in Corinth over and over again was, ‘Resurrection, resurrection.’ That was the first great Christian message.
What prevents me from saying that Jesus wasn’t simply a failed revolutionary or an inspiring idealist? What prevents me from saying that is the Resurrection.
The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says, ‘simply from a historic standpoint, it is impossible to explain the emergence of Christianity as a messianic movement apart from the resurrection.’ If you wanted the clearest indication that someone was not the Messiah of Israel, it would be this person was killed by Israel’s enemies. For Jews, Messiah was supposed to lead the nation and defeat the enemies of Israel. So the clearest indication possible that someone was not the Messiah was that he was crucified by the Romans.
In the first century many claimed to be the Messiah. Even in 19th Century China, Hong Xiu-Quan, who founded the Taiping heavenly kingdom, claimed he was Christ’s brother. His revolution lasted 15 years and was put down – and he was put to death. No one believed that he was the Messiah.
But the first disciples went to their deaths, they went to the ends of the world, proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah. I don’t believe that the disciples laid down their lives just for a conspiracy theory. How can you explain that? I am convinced that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a fact.
Today’s Gospel tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room. He did two things. First, he showed his wounds. Why did Jesus show his disciples his wounds? He wants his disciples and us to know what sin has done. Jesus went to the cross because the world resisted him. Don’t forget what the sin of the world did.
Two weeks ago, we read the passion narratives, where we see all forms of human dysfunction on display. Jesus was met by hatred, denial, betrayal, violence, cruelty and injustice. It is as if all human darkness comes out to meet him.
On Mt. Calvary, he was a stranger warrior. He didn’t fight with more violence. Rather, he takes upon himself the sins of the world, and he says, ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they do’.
After showing his wounds, Jesus says, ‘Shalom. Peace.’ This is the peace the world cannot give. God’s love is more powerful than our greatest enemies: sin and death. This is why Paul, once he had encountered the risen Christ, could say, ‘I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither height nor depth nor any other power can ever separate us from the love of God.’ How did Paul know that? Because we killed God and God returned in forgiving love.
I don’t know about you, but for me, at the very deepest level I want the Easter story to be true. Faith grows out of this yearning in me, my being cries out against the reign of death. I resist the idea of death having the final say.
The human mind wants evidence. The heart needs deeper assurance. It seems that it is very hard to have this in 2020. This year’s Easter is a strange one. Jesus IS risen. But in one sense, nothing has changed, death and evil still reign, bad things still happen to good people, to make things worse, this Covid 19 takes our minds and hearts. We are in the locked room and listening to the news about over 2.2 million people infected and over 145,000 dead, the economy in recess, people losing jobs, some are losing hope and even faith.
A lot of spiritual masters say that one of our basic problems today is we are too much affected by rational thought: our only reality is what we can see, what’s right in front of us, what we can easily imagine. Well, I will not deny for a second that what we can see IS real, of course it is. We are all very conscious of Covid 19. I confess to you that in my whole life time, I have never washed my hands as often as in the last two months. The Bible and the Church never recommend we reject reason. But the problem comes when we say reason is the ultimate reality. Then we live in a very tight and narrow space. And then we can’t hear the word of God when it comes or see the patterns of God when they emerge.
Jesus respects Thomas’ need. Jesus invites him to check his wounds. Jesus knows we are empirical, we are sceptical, we need evidence and we want to see things more clearly. Jesus meets people where we are. Jesus invites us come in, and he says to us, ‘let me show you’. Thomas surrenders to Jesus’ invitation. He responses: ‘My Lord, and my God.’
Friends, Jesus has come down into our locked room of fear. I invite you to join with me before the risen Christ in the great affirmation of Thomas: My God, my Lord, you are the centre of my life, you are everything.