4/7/2013 sermon: Signs of Resurrection

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: John 20:19-31
2Easter, Year C

Signs of Resurrection

Did you know that we are physically incapable of comprehending death? The human brain, for all of its neurological complexity and abilities, simply cannot visualize, cannot comprehend, its annihilation. We cannot even imagine our own non-existence.

As I learned in seminary, we can see this most readily in our dreams. When we dream up a scene that will result in our death—say, that we are in a car that has gone over a cliff—we always wake up mid-air. We simply are not equipped to project beyond our own existence.

Oh, we sometimes can dare to envision ourselves in a casket at our own wake, but our perspective is always ME-centric: still able to hear what others are saying about us and how they are grieving our loss.

I believe that our inability to perceive our own non-existence is an important sign of the Resurrection. If the life we experience here is all that is, we should have been given some way of perceiving the finality of death. If our physical death is our end, we should have some way to prepare us for that end. But we don’t.

That’s simply not the world that we live in. We live in a world that continually rehearses Resurrection, and there are signs of Resurrection all around us. For example, the testimony of every tree that has gone bare and shed leaves is that, in due time, life returns. Martin Luther famously said, “Our God has written the truth of resurrection not in books alone, but on every leaf of springtime.”

Now you might think, “but eventually a tree dies, and another takes that tree’s place. Yes, but consider what butterflies teach us.”

Butterflies also are a sign of Resurrection. They teach us that life continues in whole new forms—worm, pupa, beautiful flying creature—the same life, if only we have the perspective to perceive the transformation that has occurred in Resurrection.

Then, too, we experience Resurrection when we see many examples of people who manage to turn their grief into hope, their disaster into help shared with others. For example, two alcoholics, Bill and Bob, discovered how to gain remission from their disease, and by founding Alcoholics Anonymous they have helped hundreds of thousands of people find new life. Resurrection. Beckie Brown, who son was killed by a drunk driver, founded a nonprofit now called “Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” and turned her own grief into help for other people. All of these are a kind of sign of Resurrection.

The wonder is not that Resurrection exists, but that our perspective often denies the testimony of the very world in which we live. We miss the big picture, so to speak.

Our gospel lesson today gives us a glimpse into the “big picture” of Resurrection. Jesus had been killed just a little over a week earlier, and now the Sabbath had come again. The remaining apostles—the twelve, less the now-dead Judas Iscariot—gathered to worship together, as Jesus had taught them. But wait: there was apostle missing. For some reason that we are not told, Thomas the Twin wasn’t with the remaining eleven. Already the community that Jesus had created was disintegrating.

This wasn’t a carefree community. Jesus had been killed and those who remained were so fearful for their own lives that they had locked the doors. Then somehow, miraculously, he who had been dead stood with them, in the midst of their fear.

“Peace be with you,” he said. Which is to say, “Don’t be afraid.” “Peace be with you,” he said. Which also means, “I forgive you.” “Peace be with you,” he said, showing them and us that life continues beyond the grave. And Jesus breathed new life into all those present. In John’s gospel, this was when Pentecost occurred. New life: Resurrection.

One week later, when Thomas returned to the community to worship, he got to see for himself why, “even at the grave we make our song,” singing in thanksgiving for this life and in sure hope, sure foreknowledge, of our coming resurrection.

St. Paul explained our coming resurrection this way: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[1]

Now because the Second Sunday of Easter, in EVERY year, is the story of Thomas discovering Jesus’ Resurrection, I suspect that you know HIS story very well. Thomas insisted on seeing for himself, using his physical senses, the Resurrected Jesus before he would believe that Jesus-the-Christ had returned to life. But the enduring story of Thomas is not that he doubted Jesus’ Resurrection, but that his doubts turned to faith in the presence of Jesus in the community gathered to worship. Yes, the enduring story of Thomas is not that he doubted that Jesus was alive and present in our lives, but that he had had the faith in the Jesus community to appear in that locked room in the first place.

Christian legend tells us that Thomas was the one who evangelized India and the Near East, himself becoming a martyr for Christ. Like the other apostles, Thomas became a witness that Resurrection exists—not just in a general way, but in a particular human life, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. In this way, Thomas bears witness that each and every springtime, each butterfly that emerges to new life, point to a particular human life that was God-among-us, creating a way for us all to share in life eternal.

This life to which Thomas testifies is not just a thing of the past, a one-time occurrence. No, there is Resurrection all around us; we witness Resurrection even today. Are not we ourselves, gathered together today, with Jesus somehow miraculously alive in the bread and wine that we will share? And are we ourselves not signs (living testimonies) to the Resurrection? Have we not perceived—seen—the Risen Lord?

The beauty of this Resurrection, in this Church of the Resurrection, is that each week we vow to become what we receive. And in receiving Jesus anew and becoming the hands and feet of Christ in our broken world, we embody for others the very Christ whose Resurrection we celebrate.

Yes, signs of the Resurrection are all around us, and we, ourselves—like Thomas—are Resurrection bearers.

– – – – – – – – – – –
Kids sermon:
I want to talk about Resurrection today, but I’m not sure that anyone here knows what Resurrection is. Do you know? What is Resurrection?

Yes! Resurrection is when something that was dead comes back to life. Do you know anybody who has died?

Maybe your grandmother or grandfather. Maybe someone at school. Maybe your dog or your cat or your pet. What is the thing that you notice the most about someone who has died?

YES! We don’t see them any more. We wonder what happened to them, and where they have gone.

So, do you know anybody’s who’s been Resurrected, who’s come back to life after they are dead?

As far as we know, there’s only been one person who has been Resurrected. Do you know who that was?

Jesus. This is why we come here to church every Sunday, to remember and to give thanks to God and to Jesus. Because Jesus being resurrected means that WE know we will see everyone again who we love and who has died again.


[1] Romans 6:5 (ESV)

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