Monday, May 2, 2011

Starting Over (Sermon for Easter 2)

Easter 2
1 May 2011

John 20:19-31

When trying to get an infant to sleep, sometimes they’re almost there and then they wake themselves up or you sneeze or a cold breeze comes by. It can be a small thing and then they’re awake again and crying and tired. And you have to start all over again, trying to get them to calm down and go back to sleep.

Parenthood, I’m finding, is often a few steps forward and then one step back. Thinking you’ve moved into a new stage, but then finding vestiges or remnants of the one you left behind.

I’m telling [the parents of the baptized] this, along with the rest of you, because that’s partially where the disciples are in today’s gospel. They’ve already heard about the resurrection from Mary Magdalene and yet they remain locked in the upper room, afraid of people who might still be angry with Jesus or about his missing body (not realizing the truth of the resurrection).

They’re afraid and their fear has fenced them into a place where they cannot act. All of them, except for one. Thomas is somewhere else during the first part of today’s story. Hearing the news of the resurrection, he’s out and about. Now he could be out because he believes that Jesus has risen. Or he could be out because he thinks it’s all over and he has to move on with his life.

When we see Thomas earlier in the gospel, he leads the rest of disciples in following Jesus back into dangerous territory, back to where they know people are plotting to kill him. Thomas encourages the other disciples by saying, “Come, let us go and die with him.”

Thomas is both pessimist and man of action. He intends to go with Jesus wherever he goes, but now that Jesus is gone, he isn’t sure what to do. However, he knows hiding isn’t the answer.

Jesus appears, then, first to the disciples in hiding and then to all of them, including Thomas. We look at how Jesus treats both the hiding disciples and Thomas, noting that he does not condemn their fear or Thomas’s unbelieving, but gives them peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

He gives them a chance to start over. Neither their fear nor unbelief puts them out of the range of where Jesus can get to them. They get a chance to begin again, to live into what they know to be true- that death is defeated and that the resurrected Christ meets them where they are, walks with them, offers tactile opportunities, brings them peace.

They get a chance to start over. That’s why baptism is so central for us today. It gives us a starting point, a place to go back to when we are afraid, struggling in belief or in need of a restart. We can go back to the place where we received the name, “Child of God”, where we welcomed into the family of God, where we received the sign of the cross- that marks us forever.

This is the gift we will watch [the baptized] receive from God today and that we will promise to help him understand, the gift of a new beginning and a location for starting over at any point in his life.

This is why we are encouraged to remember our baptisms daily, each time we wash our hands, each time we make the sign of the cross. We are able to start over, again and again. Not to take advantage of grace, but to take part in grace. What we are offered through baptism is the same consolation and encouragement that Jesus gives to his disciples in that room, all of them including Thomas. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the understanding that there is nothing that we can do and nowhere we can go that can keep us from the love of God. With those gifts comes the peace that passes all understanding, the strength to forgive and accept forgiveness, the hope in the truth of the resurrection and God with us.

The font is our home base, the stump of our family tree, our orienting location. It gives us the coordinates for home, with water and God’s promise, a home to which we can always return. A place from which we can always, always start over.


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