I don’t think there is anything much that is easy about the life of faith, about an Easter faith. I don’t suppose it was easy for the early church, for the first disciples, for Magdalene, for Mary, for Peter, for any of them. It was not easy for them to make sense of the death of Jesus, to see their dreams die, and then to encounter him alive again and real, more real than before. It was not easy to be shocked out of despair and into the threat of the new.
It was not easy for the author of the fourth gospel, the one who tells the story about Thomas. That’s why he tells it. Easter is not about belief. That’s what makes it so hard. If we just had a set of empirical data, for even a set of historical events, we could put a body of evidence together and come up with a conclusion and sign on the bottom line. We could put two and two together and come up with resurrection. We could list our beliefs. We could recite a creed. But the foundation of Christian faith is not a creed, it’s an encounter.
Thomas wanted flesh and bones and the mark of the nails, but he gets instead that whispered greeting, “Peace be with you,” and then he gets life and breath and the shalom of God. Thomas gets the One who was so full of God, who showed them all the way of God in the world. He gets it. That One and that Way is alive again. And so, Thomas gives us the central proclamation of the Christian faith: “My Lord and my God!”
Dangerous words. As dangerous as the Roman persecution of Christians was getting underway: Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not. Thomas’ words meant that not only Jesus, but the way of Jesus, the way that defied the institutions of Jerusalem and of Rome, the way that subverted the conventions of the day, is alive again, not stopped by the cross or the tomb. The way that Jesus had of gathering everyone around the table, women and men, Jew and gentile, insider and out, his way of inviting the ones at the margins to the center, his way of caressing the untouchable, lifting up the fallen, embracing the hurting, all of this is alive again.
God’s compassion, once seen in Jesus, lives on in the community. God’s fierce and table-turning justice, indicting the power-brokers and heartening the poor, once seen in Jesus, is alive again. Jesus’ own passion for justice, which led him to the cross, is alive and let loose in the world. Easter continues, the gospel encounters tell us, not because of the proof of hands with scars, but because the work of the Nazarene’s hands will be carried on by the others, by Thomas and Peter and John and Mary and Magdalene, sent with the word of peace to bring God’s peace, God’s shalom, to a world waiting for good news.
Easter continues, because the work of the Nazarene’s hands will be carried on even now, by us. Ours are the hands that will heal and lift up and reach out and include and invite and break barriers and break bread. Ours are the hands that will bring Easter into our day, into our world that longs for resurrection, for new life, as Thomas did. Ours are the hands that will bring Easter into the places of the cross, to the Tanzanian villages, the Scott Mission, CLWR. Easter continues because what we bring, and what we long for is not belief, but encounter. What matters in the Christian life is not having the correct beliefs, but rather entering into relationship with the God at the heart of our tradition. It is relationship that changes our lives. This experience of Easter, this life of faith is not easy. And it is not something any one of us can do on our own. Easter requires encounter with another. And so, seeking Easter, we turn, seeking not proof, but truth, not facts, but encounter, we turn to one another and say “Show me.”