notre dame montreal


The Reality of the Resurrection

Sermon for Easter 2 Year A

Pointing to the reality of the resurrection

Given the news this week I think it’s safe to assume we’re going to hear a lot about opinion surveys in the coming weeks!

Interestingly, a recent Comres survey of 2010 adults commissioned by BBC local radio for Palm Sunday on the subject of the resurrection revealed that:

  • Just 17% of the general public believe word-for-word the Bible account of the Resurrection
  • Half of the people surveyed had no belief in the resurrection at all
  • 25% of people who call themselves Christian do not believe in the Biblical version of the resurrection
  • 31% of those who call themselves Christian do believe in the Biblical word for word version of the resurrection.  This figure rises to 57% among active Christians (go to church at least once per month)
  • These figures rise to 72% and 93% respectively when these groups were asked about the resurrection in general but not specifically the word for word account in the bible  Survey conducted 2 – 12 February 2017

I wonder into which of these categories Thomas might have fitted, depending on when he was asked?

When Thomas is told that Jesus has appeared to the disciples and he was not there we can almost imagine him as a petulant child shouting, ‘It’s not fair’ or perhaps as an older person repeating once of our regular life scripts. ‘Why is it always me (that misses out)?’

But in reality all Thomas wants to see is what the others have seen. It’s really not that unreasonable?  It also begs the question, ‘Where was Thomas the first time Jesus appeared?’  Had he gone out for some reason?  Was he not as afraid of the Jews as the others seemed to have been?  What happened during the intervening week?  We don’t know.  But in our haste to get to the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’ we sometimes miss out on the exchange Jesus has with the disciples in his first resurrection meeting with them which is an essential part of the story.

Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you, as the Father sent me so I am sending you.  Receive the Holy Spirit.’

We often think of the great commission in Matthew, ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations and baptise…’  Mt 28 v 19, better translated as ‘As you are going (about your daily lives) disciple all the nations and baptise…’

Here in John we have one of the great focus points of the gospel.  As the Father sent me, so I send you.  Sending you to heal the sick, raise people from the dead, forgive people, transform them and set them free from whatever binds them up in their lives.  And in order that you can do so I am giving you the (power of) the Holy Spirit.

In John’s gospel Jesus has transformed water into wine, given new birth, set free springs of living water, enabled the sick to be healed, opened the eyes of the blind, called the dead out of their grave and much more.  

This is what the disciples in the upper room as asked to go and do as they are sent out, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  To bring release, forgiveness and freedom for those they encounter as they continue on their journey of life.

And then we get to Thomas and the part of the story we do remember, the bit of the story we remember.  Unless I see the wounds and put my fingers where the nails were and put my hand into His side ‘not at all’ will I believe?

The boundaries of belief and doubt come crashing into each other.  Was the water really turned into wine?  Did it happen?  Did Lazarus really come out of his tomb after being dead?  Was the last 3 years all a bit of a mistake?  Have we been taken in?  Are we just being deluded?

In some senses Thomas is a microcosm of each one of us, a mixture of belief, faith and doubts and uncertainties.  Perhaps wanting to believe things but seemingly wanting a bit more proof, a bit more certainty, sure that we haven’t been duped in some way.  And yet at the same time wanting to believe.  Wanting it all to be true.
Thomas is also expressing what so much of the world believes and tries to seduce us to believe the same.  The sign itself is, must be, the reality, the certainty.  No sign, no reality, no certainty.

John has written in the story of the wedding at Cana in Galilee that the turning of water into wine, ‘revealed His glory, and the disciples believed in Him’.  The sign of the water into wine is merely a pointer to the reality itself, a Jesus who transforms creation and our lives by His presence, mission and ministry.  The raising of Lazarus is not giving a message about death, but for the glory of God.  The sign points to the reality of a God who cares, and is involved in our world and our lives and conquers death.

And so when Jesus invites Thomas to touch His hands and His side, perhaps understanding Thomas’ positon that it was difficult for him to believe without seeing, but yet wanting to believe, it’s as if the penny drops for Thomas.

The signs and the ‘I am’ sayings and that they all point to finally begin to fall into place.   Thomas is confronted with the reality of the Jesus who not just says ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, but who is standing in from of Him revealed in His glory (as He said He would be) as the resurrection and the life.  Just as all the other signs have done, and the empty tomb itself, the wounds reveal and point to nothing less than the glory of Jesus as Messiah and Jesus as God.  That is the reality Thomas now sees.

And in so doing utters one of the most profound statements of faith ever said, ‘My Lord and my God’ and closes the loop which John has been holding open for us since the beginning of His gospel and the time of Adam and Eve when the Lord God was walking in the garden.

Sometimes we summarise Thomas’ declaration as merely overcoming his doubts, but it is far more profound than this.  Apart from committing treason as the Emperor Domitian was termed ‘Our Lord and God’ and to give this title to someone else was effectively signing a death warrant.  Thomas is also returning us to Eden where God was very close and very familiar.  When he and the disciples are with the risen Jesus they are with God Himself.  It’s as simple as that.

The resurrection stories are not a story about a man who came back from the dead but would die again.  They are stories about a man who burst out of death into the life of God and by the nature of His death and resurrection show us God.  Perhaps it’s not surprising that so many people find it difficult to believe in the resurrection, especially if they think through the ramifications!  Perhaps they are still looking at the empty tomb or looking to see the metaphorical wounds and signs before they believe.  In a few short verses Thomas has come from doubting to his statement of faith.  And we too are somewhere on that continuum between raging doubts and sure and profound belief.

Jesus meets the disciples, and us, in all our doubts and uncertainty, and in our faith and belief.  He’s not overly concerned with our doubts but does invite us to see beyond them, and the signs and certainty we so often look for, to the reality of the resurrection life in our lives.

I’m reading a book called, ‘To be a machine’, by Mark O’Connell.  It about the authors meetings with a number of people who through the advances of technology and medical science are trying to ‘solve’ death, to be ‘free of the physical limitations of the body and the brain itself’, transhumanism.  It’s about the fluidity of the borders between the human and the machine.  About a people who believe that by somehow by downloading our brains onto a different more durable medium, such as a computer, that we will somehow have eternal life.  About a people who believe in this so much they are having their brains and bodies cryogenically stored for future restoration. 

They believe the signs they see today in technological advancement point to a reality in the future.

Perhaps they miss the fact that real life, and real eternal life, is more than just the sum of what billions of neural connections create.  It’s about an encounter and relationship with God, with all our doubts and uncertainties, the door of which opened wide for Thomas when He saw Jesus for who He truly was and is in all His revealed glory. 

The questions and the doubts which no longer seemed to matter anymore when Thomas, and we, come face to face with the reality of the resurrection, God on earth, and what that means in our lives and all those we encounter.