Sermon given on the 2nd Sunday of Easter
St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville | April 28, 2019
I would like to share a quote with you from the late British novelist and philosopher, Iris Murdoch. “Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of that reality.”
The only reason that I know of Murdoch’s words is because of another writer, Zadie Smith. Zadie Smith is a young British novelist who included the Murdoch quote in an article that Smith wrote a few year ago. Upon sharing the words of Murdoch, Smith offers her own word of reflection – a “This is the secret of fiction. It offers you a challenge – to try to understand that other people are real in the same way you are. That they are as complex, as sensitive, as capable of being hurt. This is a surprisingly difficult thing to remember when we go about our everyday lives. Also, the present culture encourages the opposite idea, that it’s all about you.”
This morning, I want to say AMEN and I would invite your AMEN on behalf of Sister Iris’ and Sister Zadie’s words. And I would like to affirm those words by talking about love.
Now we first need to admit that many sermons from many pulpits today are being delivered about Thomas. About half of the Thomas sermons will be negative towards Thomas, while the other half will rise to his defense. This sermon will do neither.
For this is not a sermon about Thomas. This is a sermon about Jesus. Right, and every day is Earth Day.
But this really is a sermon about Jesus and the love of Jesus. I am aware that since my early days as a priest up to now that I have often spoken about love for Jesus and tried to woo and cajole and persuade others to fall in love with Jesus. I have written propaganda speeches on behalf of Jesus. I have spoken about his winning qualities and traits, both fully human and fully divine. I have looked for the right moment to bring up another amazing miracle of the Messiah or to share another teaching of Our Lord. I have wanted to convince others that loving Jesus was a good idea.
But those sermons have not been about Jesus either. They have been about us and our potential love for Jesus. But this morning, the question is not “Do you love Jesus?” but “Does Jesus love you?”
The fact that most of us respond quickly to the question, “Does Jesus love you?” with “Of course Jesus loves you, silly!” already tells us a great deal about the love of Jesus and also that we take it for granted. Jesus’ unconditional love for us is one of those easy assumptions that we carry with us – we expect the car to start every time we get in it, I expect that you got the email I sent you, and we expect Jesus to love us, end of discussion.
But if we enter into the story of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel, and if we try to enter the story through the person of Jesus, I believe we begin to understand at a much deeper level that real love can only flow from us when we discover that other people are real, too.
My friends, that discovery can be painful.
At this point in St. John’s Gospel, the resurrected Jesus has left his tomb, has entered again a world that needs to know and encounter real love, the freedom-giving kind of love that is always in short supply.
“I know what it’s like to be dead.” The Beatles once sang those words, but those words began with Jesus in the tomb but the tomb is empty now. And don’t you know Jesus would have been looking for life on that first Easter day. And maybe he would have whispered to himself over and over again, “I am life, I am life.”
Jesus finds himself at a house. He remembers this house and a meal with the disciples, a Passover meal, a supper that we sometimes call the last supper but that Jesus intended to be the first. Maybe the disciples are preparing for supper, preparing to remember Jesus in the meal again.
And Jesus stands outside, ready to enter in and show them the actual Body of Christ they remember in the meal. And Jesus, who is now all Easter life, reaches for the door and it is – locked. Tight.
And inside are people, his people, and they are afraid. And they are not sharing a meal. They are sharing fear and anxiety with each other. Christ is risen, Christ has left a tomb, but their room, their locked room, has become a tomb where Resurrection seems like a cruel joke.
So what now, Jesus? Is this what you saw coming? Your disciples fled as you made your way towards the cross but they have joined you in the tomb and have locked themselves up and ceased to live without any order from Pontius Pilate. They have made it easy for him. While still alive, they have ceased living. Though you have been dead, Jesus, you are now so much more alive than these.
Why not leave them and go find a happier lot? Any quick reading of the four canonical Gospels will easily let you know that the disciples had issues. They were not a stellar bunch. Go find people who will greet you with open arms.
But in that moment, Jesus, now fully alive and still wounded, embodies forever what Murdoch defined so well. Jesus knows that the Resurrection isn’t just about him. It is about us all. It is about those disciples in a locked room. It is about anyone in a locked room.
Easter does not come to us only when we are ready for it. Like the dinner guest who shows up early, so many times Easter enters the world before we expected it, or even cared to see it.
In the Resurrection, we proclaim that Jesus was raised from the dead. But as the Resurrected Christ stands outside a locked door, he comes to realize that the future of the Resurrection is in that room.
There are people in that room, real people whom Jesus loves. Whatever the locked door intended to keep out, it can’t keep out the sort of love that Jesus possesses now along with the wounds of the cross.
And this is your call Jesus, loving these people. They are the only kind of people we make.
The future of the Jesus movement will have to go through that room, which might not be the best place to begin turning the world upside right. But then, tortured and crucified and newly risen Messiahs can’t be choosers, can they? Those are his people in there. That is where we are.
The Resurrection of the Christ is not completed when we discover that the tomb is empty. The Resurrection of the Christ is completed when we discover that those sitting in locked rooms and afraid are not there alone anymore. The Risen Christ has entered their tomb.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” In one sentence so much of what is beautiful and powerful about the Gospel of Jesus is expressed. In one sentence, our minds are invited to imagine all the other locked doors and fearful places the risen Christ found and healed along the way. In one sentence, we are reminded that the life of the Christ can not be merely captured in words and safely put back there somewhere.
In one sentence, we are reminded that it is Easter still.