Easter 2 ~ John 20: 19-31

April 8, 2018

READINGS: Acts 4: 32-35 ~ Psalm 133 ~ John 20: 19-31

John 20: 19-31

I want to begin this morning by drawing your attention to the beautiful butterflies and dragonflies that adorn our cross over by the organ.  A few people have asked me why we do this. Very simply, they are symbols of transformation.

At Easter, God transforms an instrument of death – the cross  – into a tree of life. In the cocoon, a grubby, earth-bound caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly.  It’s an incredible transformation that we might not believe if we could not see it for ourselves.

There is also a story about the struggle of this transformation that goes something like this …

A man finds a butterfly cocoon.  He sits and watches for several hours as a butterfly struggles to force its body through a little hole.  Then it seems to stop making any progress.  Eager to help, the man snips open the remaining bit of the cocoon.  The butterfly then emerges easily. But its body is swollen and its wings small and shriveled. The man waits for the butterfly to spread its wings and fly but that doesn’t happen.

What the man, in his kindness and haste does not understand is that the struggle to emerge through that tiny opening is nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it is ready for flight.

Now, this story is often used to explain why it is that God allows struggling to take place in our lives.  But at Easter we also use it to consider how God brings life out of death, not only with the resurrection of Jesus, but also with the emergence of the early church.

This morning we are called to bear witness to the rather dramatic transformation that occurs within the Jesus community.

Our gospel reading is actually a flash-back to the day of resurrection. The disciples are in hiding, struggling with the turmoil and fear.  They have a long way to go in the transformation from a community of fear and trembling to the community of peace and harmony outlined in our first reading.

Sometimes, we are tempted to believe that, with the discovery of the empty tomb, the disciples have a moment of keen insight that makes everything fall into place. And that they sit down to celebrate over a nice Easter dinner.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It takes several weeks after the death and resurrection of Jesus, for his followers just to come to terms with everything that’s happened – never mind make sense of it all.  That is why our lectionary asks us to slow down and spend a little more time with the Jesus community as they go through a remarkable transformation.  And this is why, on the Sunday after Easter, we always join the disciples in the upper room and hear the story we often refer to as “Doubting Thomas”.

Confused, shaken and bewildered, the disciples are trying to find some comfort in each other’s presence. This is their cocoon time.

Our risen Lord joins his disciples in the midst of their pain and fear and offers them his peace.  Jesus knows that what they need more than anything else at this moment is that sense of inner calm that can only come from God.

Oddly enough, in John’s gospel, this is also the time when Jesus commissions them to do his work.

As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you, he says. And then he breathes on them and says, Receive the power of the Holy Spirit. 

By word and breath, Jesus breathes new spiritual life into some of his followers, but they don’t seem to do anything with it, other than recount their experience to Thomas who is reluctant to believe them.

One week later, Jesus returns, to find them still in the cocoon, hiding behind closed doors.  This time Thomas is with them. And notice what happens: Jesus does not chastise Thomas for his doubt, or his disciples for not going out into the world.  Rather, Jesus invites Thomas to check him out, to touch the wounds on his hands and feet and side. And that’s when Thomas believes.

Over the next few weeks, Jesus appears to his followers many times and they slowly begin to grow stronger, braver. Slowly, they come to understand that Jesus’ risen power now resides in each one of them.  The disciples are gradually transformed from a frightened and confused group of people into community of great courage and conviction.

But it all takes time. And unlike the man with the butterfly, Jesus does not try to rush the process. He allows it to unfold naturally.  What he does do is keep on visiting them, encouraging them, until they finally have a faith that is ready to leave the cocoon and fly.

In the same way, God gives each one of us the time and faith community we need to work out our faith issues.

Just as with Thomas, Jesus has no problem with us examining our faith as we work through our questions and doubts, and the issues of our day.  He knows that it is a sign of spiritual earnestness; that it  is how we grow as believers, as a faith community, and as a church.  It is what keeps the faith healthy, vibrant and alive from one generation to the next.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe. Writing some forty of fifty years after the event, John’s gospel recalls these words of Jesus for the members of the Johannine community who weren’t around to experience that first Easter. He is also aware that he is now an old man. John does not want to leave his fledgling community unprepared. He wants to give them something to hold onto when he is gone.  So he tells them what it was like in those first days after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

And in the telling of the story, John reminds them that they do not have to fear being left alone because they will have the peace of Christ within them and the power of the Holy Spirit to comfort, empower and guide them on their journey. Once again, it is the story of the risen Lord and his peace that nurtures the faith community through a difficult time, enabling them to continue the growth of the early church.

And that is what we are about this morning. This passage is for everyone who has come to believe the Easter gospel even though we weren’t there to witness it for ourselves.  We are blessed to be part of a faith community that encourages people to grapple with their faith.  None of us are ever at the point where we have all the answers, at least not in this lifetime.

And we are blessed because Jesus keeps on finding ways to visit and encourage us through our ongoing transformations.  He continues to invite us to reach out and touch him along the way, to check him out.  He makes that same offer to every generation and he’s delighted when we take him up on it.

In fact, Jesus knows that this is how we come to and maintain a dynamic, vibrant faith that has the ability to fly.

And so, this Sunday we pause to breathe deeply of the breath and peace of the risen Christ and allow ourselves to be transformed into a community that is ready to speak this peace to our world today.

Pat Martin +