Thursday, April 23, 2009

So, here's what happened last Sunday

It occurred to me that, even though Thomas' faith seemed to be at issue, the real thing that was lacking was Thomas love was lacking. If he really loved Jesus, he would have been excited to think that his friend was alive. But, his love didn't transcend death. I talked about how we need to be more loving in this world and allow that to define who we are so that, when people see us love, they will see Christ and be able to express with Thomas, "My Lord, and my God."

So I focused, in the end, on being loving instead of on personal prayer.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The importance of being personal

My homily actually went in a slightly different direction than this in the end but this gives you an idea of what I originally had in mind. I'll talk about why I changed it mid weekend at some point this week.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
May the Grace and Peace of our resurrected savior come upon you as we continue to celebrate his resurrection. He is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia. Each Second Sunday of Easter, we hear the story of doubting Thomas. And, to be honest, I usually focus most of my preaching on the person of Thomas and ask you to put yourself in his place. In some ways, it’ easy to do that. Not only were none of us there when they crucified the Lord but none of us were there when he appeared to the twelve in the upper room. We all rely on the testimony of our ancestors in the faith, each year getting farther and farther and farther from their testimony. So, there is something to be said for focusing our attention on the saint of doubt-filled faith. But, as you probably suspect by now, the more I prayed this week about this, the more I found myself focusing on the other ten apostles.
Imagine for a second that you were the ones sitting in the upper room when Jesus appeared. You’re afraid because of the violent, cruel, and public death of your friend and leader and now you’re basically hiding away to make sure you don’t follow him down the road to crucifixion. Suddenly, when things seem totally hopeless, the very man you thought was dead is standing in your midst. You know he’s dead. You were with him when they came to arrest him. Your friends witnessed the murder and told you all about it. So how is he standing here just as Sr. Lorraine and the Bereavement Committee come walking up to your home to start preparing the funeral? You’re undoubtedly excited but you also confused and kind of freaked out. He’s not a ghost. He’s not a zombie. He’s not a mummy. He’s not an angel. He’s just Jesus, though not exactly like he was before. And, right once you work up the nerve to say, “So, what the heck is going on here, friend?” he disappears.
Of course you’d have to be excited and would want to share this with others. But, what do you say? How could you explain to people that the person they saw brutally murdered just three days before appeared to you and shared a meal? I know, personally, I’d start with my closest friends and see how that goes before I start telling the general public and end up in a straight jacket. Let’s start with the one apostle not in the room, Thomas. But, when we tell him, he doesn’t believe what we’ve said and he won’t believe until he can probe the wounds and see for himself that it is Jesus. “Gosh,” I may say to myself, “I didn’t probe his wounds. Am I even sure that this was really Jesus?” And suddenly, even we who had seen the risen Lord are doubting that are actually have. In my mind, this is where we are. Sure, as I said before, none of us have ever had direct contact with Jesus. None of us have ever walked with him. But, hopefully, all of us have encountered him in prayer. All of us encounter him in this upper room of the church in the sacrament of his body and blood. All of us encounter him where two or three are gathered together. Yet, there is a sense of mystery about it each of these experiences. In prayer, we both have faith that Christ is present and wonder if this is just our imagination doing all the work. In the sacraments, we are told that it’s Jesus’ body and blood but it looks a lot like bread and wine to me. And, if this is the gathered body of Christ on earth, why are there so many sinners, myself included?
In some ways, life would be a lot easier if we could somehow recreate the situation from the first reading. This passage that I like to refer to as the part of the Bible that fundamentalists ignore, harkens back to a time when the church was still very small and it was expected that the end was near. So, since Jesus is going to return tomorrow, they sold all their stuff and lived in common, each person sharing what they have with the rest of the community. Fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t live in that same situation. And, to be honest, oftentimes, when we turn to our friends and neighbors to support our faith, they simply raise even more doubts, complaining about church teachings or figures within the church that they don’t like. It’s, in some way, the down side to being a part of a 1.31 billion person religion. Sometimes, you may feel more burdened by the people in your community than uplifted, like the apostles were by Thomas. In these times, I believe we are called to enter even more deeply into our upper rooms in personal prayer. Make the time each day to make room for the encounter with God so that our communal celebration on Sunday is even more profound. That way, when our faith is tested by the doubting Thomases of our world, we can remain strong and remain in the faith, which has been handed on to us by our ancestors and, in turn, hand it on to others.