April 19, Second Sunday of Easter
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ve always enjoyed the musical, My Fair Lady, and especially recall the 1964 film version of the play, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.
The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl, who finds herself the object of a wager between a Professor Henry Higgins and his friend Colonel Pickering. The two men wager Professor Higgins, a professor of phonetics, cannot transform and pass off the cockney flower girl, as a member of the English upper class. Long story short Professor Higgins wins the bet, but unexpectedly falls in love with Eliza Doolittle in the process.
Unfortunately, for Eliza Doolittle, she is both the subject of the professor’s affection and the object of his wager. When the professor hints at his change of heart. Eliza challenges him to come to terms with his feeling in a song titled “Show Me.” She sings: “Haven’t your lips longed for my touch? Don’t say how much, show me, show me. Don’t talk of love lasting through time. Make me no undying vow. Show me.” She wants Higgins to put up or shut up.
“Show me” might work well, as the theme for this Sunday after Easter. Our text derives from the Gospel of John’s account of the appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples. The disciples are locked away in a house of Jerusalem for fear the crucifixion of Jesus will lead to their own martyrdom. The future of the Christian faith hangs in the balance.
On the evening of the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and side. Then occurs what has been called “the little Pentecost.” Jesus says: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he says this, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they have forgiven them: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus empowers the disciples to become the church, sends them out into the world and gifts them the Holy Spirit, granting them authority and power to forgive sins. They are a living manifestation of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
But something has been left out. Something is not quite right. The Apostle Thomas is not present. When Thomas return to the house, the other disciples tell him they have seen the Lord. But Thomas cannot believe them. He says: “Unless I have seen the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my fingers in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas wants proof. Life Eliza Dolittle, he says, in effect, “show me.”
A week later the disciples again gathered in the room with doors shut. Jesus stands among them. This time the Apostle Thomas is present. Now Jesus says to him: “Put your fingers here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Jesus shows him the evidence of the crucifixion and Thomas believes. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” He has seen the Risen Lord and now believes Jesus is indeed resurrected.
This story from the Gospel of John has one eye on the past and the other on the future. We hear this dual emphasis, when Jesus says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Then John makes this declaration about the purpose of the Gospel. He writes: “But these words are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The Gospel of John culminates with the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the disciples. The Gospel, as a whole, makes the case Jesus is the Messiah through whom God acts to bring life and immortality to all humanity.
The Evangelist John has his eye on you and me. He knows we will hear the story of the crucifixion and resurrection, but questions about the event will crowd our faith, put our faith to the test. The fate of Christianity rests upon the ability of John to present his witness to the resurrection in such a way we to believe.
You and I are like the Apostle Thomas. We did not stand in that room in Jerusalem and witness the appearance of Jesus. There is one way we are not like Thomas. We can’t go back a week later and touch the wounds of Jesus, when he appears again. All we have to go on is this account of the resurrection.
The name Willard Duncan Vandiver may not be familiar to us here in Iowa, but Congressman Vandiver has his place in American history. He represented the State of Missouri in Congress and was famously quoted as saying: “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Vandiver originated the saying that ultimately became the motto for the state of Missouri, the show me state.
On Easter Day many individuals will be in a show me state of mind. Even good Christians have questions about the resurrection. Members of our congregation tell me they remain circumspect about the events of Easter day. The Gospel of John knows generation hence Christians will wonder what truly happened on Easter morning. The Gospel understands Jesus himself cannot show up every time someone raises their hand to ask a question.
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The Easter event has two aspects to it. The first aspect takes place in the morning, when the women witness, and the disciples hear their testimony. But the second dimension of Easter occurs in the evening and calls for a response of faith. Inevitably, some folks will reject the testimony of the Apostolic Community. This rejection of faith in Christ and his resurrection has been an ongoing phenomenon for two thousand year.
The Gospel of John wants us to know people will have their questions. But there comes a time, when we must decide to accept the testimony of the Apostles or reject Gospel witness to the resurrection. It’s as simple as that. Some respond with faith and others with disbelief.
But let me tell you this. Those who believe, those who stands with the Apostles and the Church, have a great hope in Jesus Christ. The empty tomb on Easter morning is the seal upon that hope. We boast in that hope. That hope is the foundation of the Church. That hope sends us out into the streets to proclaim, as the disciples did, that Christ was raised from the dead. We affirm by God’s grace and power we too shall be united with him in the resurrection like his. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
April 19, Second Sunday of Easter