Sunday, April 12, 2015

Easter Together

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
April 12, 2015

Year B: The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

Easter Together
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Happy Easter!
            I’m still recovering from our Holy Week and Easter celebrations last week.
            We had a powerful Holy Week as we walked the way of the cross with Jesus, as we walked on the streets of Jersey City, carrying the cross – carrying the love of Christ – into places of despair and death – right now in our community, right here in Jersey City.
            For me, one of the highlights of Holy Week was our Holy Saturday service at 9:00 in the morning.
            Most Episcopal churches don’t offer this service and that’s too bad because I think it’s one of the most powerful of them all as we pause for a few minutes and really reflect on the strange in-between time between the Cross and the Empty Tomb.
            Since I had asked Vanessa to be the lector at the Holy Saturday service, I knew she was going to be there but I wondered if anyone else would show up. Surprisingly, it turned out that ten of us were present for this short simple service – which, now that I think about it, feels a little like being at a wake. And like a wake, it’s very good – it’s necessary to have others there with you – it’s good and necessary to be in community – it’s good and necessary to be together.
            And then it was Easter!
            For the Easter Vigil, St. Paul’s and Incarnation gathered together as one faith community, beginning in shadowy darkness and then glowing in the light of Easter, rejoicing together in the light of Christ.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            By now the world has moved on from Easter – the candy’s all been eaten – the baskets put away for another year and the world has moved on to whatever’s next, I don’t know, Mother’s Day, maybe.
            Of course, you’ve heard me say – and I’m sure you’ve heard other priests say – that, for the Church, Easter is not just a day – Easter is not just Easter Sunday with the hats and beautiful flowers and gorgeous music – but Easter is a whole season.
            And, we experience Easter together.
            Every year on the Second Sunday of Easter we hear the story of the Apostle Thomas who was not present with the other disciples that first Easter night when Jesus suddenly, miraculously, mysteriously appeared in the locked room – when Jesus breathed on the disciples in what amounted to a little Pentecost, giving them the power to forgive sins.
            But, Thomas wasn’t there, wasn’t together with the other disciples.
            Thomas wasn’t part of the community – at least not that night.
            I always wonder where he was – why he wasn’t with the others.
            He could have been off hiding, understandably afraid of the authorities who had arrested and killed Jesus.
            Or, maybe he was on some ordinary task, off to buy food or to check on a sick relative.
            But, in my imagination, I see him out in the wilderness somewhere – out in the desert all alone – shouting in despair up at the starry sky – crying out to God, “Why? How could all of this have happened? How could Jesus have been betrayed by one of his own – by one of us? How could all of us – how could I – have abandoned him as he hung on the cross? How could Jesus, how could the Lord – the one we thought was the messiah – how could he now be dead?”
            Well, wherever he was, Thomas missed the first appearance of the Risen Jesus.
            Instead, he gets the news from the other disciples – and, of course, Thomas doubts their story of Jesus’ resurrection.
            Since he’ll always be known as “Doubting Thomas” I’ll just point out that he doesn’t doubt Jesus so much as he doubts the report of his fellow disciples. And, let’s face it, he knows these guys – and knows they aren’t the most reliable group.
            But then a week later, Thomas is together with the others and has his encounter – finally experiences Easter – when Jesus appears to the disciples, appears to Thomas inviting him to touch his wounds, and to believe.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            For Thomas, and for us, we experience Easter together.
            And we hear about that Easter way of life – that togetherness is today’s other readings.
            In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke paints a very “togetherly “ picture of the early church, describing them as “of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned as held in common.”
            In the second lesson the author of First John describes a Christian community that’s a fellowship – a fellowship with one another and a fellowship with God the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
            And we even hear the “togetherly” image when the psalmist sings, “Oh, how good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in unity.”
            We experience Easter together.
            Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for solitude – and we certainly can meet Christ during the times when we are alone and quiet.
            But, like Thomas and the first disciples, we’re most likely to meet the Risen Christ when we are together.
            And we’ve seen that over and over again, haven’t we?
            We’ve met the Risen Christ – wounds and all – when we’ve come together as the Episcopal Church in Jersey City, maybe most of all on Good Friday when we carried the cross – carried the love of Christ – into places of despair and death.
            We met the Risen Christ on Saturday night when those two beautiful baby girls were baptized – not in some private ceremony with just family and friends present but in church, with all of us here together.
            And we meet the Risen Christ most especially each time we come to the table – not dining alone – but here together, reaching out our hands and taking the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and into our souls.
            So, it’s still Easter for all of us here, together.
            It’s finally Easter for the Apostle Thomas who finally sees the Risen Christ and believes.
            It’s still Easter – it’s still Easter for us – it’s still Easter for us together as we meet the Risen Christ.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!