Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Second Easter Tomb

Did you know that there are two tombs in the Easter story? That may come as news to you, but it’s true. We Christians tend to focus on the first Easter tomb, the one where the stone was rolled away. But then as the story unfolds in John's gospel, there's another Easter tomb. Dead- bolted, closed and impenetrable, it’s the tomb where Jesus’ friends are huddled together, paralyzed with fear, listening breathlessly for every footstep, praying that their secret hiding-place won't be exposed.

The same Jesus who breaks out of the first tomb breaks into the second tomb. The disciples don’t recognize him at first. This is a common theme in the resurrection stories. Jesus appears to those who should have known him best and they don’t know him from Adam. Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener until he calls her by name. The two travelers on the road to Emmaus don’t recognize the risen Christ until the very end of their journey, when they have supper with him. When Peter and John meet a stranger on the shore, they don’t realize who it is until he directs them to a huge catch of fish.

Here in the second tomb, behind locked doors, Jesus has to identify himself to his terrified disciples. And how does he prove to them that it was really him? By showing them his wounded hands and side.

We don’t know where Thomas was at the time. Maybe he went out to buy groceries. But he wasn’t there, and he missed the whole thing. When his friends told him about seeing Jesus, Thomas refused to believe them. He told them that he would have to see it for himself. In fact, he wouldn’t even believe it if he saw it, he said. He would have to touch the wounded body of Jesus before he would be convinced.

It’s amazing that Jesus honors Thomas’s request. He doesn’t say, “Too bad for you Thomas; you missed it. You snooze you lose!” But he comes back and invites Thomas to put his finger in the wounds in his hands and he asks him to put his hand in his side. This is a grace-filled moment for the disciples, and particularly Thomas.

When Jesus was raised from the dead, down to a person, no one believed it at first. Even right up to his last resurrection appearance, in Matthew we read “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Although Thomas may be the disciple who was given the label of the “doubter”, this was a problem for all of Jesus’ followers.

On Easter morning, are you one of those people who struggles with the truth of it all? Despite the scriptures, and the hymns we sing, and all the shouts of “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”, is there a part of you that isn’t so sure? You might look around at all the other people who seem to believe what you find so hard to believe. You might think you're the only one who feels this way. But the thing is, we don’t get together for worship and talk about what we don’t believe. If we did, and if we were truly honest, you would probably be surprised to discover that you’re not the only one who struggles with believing everything we say in church.

If we were honest, you would learn that many of us come to worship, not so much because of what we really believe in our hearts, but because of what we want to believe in our hearts. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what it means to be a person of faith. Faith isn’t about clinging to our certainty; it’s about living into our hope.

In the second Easter tomb, Jesus greets his disciples’ fear and disbelief with loving acceptance as he assures them that he doesn’t mind their questions and their probing. Jesus doesn’t judge them or scold them for their disbelief. He meets them in their fear and offers them the peace they so desperately need.

You would think that one Easter tomb would have been enough. But it obviously wasn’t and Jesus knew it, because he knows what it means to be human -- it means struggling with doubts and fears even in the face of an empty tomb. And so Jesus didn’t just shed his shroud and leave an empty tomb behind him, thinking that would be all the disciples needed to understand who he was and what he was about. He joined them in their tomb, the one they had constructed for themselves.

If the first Easter tomb is difficult for you to get your head around, the second Easter tomb may be one you can relate to. It’s the place of doubt and skepticism. It’s the place of fear. It’s the place where we try to close ourselves off from God. And it’s in that second Easter tomb where Christ meets us.


Thomas said...

That's hard to believe!

Anonymous said...

Powerful message. The closing line is really significant. . . . that would be where the sanctuary meets the street.