Sunday, April 19, 2009

From death to Good News

Eternal is the gift he brings,
therefore our heart with rapture sings,
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Now still he comes to give us life,
and by his presence stills all strife.
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. -- John 20:19-31

It was a hectic week. On Tuesday my wife's grandfather passed away (death and taxes indeed!) . And so on Thursday, the family and I drove 4 hours to Marshalltown, Iowa to pay our respects the following day. I was honored to be a pallbearer and although I didn't know Paul all that well, what I did know of him was all very good. I'm getting to the age where I'm more acutely aware of the death of family and friends. It's not as though I was oblivious to it when I was younger, just that it didn't have the same resonance as it does now. Any number of my church congregation are reaching the age when death draws close at hand. I will no doubt attend some of their funeral services. Never mind that of my own, dear, 73 year old mother (hopefully not any time soon).

During the service (which, although nice, wasn't a liturgical service and therefore a tad strange to me) I was struck by the thought that Paul's death happened mere days after we proclaimed the central tenant of our Christian faith: Death has no sway for those who believe. Christ is risen! Alleluia! If there is a central tenant to our faith, it surely must be that. That has to be the Good News, right? That we don't end at death but carry on to eternal life with the Father.

Juxtaposing that is today's gospel lection. As Dr. Martin Marty said this morning in his sermon to my church (how about them apples!), when you read "Thomas", read your name in his place. We are the doubters. But just like Thomas, we come around -- eventually. Death has a way of focusing our attention on that central tenant. But one would think that 2000 years of witness to this tenant by all the saints would be enough of a euphemistic "clue stick" to get hit over the head if we only had ears to hear and eyes to see. I guess I take great comfort that even Thomas, one of the twelve had issues of doubt, just as we do. And yet, even though we doubt we are forgiven for that doubt. Because the one that forgives us has indeed "fore-given" his own Son as the one who will lead us, through doubt and even despair into our heavenly Fathers loving embrace at the end. Good News indeed.

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