Sermon Title: “Needing God’s Yes.” Rev. Carol Prochaska
Scripture: John 20:19-31
“Can’t you sleep, Little Bear?” asked Big Bear.
“I’m scared,” said Little Bear.
“Why are you scared?”
“I don’t like the dark,” said Little Bear.
“What dark?” said Big Bear.
“The dark all around us,” said Little Bear.
From: “Can’t You Sleep Little Bear?”
There was dark all around the scared disciples huddled together in a room with the doors locked. Were they listening for the sounds of the authorities coming to arrest them? Were they praying words from a psalm as in the one we prayed earlier “Please, Yahweh, please save us.”
I wonder if they were going over their recent less than shining moments. In their last evening with Jesus, they had fallen asleep. One in their group betrayed Jesus. One denied Jesus – not once but three times. According to this gospel writer, there were four women followers at the crucifixion but only one of the men disciples. Had they fled in fear? Surely they were exceedingly disappointed in how things seemed to have turned out for Jesus and for
them. On that first Easter evening, scared and in the dark (in more ways than one) they so needed a yes from God. Yes God was there with them. Yes God was still loving them.
When was the last time you needed a yes from God? Maybe it was earlier this morning when you struggled to wake up, get out of bed, get dressed and arrive here on time. Perhaps it was this past week when energy or patience was in short supply. Or was it when that chronic pain seemed worse than usual. Or was it when grief returned, taking away your breath. What dark?” said Big Bear. “The dark all around us,” said Little Bear.
To those scared and in the dark, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Three times Jesus will say to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus tells them that they (they!) are being sent out! As God has sent Jesus so Jesus is sending them. Of all the things that might have been said! It’s as if heaven stepped into that room with a very big hug!
In this church, we are accustomed to passing the peace (the peace of Christ.) We know that there is peace when enemies cease fighting and choose to live together with justice for everyone. The root word for peace is “to join.” And so in its simplest peace literally means “to set at one again” Not unlike a hug – as in ‘Little Bear going to sleep warm and safe in Big Bear’s arms.” Biblical peace includes safety and rest – and complete well-being – that is well-being in every facet of our lives. To those scared and in the dark, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
In this morning’s Easter story, in Jesus’ presence, there seems to be a coming together of the past, the present, and the future. We have a sense of the mingling of reality and transcendence, this world and otherworldliness. There’s what can be seen with physical eyes and there’s what can be discerned – seen only with the heart. In Jesus’ Easter presence there is unexplainable Holy Mystery and (and!) there is the nitty gritty of human reality.
One of the most common symbols for the Easter season is the lily. Gardeners know, gardeners trust that grey-brown, ugly, seemingly lifeless bulbs, will in time give way to stunningly beautiful lilies. Lilies are among plants that survive from one germinating season to another even in unfavourable conditions such as drought and long cold winters. So they are an appropriate symbol for Easter (if they are kept at a distance for those who are allergic).
We so need God’s yes in the midst of our personal droughts, our personal long cold dark winters, when things are as bad as things can get. The gospel writer does not minimize how bad things can get.
The marks of crucifixion are disturbing reminders of choices made to put to death that which is life-affirming and life-giving, that which insists on justice for all persons. Who but God can take a horrific death on a cross and turn into that which we call Easter! Who but God can take something so bad – as bad as things can get and turn it into a very big heavenly yes!
One of the wonders of Easter is that in God’s love and in Jesus’ presence those marks of crucifixion become a way into forgiveness. For there be forgiveness there is ideally a coming to terms of the harm done. Forgivingness includes the one (or those) doing the forgiving and the one (or those) being forgiven.
Perhaps it would be helpful to pause here for a moment to do a review. In the Greek language, the word forgive means “to send forth, to lay aside, to yield up.” The hurt is sent forth, yielded up.
When the disciples discern that it is the crucified Jesus in their midst, they are given the holy calling to forgive. As they have been forgiven they are to forgive—as in “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” It’s like being cleared for take-off. Having seen our flaws, our mistakes, our idiosyncrasies, we are humbled and wiser and more able to accept others including their flaws, their mistakes and their idiosyncrasies.
And that brings us to Thomas! Bless his heart! He has integrity. He speaks his truth. His absence from what the other disciples experienced put him in the position of an outsider. We’ve all heard that expression (often spoken with laughter) “You had to have been there!”
One biblical commentator reminds us that for this gospel writer there are different types and levels of faith. (And I quote) “[T]here is faith weak and faith strong; faith shallow and faith deep; faith growing and faith faltering.” This is both comforting and encouraging. Some of us see (discern) quickly. Others of us are more like Thomas.
Do you remember sitting in a classroom or attending a lecture when after about ten minutes you were lost? But those around you were nodding their heads and smiling. And don’t we know how this phenomenon occurs in social gatherings, places of work, storytelling, and joke telling … Oh, Thomas! Bless his heart! Jesus gives Thomas added attention so that Thomas can take his place with the other lifelong committed disciples.
When God’s yes becomes personal, something changes for us. We may experience an inner calming. It may feel like we’ve been lifted up from rock bottom to a better place. God’s yes could be that we’ve come to a new or renewed acceptance of our reality. Sometimes a previously unseen solution has become apparent to us. When we’ve experienced God’s yes we may find ourselves savouring what previously seemed rather mundane.
More than likely we’ll find ourselves feeling some relief and whispering a thank you to God—because in some way—once again, Easter has come for us. And when this is so, may it be that we encourage those who are still waiting.