Sunday, April 28, 2019

Easter 2C: Recognize and connect with God

Lectionary: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Sactificador. Amen.

You’ve probably heard me say before that I hold the concept of the quest for individual salvation to be the besetting sin of current Christian culture, and it may be that it’s been the besetting sin throughout Christian history, or even before that.

But our Scriptures tell us that the plan of God’s salvation was, is, and has always been for the whole world, in fact, for all creation – the earth, the heavens, the whole cosmos. This plan also includes a personal, transformative relationship with God, based on the unique character and personality of each person, as evidenced throughout the stories in our Testaments, Old and New.

Focusing on “my own personal salvation” is a demonstration of unbelief. If Christ died once for all and made us a priesthood of believers who are commissioned, that is sent by God in Christ, to serve, to carry this message of God’s redeeming love to the world, then worrying about our own or anyone else’s personal salvation means we don’t believe Christ already obtained it for us.

Do we believe he did? That is the very basis of our Good News, isn’t it? And as Peter and those first disciples said to the council: we are witnessing to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who hear and respond.

Today’s lectionary demonstrates for us that the plan of God’s redemption (reclaiming) moves from the individual to the community who, through their individual relationships with Christ, are working together to make an expansive, inclusive “net” with which to “catch” people (as Jesus promised they would do).

This early community hiding out together in that upper room included women and men, faithful-ish Jews and tax collectors, mystics and the empirically-minded. The Spirit of Christ approaches each of them differently, as it does for us now, helping us all move from unbelief to belief.

Our Scripture shows us that there’s a moment that happens when we recognize and connect with the resurrected Christ on a deeply interior level. When that happens, it is our response to an invitation by God to draw close, in the way we are able to do that and connect.

In the midst of the beauty and glory of this personal connection, we experience a physical sensation, the first sign of the process of transformation happening within us. This is what we are hearing in our gospel story from John, over and over again.

For example, at the tomb that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene encountered the resurrected Christ, but didn’t recognize him at first. Pre-occupied and probably weighed down with the devastating disappointment that her beloved rabbi, to whom she was so devoted and who had given her so much hope through his inclusion of her while he lived, was now dead.

Did her hopes die with him? I imagine she was processing this very thing as she went to the tomb to anoint and prepare his body for proper burial. By now, a couple of days after being placed in the tomb, the body of her rabbi would be decaying and the smell would be strong.

Having worked as an oncology chaplain, I can tell you that when you know there will be a smell you have to steel yourself to carry out your ministry. I imagine Mary was doing that.

Then she encountered the risen Christ, but it wasn’t until he spoke her name, tapping into their personal relationship, and that she sighed her recognition of and connection to him: Rabbouni! At that moment, Mary moved from unbelief to belief.

She ran back to tell the others “I have seen the Lord!” but they didn’t believe her. So Jesus appears to them, at least ten of them: Judas was gone and for reasons not stated, Thomas wasn’t there.

Jesus spoke peace to them twice and breathed on them calling to mind God breathing life into Adam in Genesis; but in that case, God breathed life into one. In the gospel of John, God in Christ breathes life into the whole community.

Receive Holy Spirit, he says. The choice is still theirs, but it appears all accepted the invitation and they were all changed from unbelief to belief.

In today’s gospel, which takes place a week later, the disciples are again gathered in the upper room which is locked for their safety, and this time Thomas, the Twin, is with them. The disciples had proclaimed to Thomas that they had seen the Lord using the same words Mary Magdalene had used to proclaim it to them that first time. In keeping with the pattern, Thomas doesn’t believe, even though a whole community has proclaimed it to him.

He thinks he needs proof, so Thomas declares that unless he sees and can touch the wounds of Jesus, he won’t believe. Thomas doesn’t actually need proof. What he needs is that recognition of and personal connection with Jesus.

So Jesus gives it to him without scolding him or judging him. Jesus simply invites him to draw near and touch his wounds if that will lead him to believe. But, as I mentioned, that wasn’t what Thomas needed. In the presence of the love of God in the risen Christ, Thomas sighed his recognition saying: "My Lord and my God."

Powerful words.

In the Roman Catholic tradition in which I grew up, I was taught to repeat Thomas’ words at the elevation of the cup during the Eucharistic prayer. I still do that to this day. I breathe my recognition of and connection to Jesus, who is God in Christ in me and in the community with whom I share a Holy Communion.

It’s a necessary and great comfort to me to be part of a community of believers. After Jesus had given the disciples his peace (yet again), he told them something outright that they needed to hear: what you do in heaven will be done on earth (sound familiar?). If you forgive what separates and divide, it will be reconciled. If you don’t, it won’t.

Those few words contain a powerful teaching: remember how the world responded to the unfathomable love and mercy of God who seeks to reconcile the whole world to herself. They killed it. They killed the embodiment of divine love, yet from his cross he forgave them, reconciling even them into the community of love. You, my disciples, are now the embodiment of divine love on the earth. Love as I have loved. Forgive even from your crosses.

The early disciples understood this, as we can hear in their reply to the high priest: WE must obey God… WE are witnesses to these things, and they lived out their belief in their lives, and even in their deaths.

This is the new covenant of reconciliation established by Jesus. We have been reborn as a community – the fellowship of Christ’s body - and our commission is to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.

In order to do that, we must recognize and connect with God in Christ in a deep, interior, transforming way. God will invite us to this in whatever way will work for us as individuals and as a community, because it is Christ’s spirit in us that witnesses to the world, that forgives and reconciles what divides and separates, that drenches us in love at every shared Holy Communion.

I share with you this poem from the book “Episcopal Haiku” (p. 42):

A little girl drops
her wafer in the wine. She’s
soaking up God’s grace.

Soak it up – soak up the love and grace of God waiting to drench you, waiting to drench us – for WE have been commissioned to show forth in our lives what we believe. Amen.

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