Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday of Easter – April 27, 2014
May God be with us in every footstep, Jesus be known to us in the breaking of bread and the Spirit touch our hearts in gentleness. Amen.
A defendant was on trial for murder. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no corpse. In the defense’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.” He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But, you all looked on with anticipation. I therefore put to you that you have a reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.”
The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. “But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door.” The jury foreman replied, “Oh, we looked, but your client didn’t.”
Reasonable doubt. It’s not something that occurs only in courtrooms.
Over the last weeks as we have prepared to celebrate a resurrection, there have been many things we’ve been asked to believe. For many of us, the questions have come and gone without much thought – but there are some pretty big claims hidden in these stories.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. People get excited and yell (or tastefully sing) “Hosanna!” We’re asked to believe that this itinerant peasant is actually a king.
Having arrived at the place where Jesus would celebrate the Passover, this “king” takes off most of his clothes, gets down on his knees and washes the dirty, stinky feet of his friends – telling them that he has come to serve and that they should do the same. “Love one another,” he says. On Maundy Thursday we were asked to believe that putting aside our privilege and engaging in acts of service – concrete acts of love – makes a difference – a real difference not only in our world, but in some sort of cosmic way as well.
Jesus broke bread with his friends – says some crazy thing about it being his body. We’re supposed to believe that bread is more than flour, water, oil and a little yeast. He pours some wine and passes the cup around. “This is my blood.”
He pulls an all-nighter in a garden – dreading what he expects to happen – his arrest, torture and death – praying that God will intervene. We’re supposed to believe that God could or can or actually does act to change the course of events – or on the flipside, we’re asked to believe that God was perfectly okay with the brutal death of another innocent man at the hands of Roman soldiers.
Last Saturday night we met together in darkness and we waited. We lit small candles from new fire and we listened to stories about how God has always been present – stories about deliverance, old stories. And we made promises – ancient promises about how we would live, how we will live –
And then the trumpets sounded and the lights came on and we sang “Alleluia!” The day of resurrection has come. Sprinkled with the Holy Water of baptism, we were asked to believe that we are cleansed from sin, given a new life, given a new identity as children of the Living God.
The stone is rolled away.
The women find no body to anoint.
Someone sees an angel.
Someone hears the voice of Jesus and turns.
Locked in fear with the door bolted, the disciples huddle together only to find themselves in the presence of Jesus. He had come – come to them in their place of fear – they turn, they look; he had come with his usual greeting, “Peace be with you” and offered evidence: his hands, wounded, his side, pierced.
But one has missed out. Thomas had been away. “He was here – right here with us,” the others report. “We saw him, heard him, we touched him!”
But Thomas doubted. He may have had a reasonable doubt about Jesus’ resurrection, but he definitely doubted the testimony of his friends. To be fair, Thomas didn’t want anything more than the others had experienced – he wanted the same thing..… to see with his own eyes, to touch with his own hands.
Isn’t that what we all want?
A chance to personally experience a living God in ways and on terms that blast away the bits of doubt that blur our vision, that eat away at our confidence, the doubt that, at times, makes it so very, very difficult to believe in any kind of resurrection without evidence?
Yes, we may want an experience of God that obliterates all doubt – but in reality, it seems that doubt is an integral part of faith. It is in the doubting that we search for deeper truth, deeper connection and often end up with deeper commitment and stronger faith.
So, how does that happen – this experience of a living God – made known in the person of Jesus?
Perhaps our experience of the last week will shed some light on this.
Perhaps the first place to start is in getting to know Jesus….specifically getting to know him as king – a king who brought healing and hope – a king who offered important kinds of deliverance…..deliverance from shame, from cynicism, from hatred and violence – from all those things that fall under the heading of “sin.” We have been set free – and this is an experience of resurrection.
Secondly, just like the disciples, when we gather to break bread, to give thanks and to remember, God is at work – feeding us, drawing us into the holy, the divine place where all divisions between us – can be – are broken down. We are one body – alive to God and to one another because we share one bread, one cup. This is an experience of resurrection.
Jesus pulled an all-nighter and sometimes that’s what we need to do too. Pacing the floor, pounding on the door – letting God know what we need, taking a chance at being our most vulnerable. There’s something about being totally honest with God that often results in an experience of resurrection.
And then there are the “alleluias!” – in the car, on the beach, in the shower – raise your voice in praise. Reasonable doubt notwithstanding – a good loud “Alleluia!” when the Spirit moves is powerful.
Breathing on the fearful disciples, Jesus gives them a taste of what is to come. A new confidence –a new level of trust – a new ability to share their stories – a new experience of resurrection.
So, while we may, at times, feel like we’re circling the doubt-drain, we are invited today to look toward the door of the courtroom – to peek into the tomb, to listen for the voice of Jesus and to get to know him better, to be fed living bread, to pray until we’re spent, and then, like Thomas, recognize Jesus as the risen Lord.
“Alleluia! Christ is risen!” Amen.