Easter doesn’t come immediately for everyone. While today is the Second Sunday of Easter, many of us still feel like it is Good Friday.
Like the disciples, many of us are huddled at home, not sure when it would be safe to go out.
The comforting thing is – whether we can see it or not, resurrection is happening. Before the disciples heard from Mary Magdalene proclaim “I have seen the Lord!” Jesus had already risen and left the tomb empty.
*Resurrection is not something that happens in an instant like we see pictured in medieval paintings of Jesus floating in the sky above the tomb. Resurrection is something that takes time to unfold. Like the sun rising at dawn, the sky gradually lights up from dark black to a deep blue and slowly to a lighter blue, then hued by orange and reds when the sun finally comes up.
Resurrection unfolded slowly – the news spread from the women, to the disciples, and then to others. Hope and change spread with the news. The Lord is risen!
*The Apostle Thomas has a bad reputation over the centuries – nicknamed doubting Thomas because he would not believe unless he saw the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side.
*While Jesus tells Thomas ““Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” Jesus isn’t berating Thomas. Through the years, we have interpreted this statement as Jesus elevating those who have not yet seen and yet believed. We need to be fair to Thomas. He was grieving the loss of his beloved Teacher. His unbelief is understandable. When he said he would not believe until he put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side, I doubt (pun intended) that he meant it. I think he was more speaking out of anger – the kind of anger that is part of the grieving process. And really – all of us don’t have the opportunity to see for ourselves, so we really have to believe without seeing.
*I wonder how the other disciples reacted to Thomas’ disbelief. Were they insistent that Thomas believed what they did? Or were they more patient and understanding and allowed Thomas to feel / think / believe whatever he felt / thought / believed? Did they allow him to disagree with them when they told Thomas “We have seen the Lord”? I wonder if they were self-reflective enough to realize their own reaction was no better than Thomas’ – they were still hiding in fear after Mary Magdalene declared to them the very same thing they said to Thomas – “I have seen the Lord!”
This is something we should think about because we often encounter similar situations in our communities. We do not always agree with one another. Do we insist that everyone must agree, or are we more patient with one another, and allow that everyone is on a different path, different stage of their faith journey and be ok with that. What kind of community do we want? That is not to say we don’t discuss, debate and talk about things. Rather it invites us to be more generous with one another.
I believe that a community that is able to embrace people where they are at is what God is calling us to be. God meets us where we are. Jesus didn’t get all the disciples to go to the tomb – but Jesus showed up where they were hiding in fear for their own safety.
That is not to say that people should and can stay where they are and not change – we are on our faith journeys – and the word journey suggests movement – we move and grow in faith.
And here I want to clarify what faith is.
*Faith is not just about believing something without proof. It doesn’t mean that we “go by faith” recklessly without investigation or thought. It is sad many pastors refuse to close their churches and continue to hold services in the face of lockdown measures that are put in place for everyone’s safety and wellbeing. It is one thing to take risks, like many Christians in history who took risks and sacrificed to take care of the sick during plagues and epidemics, it is another to defiantly gather and put many people at risk of catching the virus. This is not faith. *It is not faith when we ignore what we can see.
We can see the seriousness of this pandemic. It is not faith when we ignore science. Yes – God loves us, and God protects us – but Jesus also says “Do not test the Lord your God.” We do not wilfully put ourselves in danger and expect God to rescue us.
*There are many things we go by faith – because we cannot see it for ourselves, we cannot prove, we cannot be absolutely certain.
I have been asked before – “you are a gay pastor – how can you say God is ok with you being gay? How can you be sure of your salvation?”
I cannot be absolutely certain that of my salvation. But it is my experiences on my journey, studying the Scripture, and my encounters with God that convinces me that i am good with God. There are parts of me that need to change as I grow, but my sexual orientation isn’t one of those parts. My sexual orientation is an essential part of me that makes me who i am, sensitive to what injustices other people struggle with. I need to learn more about compassion, about the privilege i am born into – as a male Chinese in a Chinese dominated patriarchal society. Just like what Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:12, I need to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” I cannot prove, I cannot show you with concrete evidence – but I believe – from what i have experienced, from what encountered – and that is faith.
Faith, my friends, is when we are still huddled together, fearful, still not able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, yet believing that God is still working.
Faith is believing that Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the work of salvation and redemption. But salvation not as we might have understood it to be.
Prominent theologian N.T. Wright points out
“The New Testament does not say what most people believe it says about Heaven, which is that it’s merely a place one goes after death. In truth, he says, it’s about creation being restored through God’s ever-advancing Kingdom.”
*The followers of the Jesus-movement that grew up in that complex environment saw “heaven” and “earth” — God’s space and ours, if you like — as the twin halves of God’s good creation. Rather than rescuing people from the latter in order to reach the former, the creator God would finally bring heaven and earth together in a great act of new creation, completing the original creative purpose by healing the entire cosmos of its ancient ills. They believed that God would then raise his people from the dead, to share in — and, indeed, to share his stewardship over — this rescued and renewed creation. And they believed all this because of Jesus.
*They believed that with the resurrection of Jesus this new creation had already been launched. Jesus embodied in himself the perfect fusion of “heaven” and “earth.” In Jesus, therefore, the ancient Jewish hope had come true at last. The point was not for us to “go to heaven,” but for the life of heaven to arrive on earth. Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” From as early as the third century, some Christian teachers tried to blend this with types of the Platonic belief, generating the idea of “leaving earth and going to heaven,” which became mainstream by the Middle Ages. But Jesus’ first followers never went that route.
Historical study — reading the New Testament in its own world — thus brings surprises that can have an impact on modern Christianity, too. Perhaps the most important is a new, or rather very old, way of seeing the Christian mission. *If the only point is to save souls from the wreck of the world, so they can leave and go to heaven, why bother to make this world a better place? But if God is going to do for the whole creation what he did for Jesus in his resurrection — to bring them back, here on earth — then those who have been rescued by the gospel are called to play a part, right now, in the advance renewal of the world.
God will put the whole world right, this worldview says, and in “justification” he puts people right, by the gospel, to be part of his putting-right project for the world. Christian mission includes bringing real advance signs of new creation into the present world: in healing, in justice, in beauty, in celebrating the new creation and lamenting the continuing pain of the old.
And some of you may ask then – what does happen after we die?
*Faith is believing that we are God’s beloved, and trusting that when our time in this life is over, we will enter into the care and embrace of God.
*Salvation is God doing for the whole creation what God did for Jesus in his resurrection
*Faith is throwing ourselves into the work of salvation, joining with God to bring about a new heaven and new earth. Through us, God’s will be done on earth. Through us, God heals, restores, renews.