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“I believe your story, now you believe mine…”: The Second Sunday of Easter

Sunday, April 11, 2021:
Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

There’s a line from a song by the band Thin Lizzy. (You probably know them from “The Boys are Back in Town,” but there’s a lot more to them than one or two hit singles.) It’s a song called “Dear Lord” from their Bad Reputation album; recorded, coincidentally, in Toronto.

Dear Lord, take the time
I believe your story, now you believe mine…

I wonder if the challenge of Easter is to make that transition from us choosing Jesus (choosing to believe in the resurrection), and instead embracing the resurrection as the pre-eminent sign of God having chosen us. (“I believe your story, now you believe mine.”) One might believe all the right things, say the right words, hang out with the right people, but inevitably, if we don’t feel the enlivening breath of God in our life, then we’ll continuously feel just half-full.

I think today’s gospel is a story about someone, Thomas, who has that experience of finally feeling God’s belief in him.

Thomas, for whatever reason, was gone when the risen Jesus appeared to the other disciples. Maybe he didn’t want to surround himself with fearful, miserable people, locked inside that room. Maybe Thomas was out there ‘getting things done,’ hoping to finish the work that Jesus had started. After all, he’s the guy who says to the other disciples, earlier on in the book, “Let us also go [to Jerusalem], that we may die with him.” Or maybe he was just out for an evening walk…

But for whatever reason, he misses out on this experience of Jesus, and I think quite understandably, he finds his friends’ story hard to believe. The others in the group try to fix him. They preach at him, they proclaim to him: “We have seen the Lord.” And there’s a place for that. But it’s no replacement for experiencing the real thing. I think back to my own life of faith as a teenager and as an adult, and for all of the changes of perspective, practice, or emphasis, I don’t think anyone has argued, pestered, or taught me into any of those changes. Instead, any change, growth, or evolution unfolded — perhaps including argumentation, preaching, teaching, and other things — as part of a journey that was unique to me, that in the end I can look back on and describe it as an encounter with the risen Christ. No amount of berating is a substitute for that. For grace.

Recently, one of my favourite Christian thinkers, Rowan Williams, was interviewed, and was asked about dialogue between Christians and those espousing a completely secularist, rationalist worldview. And his response seemed in line with what I’m trying to get at: “We are not after victory, but to establish the beginnings of common recognition, so that if ever the utterly clear voice of Christ speaks, it can be heard…. we can keep a foot in the door waiting for a moment of grace to come.”*

So isn’t it interesting that even after Thomas missed out on that appearance of Jesus, and refused to believe the testimony of many, many trusted friends, a week later he’s still there with them, part of their group. A week later he’s not gone, but in there in that locked room. The enlightened ones have not jettisoned him from the group. But they’ve kept a foot in the door, and a week later that moment of grace comes.

There is a place for the preaching and proclaiming, of course. We heard this from the First Letter of John: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…” But this isn’t just about fixing people or winning arguments. The letter continues: “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us[.]” The Christian vision is of a lived experience of intimacy with God, the kind of which was revealed by Jesus. And this results in a changed experience of life. (We heard an example from Acts.)

The resurrection shows us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, even if we’ve cried out, like Jesus from the cross: “my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Another way of saying — shouting — “I believe your story, now you believe mine…”) And the Church is that community that adopts the resurrection as its foundational, formative story, and is shaped and challenged by it. That’s what we do when we’re together (literally or virtually), when we’re tucked away in this room together, like the disciples.

But that’s just half the story, half the work. Lastly, we’re sent out, Spirit-filled, into the world, to hold up the resurrection as an alternative, subversive narrative against the other, dominant narratives (“might makes right,” “you can buy happiness,” “popularity is everything,” “I’m unforgivable,” “there’s no hope…”). We will struggle, we will flounder, and we and our message will often be incomplete. But we keep a foot in the door. And trust that God is active, even today, working on people’s hearts. Jesus, in that locked room, breathed on the disciples. Echoing the creation story from Genesis where God breathed life into Adam, Jesus is here creating the Church, and recreating the world. (This is John’s equivalent to a Pentecost scene.) Similarly, when we open our hearts up to let God work on us — adopting the resurrection as our dominant narrative, or even more humbly, we could call it our working hypothesis — we will find ourselves being filled by the Spirit, and recreated. We believe Jesus’s story, and we will find that Jesus believes in ours. God’s story becomes our story. We become players in the story of Jesus. Players many generations and centuries removed, but players nonetheless.

We will not recreate the world ourselves. We can’t force the kingdom in solely through our own efforts, and anger, and even the most eloquent proclaiming. If we do so, we risk recreating it in our own image. But our proclamation can be a small part of God’s work of recreation.

“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14)


© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter