If the gospel is really “good news” then sometimes I think the church should publish newspapers with big banner headlines. Today’s newspaper, if you were to pick it up at the door of the church on your way in, would have 100 pt. above-the-fold headlines announcing: “Thomas Vindicated.” Thomas vindicated. You remember Thomas from last week’s gospel. He’s the one who “doubted.” He’s the one who said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails and put my hand in the wound on his side, I will not believe.” So, we have singled him out and have labeled him the “doubting Thomas.”
Well, look who’s doubting this week. The rest of the disciples!! The resurrected Jesus stands there in the midst of them and says, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see.” But Luke tells us that, “they were still disbelieving.” Still disbelieving. They had started off that way. When the women first ran to tell them that the tomb had been found empty they dismissed it as a, quote, “idle” tale. Actually, idle is too soft a word. The Greek is “leros” which translates more directly as “delirious.” When the disciples were first told the good news they dismissed the women as “delirious.”
Now, the point of all this isn’t to condemn the other eleven disciples as equally guilty as Thomas for the crime of doubt. It is to look at what their doubt actually meant and to see what that has to do with us. I, for one, don’t think that their doubt meant disbelief. I think that it meant that they couldn’t figure out what it all meant. Maybe it is more confusion than doubt. First of all, Jesus wasn’t readily recognizable to them. Some thought he was the gardner. The two on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him even as he talked with them. He seemed to slip in and out of locked doors like a ghost.
But even when he said, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones you see that I have,” Luke tells us that “in their joy they were disbelieving.”
In their joy they were disbelieving. This tells me they believed it, but couldn’t figure it out. They could see and touch Jesus, but they couldn’t figure it out. If he was back to life, why wasn’t he the same? And, if it was Jesus (sure seemed to be!) then what were the implications of all of this? So then he ate with them and explained things to them. Maybe that’s the way we should do things here in church. Maybe we should eat with Jesus first and have it all explained later. We’ll put the communion up front and put the scripture readings next and the sermon last. I’m being a bit facetious here, but just to make the point that this is the way with revelation. First comes the experience with God and next comes the explanation of what that experience means. After they saw and touched the body, Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
The theme of our Lutheran Youth Conference in Houston this coming summer is “This Changes Everything.” The theme of all of our Lutheran Summer Camps this year is “This Changes Everything.” Well, this is precisely what the disciples were trying to absorb in their confrontation with the resurrection. The resurrection changes everything. Everything you think you have known about the way God works … every way you have interpreted scripture … every concept you have had about life and death … this change everything. I was dead but now I live. This changes everything. I was in the tomb but now I am here. This changes everything. You can feel, see, touch, and hear me. This changes everything.
After Jesus invited them to see, touch, feel, and hear Luke tells us that, quote, “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” That is, he led them to see scripture through the lens of resurrection. They had never considered scripture that way before. This doesn’t mean that he invited them to take passages of the Old Testament and pretend that they prophesied his coming … as we often do with Isaiah and others. No, it means something else.
It means that he opened their minds to understand they ways God had performed resurrections all throughout Biblical history. It would have been an invitation to see resurrection in the flood story in Genesis where, in the midst of mass annihilation God resurrects a remnant and the earth is once again filled with living beings. The very creation story, itself, resurrects life from chaos. It would have been an invitation to see the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land as resurrection. Bringing forth a chosen nation from Abraham and Sarah when they were well beyond the age of fertility is resurrection. You don’t have to be Christian to see resurrection in scripture. Our Jewish brothers and sisters have been seeing it since … well, since they wrote it! This is what Jesus opened their minds to see.
This changes everything. This summer our youth will be invited not only to interpret scripture through the lens of the resurrection, but to imagine what life could be like on this planet when viewed through the lens of resurrection. What is it that is dead or dying now that needs to be brought forth to life? Is it biological species of life which are dying as a result of ecosystems which we have disturbed through pollution? Could it literally be people who are dying because of starvation and disease caused by worldwide abject poverty? How can we effect resurrection there? What are our young people telling us now? In recent weeks they have told us eloquently, forcefully, and loudly, that they don’t want to die any longer at the hands of someone with a machine gun (they may be called something else, but that’s what they really are. They are asking for immediate and sensible gun legislation. Can we not watch those well-spoken young (very young!) people from Stoneman Douglas High School and not see a resurrection happening?
David Lose, who I like to quote regularly, has said, “If you don’t have serious doubts about the Easter story, you’re not paying attention!.” I think me means that we are where the disciples were. We don’t doubt the resurrection itself. We’re just still trying to figure out what it all means. That’s good. Let’s figure it out together. For the time being, we’re looking at one big 100 point above-the-fold banner headline announcing, “This Changes Everything!”
Text: Luke 24: 36b-48