Authority or Authorship
Alleluia! The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia.
It may be hard to believe, but it is still Easter. This is the second Sunday of the Easter Season…so be ready, everyone, for who might walk through that door. You don't know when the risen Christ himself may come in.
What? Do you think that's foolish? Well, perhaps it is. But in reading today's gospel passage, it seems that one can never be too sure when Jesus is going to show up and show you his wounds and offer you peace.
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." (John 20:19)
There they were, in fear, and a fair bit of doubt. Everything had come to a screeching halt. And there they were on the first day, a Sunday mind you, and Jesus walks in and says "Peace be with you."
The disciples were in terror. The religious authorities hunted them. Their beloved teacher had been killed…and had somehow been taken away. Raised? Even after last week's Easter proclamation, the disciples still feared. Sure, maybe Jesus had been raised, but what of them? What of them? They still faced the Sanhedrin, the face of the religious powers. They still faced Pilate and the power of the Roman Empire. They were afraid. So they locked the doors and sat with one another.
Sometimes, in the presence of such authority as the disciples faced…be it a government, a religious body, or in our time, a corporation, it is difficult to imagine that someone or something can stand…
…stand in opposition
…or stand in truth.
It is difficult to imagine standing much anywhere with any kind of strength or hope. I imagine this is what was running through the minds of all the disciples on that morning.
Where do we stand?
How do we go on?
No wonder they doubted. No wonder they feared.
But then Jesus appears. And he offers peace. They all touch his wounds in his hands. They all touch his side…all but Thomas. I think Thomas gets a bum rap in some ways. It is not that he is an exceptional doubter. It is simply that he was not there on the first Sunday when Jesus came before the disciples.
But Jesus comes again.
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."
Then 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." (John 20:26-27)
"My Lord and my God."
There, Jesus stands. And Thomas recognizes him. Like the other disciples before him, he touches the wounds. Like the other disciples before him, his faith is restored. Ancient sources also suggest that it is safe to assume that Thomas, too, received the Holy Spirit as Christ breathed on him that day.
Thomas' faith proclamation of "My Lord and my God" was not only a response to the assurance of wounds, the proof that the disciples were telling the truth. Let's not make that mistake.
The response was also to the fact that the wounds were overcome.
It is that Jesus, in spite of what the authorities did, stood before Thomas and offered peace. He was risen. The wounds that the world gave him did not end him.
The wounds that the empire offered, both Rome and the religious authorities, did not end him. God overcomes the empire. The marks of the cross, the marks of empire, of human authority, are overshadowed by God's mercy revealed in Christ's resurrection.
"My Lord and my God."
Christ's wounds do not end him. They do not even define him. They announce solidarity with us. Grace, love, and our very salvation, as someone once said, are authored by God. We are drawn into the story of resurrection, a story that trumps the powers of the world. It does so with shouts of mercy, and with the announcement of peace. It does so bearing the wounds of the world….your wounds…my wounds...the wounds of the oppressed and persecuted.
God's mercy endures forever, says the Psalmist.
Now, the disciples do not remain behind locked doors contemplating the story. They do not simply sit on this stuff. Nor do not stir up violent resistance. But they do stir up trouble. Peter and the apostles will stand before the religious empire of their day and say, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." (Acts 5:29) They will stand and proclaim the story, the story of a risen Lord and the peace that he offers. They will stand in the face of the empire and proclaim "mercy."
"Mercy!" is the church's response when the empire cries,
"Scarcity! We need more!"
The church cries, "Mercy!"
The church stands as Christ in the world. The community of the faithful stands as Christ did before the disciples, before those living in fear and says, "Peace be with you." The wounds are never denied. The wounds are real. Trouble is real. Death and mayhem are real. There are horrible things in this world. Empires still exist. And they still live on fear. And the church must stand in opposition to such things.
In our day and age, we stumble across empires all the time, some are almost hidden from view…corporate empires, political empires, media empires, military empires, entertainment empires…and, yes, religious empires. In Acts, the disciples stand before the theocrats and cry "mercy" when they would rather cause people to fear.
Every institution is tempted to become an empire.
Empires want to stand in their authority. The spirit of empire wants you to believe that you need what it possesses.
But Christ, and those who profess Christ, stand in the story. We stand in the story where empires come to an end. Eventually Rome falls, brothers and sisters, but God's mercy endures forever.
We stand in the story. We stand not in authority, but in authorship, in the presence of the "author of our salvation." For the word of God, the word uttered at the beginning of creation is "Peace."
We proclaim the forgiveness of sins.
We proclaim mercy and not fear.
We proclaim peace and not scarcity.
The failure to do so can be calamitous. For, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "The church is only the church when it serves the other."
Sometimes, brothers and sisters, an authority can rise up, an empire can rise up, and it can decimate what lies before it. Thus the church's message must be constant. The church must always proclaim the story; it's faith in a risen savior. It must proclaim that authorship belongs to God, that human authority is fleeting. It must proclaim mercy and peace to all the world.
And when the world wounds people, when powers rise up, the church must stand as Christ did, bearing the wounds…in solidarity with all who suffer.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God.