Scripture: John 20:19-30
Preacher: Anne Fyffe, OSU senior
Good Morning! I hope everyone had a joyful and wonderful Easter!
I really love Easter. Not for any particular theological reasons, but because it happens in the spring, which is my favorite season. Because I like seeing all the little kids in their button up shirts and white sandals. I like the flowers at the front of the church. I like spending time with my family. I like eating ham. Easter, just as a day, is pretty great. But when you think about what it means, it gets even better.
On Good Friday we remembered Jesus’ crucifixion. That Jesus died for every single one of us. And then last Sunday we got to celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. He actually conquered death. And because of everything that happened, because of God’s goodness and grace and justice and mercy, we are promised a place in God’s kingdom. And in God’s kingdom, there is no pain or suffering or injustice. That is Easter. And it’s easy to look at that picture and feel like everything is taken care of so we are set.
But if I’m being honest, when I look around, I don’t necessarily see an Easter world. Because when I look around I see pain and suffering and injustice. So here we are. Lent is over. Holy Week is over. We won’t celebrate the miraculousness and hope of Easter again for an entire year. Easter is over because it was the end of Jesus’ life on Earth. If that was the promise, why are we living in this broken world? If that was it, if that was the end of the story, what do we do now? How do we make sense of that story?
I’ve been wondering that a lot recently. People talk about college being a transformative experience in terms of their relationship with God and I don’t think I’m an exception to that rule. I have been beyond blessed to not only be welcomed into this community, but be part of another campus ministry and in both places, I have been challenged and nourished by the faith of others and the conversations with them. And I am truly thankful for this. But in the interest of continuing to be honest with you, I will say that in the past year or so, I haven’t felt super close to God.
And it’s because of our broken world. It’s because every single day, whether in class or on the news or from a friend, I learn about some new injustice in the world. This semester I was in a class called Sociology of Poverty. We studied the development of the theories of poverty and then looked at issues surrounding domestic poverty as well as in developing countries and every single day when I left class I was fired up about some problem that I had learned about.
One of the issues we studied that struck me the most was the link between poverty and education. There is this vicious cycle where children who live in low-income neighborhoods and don’t necessarily have a ton of support at home go to schools that don’t have a lot of resources and don’t offer the support that kids so desperately need. So children are stressed out at home and act out in school and teachers spend more time disciplining students than teaching them and we have millions of students who can’t read or do math at their grade level.
Our education system is failing millions of children who are not achieving at their highest potential because they have never been given a chance. But, because of politics and the existing social and economic structures of our society, this broken system remains in place and still children are being forgotten and I feel sick to my stomach and my heart actually hurts every time I watch another documentary or read another article about a child who is never going to get the opportunity to change the world.
So I’ve spent the majority of the past months being really mad, which as you can imagine is not super productive. I’ve been mad. At God mainly, but also at the broken systems and the people who are maintaining them. I feel frustrated and overwhelmed and I can’t make sense of any of it. I feel stuck. I wonder where the Easter promises are and why I don’t see them. We’ve got the Resurrection. Where is the resurrected world?
At some point, whether in our own lives or in the world at large, we experience or see injustice and we wonder what we are supposed to do about it. We are told that God loves us. We are told that God gave the world His only son. We are told that Jesus died on the cross for us and that he rose from the dead for us. But God’s love isn’t necessarily going to get every child to graduate high school. The fact that Jesus died for us doesn’t always make the fact that 60% of middle school students are not reading at grade level any easier.
We’ve heard these promises of what is to come and I know that I say these beliefs out loud, but I don’t know if my heart really understands the gravity of what they mean. What does Jesus dying on the cross mean? What does him rising from the dead mean? I don’t have the answers to these questions.
We can all look around and see brokenness in our lives and the lives of others and be discouraged and frustrated. Because we heard the end of the story, but this can’t be it. The suffering, pain, and inequality can’t be the end. The story can’t be over.
In our reading today, we are near the end of John’s Gospel. We’ve heard about Jesus’ ministry, his crucifixion, and then his resurrection. This is the second to last chapter in John and our passage takes place immediately after Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. We are told that then Jesus appears to the disciples. He shows them his hands and his sides so that they see the proof and know that it is actually Him.
Then Jesus tells them that “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And as he is talking, he breathes on them and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is calling them and instructing them to go out into the world. Amidst the despair of his death and the confusion and joy of his resurrection, Jesus is saying “Go now! Do what you have been called to do and do it now!” Jesus is inviting the disciples to continue his story. The story of healing and kindness and love in this world that is so broken.
But let’s not forget about the disciple Thomas who was not with the rest of the disciples when Jesus appeared. The other disciples tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord, but he’s not buying it. Thomas says he needs to see “the mark of the nails in his hands” and “put (his hand) in his side.” He needs proof to believe this unbelievable thing. A week later Jesus appears to the disciples again and this time Thomas is there. And Jesus says to Thomas “Alright. Here I am. Put your finger here and your hand here. Here I am.” So Thomas believes.
But Jesus hints that Thomas only believes because he saw proof and says that “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We are often very much like Thomas. We want facts, we want answers to our hard questions, we want to see the story being continued.
But a lot of times it’s hard to see the evidence of God’s promises and work in the world and that’s what faith is. We believe in God’s love for us and God’s promises for us and the resurrection of Jesus Christ even when we don’t always see it. And we all come to faith in different ways. And some days our faith is stronger than on other days, but we believe. And Jesus says that we are blessed, but if we really, truly believe, what should we be doing?
What should we be doing about the inequality we see every day and the inequality that we know exists across the globe? Instead of getting mad, or maybe after getting mad, how do we turn our passion into positive change? We look at the Easter story and we know that we could probably just accept Easter as the end. But knowing that we believe and knowing that we are blessed, how do we continue the story?
Because actually, the Easter story is just the beginning. Yes, it’s the end of Jesus’ life on Earth, but that was really just the introduction and the invitation to this story that we are called to write. A story where we are not complacent. Where we do not accept injustice. Where we work tirelessly to build God’s kingdom here on Earth right now. Where we actively seek to make God’s promises of the resurrection a reality.
And I can see this happening. I see the hope of the resurrection in the teachers who are dedicated to making sure their students succeed and in the activists who are fighting for education reform and in the parents who are advocating for their children to get the best education possible and in the students who refuse to accept their disadvantaged circumstances.
In my sociology class, we read a book about a man who lives in Harlem who is revitalizing his neighborhood through education. By creating better schools and after school programs and getting involved in the lives of children before they even start school, he is creating a new community of promise and a community that will ensure that no child is forgotten. He is giving kids the chances that they have so long been deprived of. That is where I see the resurrection because that is where I see hope.
And so I am like Thomas. I am wrestling with my faith and I am often struggling to see and I am trying to discern where I am being called to live out the resurrection and how I am being invited to continue the story. And this is what we have been doing as a church during the season of Lent and what we will continue to do this summer as we grow in our discipleship. My prayer is that we would all leave this place today, with our doubts and with our questions, seeking to live our lives as Easter people who are continuing to write the story of hope and resurrection. Amen.