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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 2, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 27, 2014

Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; John 20:19-31

‘A breath of fresh air’

Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit and frightened disciples are promised peace and new courage. A new perspective on all that has threatened them, on all that has pushed them, cowering, to the margins of the empire/kingdom. Jesus administers a breath of fresh air to invigorate their resistance to glittering power and violence. The text offers us a breath of fresh air, too. God be with you ...

What are we supposed to believe? What are we supposed to believe in? That Jesus was God’s Only Begotten? That he rose from the dead? Is that what Thomas was having a hard time believing? In John’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus was a recent event for Thomas. Why, in the context of the story, then, can he not believe that God could raise Jesus? I’m not so sure the incredulity of resuscitation was Thomas’ problem. I’m not so sure that’s what John is wanting to teach us.

Perhaps it wasn’t simply that God could raise Jesus from the dead. Perhaps Thomas had trouble believing that God would raise a crucified Jesus from the dead. Why would God raise someone executed in utter shame? How could someone so utterly shamed a non-sovereign be the One worthy of resurrection? The “first fruits” of resurrection?

Was Thomas having trouble believing that God’s Annointed would be crucified? Doesn’t that confront him, and us, with a completely shocking salvation?

How could one who seemed so powerless against the violence be the one who saves us from it? Is this our breath of fresh air?

Thomas doesn’t demand to see Jesus (his face, his walking-talking person) in order to believe. He demands to see the marks of his execution! Jesus, the wonder worker, was supposed to save his people from centuries of oppression. He was supposed to help them resist the violence of the Romans. How could one who seemed so powerless against that violence be the one who is saving them from it? Impossible! God raise this weak/humiliated one in power as the Messiah, the Sovereign? He’ll believe that when he sees the nail prints and puts his hand in Jesus’ side.

When we talk about “faith in God”, it seems to be no problem for many Christians to talk in terms of a God who backs our most deeply held, our most conservative values re sanctioning violence against the people we deem bad, evil or just plain inferior. But such talk increasingly gives rise to doubts about what is really meant by “faith in God” ... if we profess a Sovereign who suffered violence but never dished it out.

Is the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ the full and true revelation of God, or not? Is there some additional event needed to save us like a second coming of Christ that’s completely different from the first, namely, full of sacred, beautifully orchestrated violence? “Like Thomas, we can find it hard to believe that an executed Messiah is the One who saves us” (Paul Nuechterlein).

How could one who seemed so powerless against the violence be the one who saves us from it? Is this our breath of fresh air?

Gene Robinson reflects: “When I was preparing for my consecration as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, I was getting a lot of death threats. Preparations were being made for the consecration security, and I was asked for my blood type, so that preparations could be made for immediately beginning medical treatment on the way to the hospital, should something violent take place. I remember saying to our two grown daughters, who were worried and anxious about my well-being, ‘You know, there are worse things than death. Some people actually never live and that is the worst death of all. If something does happen, remember that the God who has loved me my whole life, will still be loving me, and I will have died doing something I believe in with my whole heart.’

“As I strapped on my bulletproof vest just before the service, I remember feeling blessedly calm about whatever might happen. Not because I am brave, but because God is good and because God has overcome death, so that I never have to be afraid again.”

How could one who seemed so powerless against the violence be the one who saves us from it? Is this our breath of fresh air?

Aung San Suu Kyi, Leader of Burma’s National League for Democracy and Nobel peace prize-winner (1991) reflects: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it …

“The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation’s development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.

“Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying … A people who would build a nation in which strong, democratic institutions are firmly established as a guarantee against state-induced power must first learn to liberate their own minds from apathy and fear.” (Aung San Suu Kyi, “Freedom From Fear”, The Times Literary Supplement, 1991).

How could one who seemed so powerless against the violence be the one who saves us from it? Is this our breath of fresh air?

Pope Francis reflects: “We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, caring for the body of Christ ... the body of a wounded brother, because he is hungry, the body of a wounded sister because she is thirsty, because she is naked/humiliated, because she is a slave, because she’s in jail, because she is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. ‘Oh, great! Let’s set up a foundation to help everyone and do so many good things to help.’ That’s important, but if we remain on this level, we will only be philanthropic. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus ... Just think of what happened to St Francis when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.”

How could one who seemed so powerless against the violence be the one who saves us from it? Is this our breath of fresh air?

Let’s complete the homily together. Does today’s Gospel administer a breath of fresh air that you find invigorating/life-changing? How so? … Amen.