(A sermon based on 1 John 1:1-2:2 and John 20:19-31 for the Second Sunday of Easter 2012)
Early on Sunday morning Mary Magdalene discovered that the stone had been removed from the tomb of Jesus. When she reported that troubling news to Peter and the Beloved Disciple, they ran to the tomb and found the tomb empty except for Jesus’ grave clothes. Then, they went home. Mary Magdalene returned to the empty tomb where she encountered the risen Christ and, following his directive, went and told the disciples the very exciting news that she had seen the Lord.
So, naturally, all of the disciples, hearing that strange news, went out immediately to see if they could see the risen Christ, too.
Well, no, they didn’t.
So that evening Jesus came looking for them, and he found them, cowering behind locked doors.
To be fair, they had reason to be afraid—It was entirely possible that the same authorities that had Jesus killed would come after them next. Also to be fair, they had reason to be skeptical—yes, it was a fact that Jesus’ body was gone but there were much more reasonable explanations for that than that he had risen from the dead. Still, he had raised Lazarus, hadn’t he? And now that they thought about it, he had tried to tell them something about his being killed and then raised, hadn’t he? But still, even though Mary Magdalene claimed to have seen him, nobody else had and maybe she was just hysterical in her grief.
Better safe than sorry, they concluded, and so they locked themselves away from the threatening world.
Before we are too hard on the disciples, we should reflect on how we can be just like them, by which I mean that we try to lock our doors against the threats of the world, too.
We might do so as individuals when we try to ignore the hurts and losses that are going on all around us or when we refuse to let our real selves be known but instead wear masks that we think will meet people’s approval or when we lock ourselves into a narrow-minded and shallow-spirited religion that refuses to take seriously the minds and spirits of people.
We might do so as a church when we see our sanctuary as a fortress against the attacks of the world rather than as a base for ministry in our community or when we talk about the same old things that are wrong with the world more than we talk about how God in Christ is making all things new and right or when we spend much, much more of our time, energy, resources, and money on serving ourselves than we do on trying to serve others.
Besides, the disciples had not yet seen or encountered the risen Christ; they had the testimony of others but they still had their doubts, as the absent Thomas would articulate later. (By the way, I wonder where Thomas was on that first Easter Sunday evening. We tend to criticize him for not being present; should we commend him for being the only one not locked away in the group fear fest?).
No, they did not go to find Jesus but Jesus did come to find them.
And whether or not we open our locked doors and leave our fortress church to go look for him, he does come looking for us.
So the disciples were—and we are—the fellowship of the found.
Interestingly, and maybe even amazingly, a week later, Jesus came back to them—and they were behind closed doors again!
Maybe one reason he came back was to give Thomas the affirmation for which he had asked, but maybe another reason was to give the disciples, still huddled away from the threats of the world, a second chance.
Thankfully, the Lord knows that we need second—and third and fourth and fifth and…how high can we count, anyway?—chances.
When I served on a university faculty, we were always getting directives from above (the administration, not the Lord) about thinking about ways to “work smarter” and ways to improve our “quality.” Finally, at one meeting, our most veteran professor said in frustration, “I already know how to do a better job than I’m doing!”
We know how to do more and better with our discipleship than we’re doing, too, and we even know that it is possible. After all, Christ is risen indeed! The same resurrected Jesus whose wounds Thomas could see and to whose reality the other apostles testified is present with, in, and among us. We know that we can have deeper fellowship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and with each other in the community of the Church. We know that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” and that “if we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.”
We know it is possible! We know that in fellowship with God we can be who God means for us to be. We know that the Bible’s stated ideal for us is that we not sin.
But we know that the Bible’s stated grace for us is that we do sin and that when we do, “the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin” and that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us and that “if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” and that “if we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
So there it is. We are not to sin. We do sin.
Thanks be to God, when Jesus finds us he makes us the fellowship of the forgiven.
Here is reality for us, if we will face it: as the monk said when asked to describe life in the monastery, “We fall down and we get up again. We fall down and we get up again. We fall down and we get up again…”
This is where we live in the real Christian life in the real world as real people serving a real Savior: we live where failure meets forgiveness, where guilt meets grace, and where carelessness meets compassion.
We are the fellowship of the found and the fellowship of the forgiven.
Jesus once told a parable about two men who went up to the Temple to pray. One, a respected member of the religious establishment, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The other, the tax collector references in the religious man’s prayer, would not look up toward heaven and beat his breast as he prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Which one was a member of the fellowship of the found and the forgiven and which one was not?
Which one are you?
Which one would you rather hang around with?