The Rev. Hannah Hooker preaches the early service on Easter 2B.
This morning, we find ourselves and the disciples in the honeymoon phase of the resurrection. It’s still new a fresh and exciting and even though they’re in pseudo-hiding from potential persecution, they’re telling everyone they think might listen about what has just happened. We do the same thing. New parents can’t stop taking pictures of every little thing their little one does. Newly-engaged women show off that ring like it’s water in a drought. Jokes aside, we know that our mission, post-resurrection, is to tell the world about it – to spread the Gospel, the Good News! So it makes sense that our Gospel passage the week after Easter would have something to say about evangelism.
But truth be told, this morning’s Gospel passage is not one we’d use to promote evangelism as we normally think of it. The disciples tried to witness to Thomas but he didn’t believe, and when he finally saw Jesus, there was barely a reprimand. That is not the picture that most pastors paint of what it’s like when non-believers meet Christ, and it certainly leaves us, not to mention the disciples, wondering, what was the point of our proclamation!?
When I think of frustrated disciples witnessing to deaf ears, I always think of my friend Paul. Paul started Hendrix College when I was a junior. He was young and fresh and really zealous about Jesus Christ. In August of that year, he started inviting me to Tuesday night chapel on campus, a Methodist service. I repeatedly told him thanks but no thanks. But Paul kept at it. He never suggested that my participation in the local Episcopal Church was insufficient, he never suggested that I consider moving over to the Methodist Church, he never suggested in any way that my sin-sick soul was in any NEED of Tuesday night chapel. He just loved that service and really wanted to share it with me. Finally, months later, I decided to give it a go. When I walked in, Paul about fell out in shock. It was a great worship service and I continued attending Tuesday night worship until I graduated. Paul never said I told you so, never pressured me into getting more involved. We just worshiped together.
I’m still not sure why I resisted Paul’s invitation and Good News for so long. But one could say that for a while, my heart, just like Thomas’s heart, was as locked up as that upper room the disciples were hiding in. Part of the joy and hope of resurrection is that just as Christ miraculously showed up in that locked upper room after he was raised, Christ continues, even today, to miraculously show up in locked places that mere mortals can’t get in to. The Gospel will not be stopped by human stubbornness, human indifference, human weakness. When all else fails, Christ can always get in.
But what does that mean for us as witnesses to Christ’s love? As believers filled with joy who want to share the Gospel, we can lead and guide and be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. We are called to tell the people we meet about the love we have found, and to invite them to share in it with us. But everyone needs their own experience of the divine, and only Christ himself can do that. In our evangelism, in our spreading of the Gospel, we are not meant to judge others or reprimand them on their journey, but trust that no matter what we do, when all else fails, Christ can always get in. The Gospel is our responsibility to spread, but the weight of the redemption of the world is not squarely on our shoulders.
So. If we can’t reasonable expect everyone to come to Christ just by listening to us talk about him, what is our goal? What should a community inundated with resurrection be doing? What does an Easter church look like? It looks like my friend Paul, continuing to invite because he loved me and wanted me to share in his joy, not because I was otherwise condemned. It looks like our reading from Acts this morning, where the disciples lives are so defined by their joy and hope and belief that the people around them can’t help but notice. Their very being was an invitation in itself. It looks like people welcoming others who have their own different and unique experiences of Christ, welcoming them without judgement, condemnation, or reprimand. It looks a lot like St. Mark’s.
At the end of the day, Thomas came to believe in the resurrected Christ, and began his own proclamation. Thomas was guided by his fellow disciples to the upper room. And when his stubbornness halted their witness, Christ intervened, appearing in a locked room and opening up a locked heart as only He can. This is Good News. The best news! Amen