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One Lord, Many Easter Appearances: April 16, 2023

The Second Sunday of Easter:
John 20:19-31

Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb…. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there…. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.

That’s the Easter in the Gospel of John. It then leads to Mary weeping at the tomb, then visited by two angels, and then Jesus, whom she mistakes for the gardener (and you probably recall that well-loved story). And then today’s story: Easter Sunday night, and a week after that, in the locked room.

Last week, on Easter Day, we heard from the end of a different Gospel book, Matthew. In broad terms there are similarities: a tomb, one or more angels, one or more Marys, and disciples (and a message to be given to them). But when you really look at them closely (and I’ll leave that to you), the details don’t completely line up.
I recall, from my child — I assure you —  an episode of Sesame Street. Where the kids realize that the dog (the enormous muppet dog) Barkley, was spending a bunch of time on another street, with other people. And those kids called Barkley by another name — it’s all they knew. And this troubled the Sesame Street kids, because it just didn’t seem right to have two names for the same animal. But somehow in that hour of public broadcasting, the kids learned something about how difference need not be our enemy.

There are times when unity and consistency can be helpful. There are times when unity (or uniformity) can be creepy, cult-like, and reeking of control.

There are times when we can speak of difference as a gift, and asset. And also times when it makes getting along really hard.

I recall one assignment in my theology 101 class in seminary. It was, basically, to write down what Christian faith meant, to you. What is the gospel, the good news we carry, and (ideally) communicate? (In your own words…) And we found that even though most of us were from the same denomination, even though we worshipped together several times a week, even though we were in a bunch of the same classes, we all wrote completely different papers. Yes, generally, we hit some of the same marks, or used some of the same language: Jesus, life, healing, compassion. But also lots of room for difference, based on… lots of different things: one’s experiences, culture or sub-culture to which they belong, stage of life, and other things. Yet everyone, we could agree, had in some way, met Jesus.

So on this week — a week that comes up every year in which we talk about “faith” and “doubt” — maybe we don’t have to worry too much about reconciling the four Easter stories of the four Gospels. Some of the Gospels seem to have more than one. (John 20, for instance, ends very conclusively as we heard. And then it comes back for an encore. But we allow it, in the spirit of allowing Barkley the dog to roam from street to street, appearing, and bringing joy, to different communities of kids.

We might even say that every character who met the risen Christ had their own particular Easter story. Peter and the unnamed Beloved Disciple ran to the tomb and saw the same thing. And the latter believed. Peter had his own journey to make.

Or Mary Magdalene. Going from the confusion and grief of the empty tomb to the transformative encounter with Jesus: she had her own Easter rebirth, as indeed, some people have, or need, dramatic conversion experiences. Or a faith that is built on encounter, and relationship.

The disciples in the locked room had their own Easter experience; the peace of Christ coming to them just when it was most needed.

And Thomas, away that Easter night, but there the next week, he had his own unique Easter. We might have our guesses about why he wasn’t with the group that one night, or whether his request to inspect the wounds was legitimate or not, OR, whether he actually does do this upon seeing Jesus (because the text doesn’t say). But the one thing that’s clear is that he makes the boldest statement in that particular Gospel. The Gospel that begins “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” here at its closing has Thomas saying “My Lord, and my God.”

Yes, we can and will speak of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism… One bread, broken for all.” But this Lord lived in relationship with others, and the Gospels demonstrate how different people related to him, and he to them. The resurrection appearances speak of the presence of the wounds, but also the ability to not be limited by space and matter. To be recognized, and at times, to be veiled, mysterious.

And so we, by our presence witness to having been met by Christ in some way in our lives. And with the disciples in that locked room, are commissioned to take the peace and power of the Holy Spirit, and bring it out, beyond the locked doors. And we will all do so in our own particular way; each with our own set of gifts, AND our own set of… those gifts’ shadow sides… Those parts of ourselves that we might not love. And yet that is who God calls. That is who Christ appears to. There may be fear, there may be doubt, but if the heart is yearning and open to it, the risen Christ will appear, saying: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

© 2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter