Sunday, April 3, 2016

Easter 2

Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31

Here we are a week after Easter
and our Scriptures today paint for us
a picture of the post-Easter world.
What do we see?
In the Gospel of John we see
the risen Jesus walking through a locked door,
breathing on the apostles,
and thereby giving them the power
to bind and loose people’s sins.
In the Book of Acts we see
those same apostles beginning to enjoy
such a reputation for “signs and wonders”
that people are dragging the sick out onto the streets
so that Peter’s shadow can fall upon them
and heal them as he passes by.
In the Revelation of John we see the author,
living in exile on an island,
having a vision of the risen Jesus
as a robed divine figure
surrounded by seven golden lamps
and proclaiming that though he was dead
now he lives forever.
Today we also celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday,
a new feast, inaugurated by the Church in the year 2000,
prompted by a vision had in 1931
by a young Polish nun, Faustina Kowalska,
in which Jesus appeared robed in white
with red beams emanating from his heart,
telling her that on this day especially
the depths of his tender mercy are open
to all who would receive it.

In other words,
the post-Easter world is a pretty weird place.
It is as if the resurrection of Jesus from the dead
has seriously unhinged things
and caused people to act in all sorts of strange ways
and experience all sorts of strange things.
Who can blame doubting Thomas
for trying to inject a little sanity into the situation
by asking for some concrete evidence of this resurrection?

But isn’t the point of Easter
that the world has become unhinged by the resurrection.
Or it might be more accurate to say
that the raising of Jesus from the dead
has put the world back on its hinges;
that this is the way things are meant to be,
but many of us don’t realize it.
Karl Marx once responded to his critics
who said that he had taken the philosophy of Hegel
and turned it on its head
by saying that, on the contrary,
he came along and found Hegel standing on his head
and turned him right side up again.
Likewise, we might say that Jesus
found a world standing on its head
and put it back on its feet;
the resurrection of Jesus has restored the world
to how God intended it to be:
a world of life rather than a world of death,
a world of mercy rather than a world of condemnation,
a world in which God once more has drawn near.

In trying to appreciate the way in which
Easter radically transforms things,
some people can get hung up
on the extraordinary and miraculous things,
the “signs and wonders,” that we are presented with today.
Some might think that they are the main point,
while others might think that in their weirdness
they make the message of Easter
somewhat unbelievable.
In both cases we should remind ourselves
that the extraordinary and the miraculous
are not God’s primary way of working in the world,
but rather God’s way of getting our attention.
John’s Gospel and the Book of Acts
both speak of miracles as “signs”—
events that make visible
the normally hidden power of God
that is always at work in the world.
Most of us, in fact, believe without direct experience
of extraordinary signs and wonders.
And as Jesus says to Thomas in our Gospel,
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

And yet, even if most of us don’t have Jesus appear to us
as he did to the apostles in the upper room
or John in exile on Patmos,
or Sister Faustina in her convent in Poland,
we no less than they live in that strange post-Easter world.
We no less than they live in the world
that Jesus found standing on its head
and set back on its feet.
Indeed, we no less than they are called to live out our faith
in the extraordinary and miraculous good news of Easter.

Think of what Jesus says to John
when he appears to him on Patmos:
“Do not be afraid….
I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.”
What should our lives look like
if we really believe this is true?
What should our lives look like
if we really believe that we do not need to be afraid?
What should our lives look like
if we really believe that death
is not the worst thing that can happen to us?
What should our lives look like
if we really believe that there is nothing
from which the power of the risen Christ cannot save,
no loss that he cannot redeem,
no sin he cannot heal,
no shame that he cannot turn into glory?
What should our lives look like
if we truly know the truth of Easter,
the truth that the crucified Christ is alive forever
and holds in his hands—
the hands that were pierced by human sin—
the keys to death and the netherworld?

The writer Flannery O’Connor is reputed to have said,
“you will know the truth
and the truth shall make you odd.”
The promise of Easter
is that you too can look pretty weird
if you live our faith in the risen Jesus
in a world that keeps trying to turn itself back onto its head.
This is the world that wonders why you spend so little time
trying to protect yourself
from the loss of your reputation or your security.
This is the world that wonders why you do not treat refugees
as threats to be managed
rather than brothers and sisters to be welcomed.
This is the world that wonders why you forgive—
not just once, or seven times,
but seventy-times-seven times.
This is the world that might wonder
why you willingly lay down your life
in service, in sacrifice,
and perhaps even in death.

The grace of Easter faith can transform us
so that we become the signs and wonders,
the extraordinary and miraculous occurrences,
that bear witness in the world
to the resurrection of Jesus, the one who lives,
to the the message of divine mercy and forgiveness,
to the weird world of Easter
and the truth that makes us odd.