Seeing the Lord

John 20:19-31

The Gospel Lesson the Second Sunday of Easter is always John 20:19-31 and the story of Thomas missing out on seeing the risen Christ that Easter evening.  When told, by the other disciples, that they had seen the Lord, Thomas says, “I won’t believe it until I can touch his scars.”  A week later he made sure he was present with the community of disciples, and sure enough he saw the Lord.

Thomas did not see the risen Lord the first time, because the resurrection of Christ makes no sense apart from the community of his disciples. Read more

Why Do You Weep?

Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

“Why do you weep?”  That seems to be the central question of the Gospel reading this Easter Sunday.   It is the question the angels ask of Mary when she looks into the tomb; it is the question the resurrected Christ asks when he finds Mary in the garden and she mistakes him for the gardener.

When the other disciples, Peter and John, came to see that the tomb was empty, they left—satisfied with the reality they thought they understood—Jesus was gone, his body taken, one more event in a series of tragedies that had seen their hopes for a new reality gone.   But Mary remained with the question—she stayed with the empty tomb, the trace of the Lord she still loved, the death she didn’t claim to understand.  It is by staying that she is present for the questioning of her perception—“Woman, why do you weep?” Read more

The Good Shepherd

Psalm 23; 1 John 3:1-24; John 10:11-18
(Fourth Sunday of Easter)

One problem with the many references to sheep in the Bible is that so few of us have any real contact with these animals. The metaphor is simply lost on us. What does it mean to be compared to sheep? The little we’ve heard or read about them—that they’re not particularly bright—does not endear us to the metaphor.

But here’s the thing about Good Shepherd Sunday: it’s not about sheep at all. It is about a shepherd—the “Good Shepherd”—but even that designation is charged with meanings that can be lost on us.

“I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

The life of a shepherd was anything but dreamy or picturesque. Taking care of sheep was dangerous, difficult, tedious work. Shepherds were, as one commentator has said, “rough around the edges, spending time in the fields rather than in polite society. For Jesus to say, ‘I am the good shepherd,’would have been an affront to the religious elite. The claim had an edge to it. A modern-day equivalent might be for Jesus to say, ‘I am the good migrant worker.’”* Read more

Resurrection and Torture

Luke 24:36b-48
(Third Sunday of Easter)

Torture may be considered a kind of perverse liturgy, for in torture the body of the victim is the ritual site where the state’s power is manifested in its most awesome form.” – William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist

The government memos released last week, detailing acts of torture carried out by C.I.A. operatives in the Bush administration, make for interesting reading in light of the gospel narratives’ about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. That human bodies matter is a central truth of the Easter proclamation.

But this is less than obvious in an age when Christians more often associate Easter’s meaning with “the immortality of the soul” than with “the resurrection of the body.” When we spiritualize Easter—when we imagine disembodied souls reuniting with loved ones in heaven—we miss this point about bodies and we also, as Tom Wright has observed, “cut the nerve of the social, cultural and political critique.” Read more

World Out of Balance

“’Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead.’ The Misfit continued, ‘and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance.’” (Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”)

I don’t understand Easter. I think I stand on firm theological ground saying this. Mysteries are necessarily beyond comprehension, a scandal and embarrassment in a scientific age. It’s far more satisfying to make of mystery a problem to be solved. In “mystery” novels, for instance, a criminal death is explained, ending (generally) with the restoration of justice and order, or at least the order we’ve come to expect in this world, from the things we rely on. Mercy and transformation, which might throw everything off balance, must wait for another day.

Attempts to smooth over the mystery of the Three Days have intellectual and emotional appeal. Liberal Protestantism and the Jesus Seminar restore balance by spiritualizing Easter. “Jesus rose in the disciples’ hearts,” we’re reassured, though his corpse, like any other, rots in the tomb. Orderly minds reject a God who breaks the rules. Read more