Easter 2 April 23, 2017
Acts 2, 42-47 + Psalm 118 + 1 Peter 1, 3-9 + Luke 20, 19-31
St William Church, Naples, FL
As many of you in this church here in Naples, Florida know, taking up a new way of life can be a challenge greater than ever imagined. I discovered this when I first stepped into the seminary. I left behind my own private room at home and that night was sleeping in a dormitory with 30 other 20 year olds. It was noisy and it didn’t smell like home. Instead of a big closet for all my things, I squeezed into a locker. Then suddenly, eight years later I’m a priest. While there were eight years of formation preparing me for that day, it was not enough. Then came retirement, right? The biggest change of all. Old ways of thinking, old ways of acting all had to go. It does not matter if a person is a recovering alcoholic or a newly wed. Beginners everywhere learn quickly how many of their behaviors spring out of old habits. After a lifetime, these habits and patterns are difficult to change, let alone eradicate.
So there they are, that group of disciples facing the biggest challenge and change of their lives. It was bigger than walking away from fishing boats or tax collection tables. After all the preparation and conversations with their master, they were not quite ready, and the change was slow and erratic. It would seem from the scriptures that they even tried to go backward and return to the fishing boats for a time. Among them Thomas is singled out as an example. He is so much like the rest of us who live in a world of “seeing is believing.” He so much like the world that relies on the predictable and is always skeptical in the face of good news. There are habits of thought revealed here that have to go for people who believe in the resurrection.
Those disciples in that room and Thomas as well had been living in a measured world that was predicable and secure. There were few surprises, and little reason to expect one. Their leaders enforced the status quo and found their security in doing so. Then Jesus of Nazareth walked into this scene, and suddenly he is touching those sick and considered unclean. He treats women with respect, even to the point of sharing a drink with a Samaritan woman. He surprises them by feeding multitudes with what seemed to be insufficient resources, and calms the wind and the sea with a word. Then his death, which they wanted to avoid and deny, left them helpless and hopeless. They saw him dead, and they believed he was. What they believed rested only on what they saw. That cannot be so for those who live in the resurrection times.
Living in resurrection requires a complete transformation. John the Baptist and Jesus called for metanoia, which is poorly translated as “repentance.” It means far more than that. “Change of mind” is more like it. Thomas had to change his mind, and that is what we hear about today. A new way of thinking that gives no room for old habits and expectations is what it takes to live in resurrection times. The first reading this week gives a superb example of this. The early Christians in Jerusalem shared a life that was starkly different from communities outside the church. In their prayer and care for each other, they gave the world an example of radically changed thinking. The victory of Jesus was not just over death, but a victory over death’s grip on the human mind. There is now, in the resurrection times a new age of mercy. That Jesus returned a second time for the sake of one disciple is that shepherd who leaves the 99 to search for the lost. That Jesus returned to gather up Thomas and extend the mercy of the father to one who was slow to believe and stubborn in his old way reveals the mercy of the Father who sent his Son find what was lost and bring them home.
For all of them it was a surprise, and it broke their old way of thinking that dead meant dead and gone forever. Those who live in resurrection times are people who live for the surprise, the constant surprise that all things are made new. New life requires committed belief that Christ’s resurrection is a foreshadowing of our own. As this belief in our own resurrection grows in us, old habits rooted in fear of death and loss start to lose their power. We can forgive and teach others to do so; we can experience peace even in the midst of conflict; we can find reasons for faith when all around us despair; we can become servants of Christ’s mission, sharing his risen life with all we meet.