What does it mean to believe in the Resurrection? Christians believe in the specific resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. What does resurrection mean?
This belief has been the subject of a great deal of controversy in recent years. You can stroll the shelves at Barnes and Noble and find all sorts of opinions available for mass consumption. You may have heard of John Dominic Crossan, or Marcus Borg, two Christian scholars who have famously denied the “bodily” resurrection of Jesus. Controversial stuff.
It may surprise you that your seminarian is a bit of a conservative on these questions. I mean, I’m from California. Yet, I am, I am a conservative on the question of the bodily resurrection. I think it happened. But I think spending too much energy on it misses the point of Resurrection. I think the debate is more a distraction.
Today’s Gospel tells the story of Thomas Didymus, Thomas the Twin, but we call him by another name…”Doubting Thomas.” Thomas didn’t find belief in the resurrection easy. Thomas was a tactile learner. We tend to present him negatively.. Thomas doubted, we shouldn’t doubt. Yet Jesus appears to him, Jesus meets him, even in his doubting. Madeleine L’Engle was talking about her book “A Wrinkle in Time with a little girl who asked if she believed in Jesus without any doubts at all. She replied, “I believe with LOTS of doubts.” There is a whole sermon here to be preached about faith making room for doubt. You probably have heard it before. Suffice it to say, doubt is part of the Christian life. Sometimes we are all Thomas. Jesus meets us, even in our doubt.
Sometimes we are Thomas, because Thomas here is a type. The story is bigger than the section we read this morning. Really all of John 20 recounts how the different disciples react to the resurrection. Peter needs to see to believe. Mary Magdalen needs him to speak her name. The “Beloved Disciple,” who we often call “John,” is the character in the Gospel who gets it when other people don’t. As Peter stands there perplexed at the empty tomb, imagine the face of the beloved disciple. A smile breaks. He shakes his head and laughs. This beloved disciple knows Jesus well enough that he doesn’t need to see, or hear, or touch. He knows Christ is risen.
John’s Gospel is written with the hope that we’ll find this kind of faith, this knowledge of Jesus. But there is room for us to be Peter, or Mary, or Thomas. You might open up your Bible back at home. Read John 20 again. Ask yourself which disciple you identify with. At different times in life we might know the risen lord differently, and that’s okay. Jesus meets them all.
Lets return to Madeleine L’Engle for just a moment. She was asked by the little girl if she really believed without a doubt. No, she said, “I believe with lots of doubts.” She goes on. “I believe with lots of doubts, and I base my life on that belief.” Our faith is not that Christ was risen. This is past tense, and tense matters. When I said, “Alleluia, Christ is risen,” you said, “the Lord is risen indeed!” This is present tense. We believe in the resurrection in the present tense.
I spent the week before Holy Week in El Salvador. I had been looking forward to this trip for years. I led a group of seminarians and college students to visit during the 30th anniversary of the Martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Since the Texas Board of Education decided he wasn’t famous enough to teach in curriculum last month, I feel I need to take a moment to tell you his story.
Romero was chosen among El Salvador’s bishops at a time of great conflict, 1977. Rome thought he was a quiet bookworm who wouldn’t make trouble. Then a close friend of Romero’s, a Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, was killed because he was ministering with campesinos who sought freedom from poverty. Grande and Romero were no communists. They were suspicious of Marx’s denial of God and of human agency, but they saw in the struggle of the poor, the call of Jesus to care for the “least of these.” When Grande was killed, Romero was outraged. He began demanding that the military and the government “cease the repression!” Romero preached on the radio, and stood with the poor. Just three years after being named archbishop, Romero was assassinated, martyred. The threats had been coming for months. Before he died Romero said famously, “If they kill me, I will resurrect in the Salvadoran people.” He understood his own potential death. Because he had faith in Christ’s resurrection, he knew death wasn’t the end of the story.
That week, while I was in El Salvador, I heard a story from a Jesuit theologian about the Easter after Romero died. He told of preaching in a congregation that Easter Sunday. He asked the same question I began with this morning, “What does it mean to believe in the resurrection?” A tiny ancient woman stood up and offered him a theology lesson. She said that she had always believed in the resurrection, because she was a Christian. People told her she HAD to believe in the resurrection, so she said, “okay.” Lately though, she said she felt she began to know what resurrection means.
When Oscar Romero died, she said she felt very sad. He had been her voice, her hope. She felt that she had an advocate in Romero. So she was devastated when he died. Lately though, in the few weeks since his death, she felt something new. She felt that Romero was alive again, that he was giving her power. She felt that she could stand up for herself. She could claim her own voice.
She said that she knew what the apostles must have felt like, as they came to believe in the resurrection.
Alleluia, Christ is risen indeed.