Toughest Questions to Ask, by Pastor Fred
How do I know it’s still Easter? I know it’s still Easter by the amount of Ham Loaf leftovers that are in the refrigerator! When I told John this week about our family tradition of the Easter Ham Loaf, he was confused but curious. You mean ham, like a spiral ham? Is that what Ham Loaf is?
Well, sure, anyone can serve a nice spiral ham for Easter. But in our family we have Ham Loaf, you know like a meatloaf, but with ground ham and veal. And then we have this delicious prepared mustard sauce that you pour on top! He looked at me like I was crazy – and had probably gone off the deep end!
I have to admit, Ham Loaf’s an acquired taste. Not all the in-laws have come to accept it in our family, and so, it’s not for everyone. And yet, despite its description, I actually like it! Without Ham Loaf, it’s not really Easter for me! At the same time, I’m always afraid to admit it to outsiders, because I know the reaction I’m likely to face. Disbelief, at best – disappointment and derision at worst!
Garrison Keillor once said: “Easter is that time of year when Christians ask themselves two questions,” ‘Do I really believe all this stuff? And if so, why do I live this way?’”
So, every year, I have to rethink my interest in Ham Loaf. But more importantly, we get to rethink our interest, in the resurrection! Do we really believe all this stuff? Is it fundamentally a part of who I am, and no matter what the reaction, do I show it and share it with others? How should I live, if I do believe?
Thomas was a radical questioner. He was unsure the empty tomb meant anything, and he wasn’t sure the disciples were telling the truth, any more than Mary was, about seeing Jesus on the first day of the week. For Mary, it was early in the morning. For the other disciples, it was evening on that day, the first day of the week. Thomas thought he was on pretty solid ground, doubting that Jesus would really show up for him. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” he boldly told all the others disciples. What are the chances of that, anyway?!
But, with or without Thomas, the earth had moved! When Mary arrived early on the first day of the week while it was still dark, the large stone had already been removed from the tomb – Jesus’ imprisonment was over, death could not hold him. And Peter and John, ran to see it, after Mary did.
Yet by evening, they were all enclosed in a tomb of their own making! They had locked themselves in, afraid for their lives. “…the doors of the house where the disciples had met,” says John, “were locked for fear of the Jews…” And, agrees Professor of Homiletics, John Hoch, “Upon seeing the empty tomb, the disciples didn’t preach, they didn’t join the choir, they went home. …it seems as if the disciples were locked into familiar tombs.”
But, who would protect them from a similar fate, reasoned the disciples of this crucified Messiah? What would befall them, if they even showed their faces? And, the risk they perceived was not unfounded, as we see from the situation in our 1st Reading from Acts. There, some months or maybe even a year or two later, Peter and the other disciples, had gained their voices and were testifying in public, but were arrested and jailed for their message.
And so, for that whole first week, the Disciples had remained cloistered in that upper room. Jesus was out and liberated, and, on the loose in the world, but the disciples, controlled by their fears, remained locked up, entombed behind the stony doors.
So Jesus comes – even though ‘friend and foe alike’ were meant to be shut out – and he stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” And to Thomas, he specifically said, “put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and thrust it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
What does it take for us to believe? To get over our fears of what may happen to us? What is it that, pushes us out the door? That breaks open the tomb we feel so comfortable in, the closet we hide behind?? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” Jesus says to Thomas.
Some biblical scholars find the invitation of Jesus, to touch his wounds, as a kind of rebuke to him, for his dis-belief. But I tend to think Jesus is looking out for Thomas – and, for all of us – by appearing to him; by coming to answer the tough questions everyone has. Thomas recognizes the, resurrected Easter Sunday Jesus, by his Good Friday scars. Like Thomas, many of us need to keep it real. The questions and doubts we have, bring us closer to God, not farther away.
Today, across from Jerusalem, in the Garden of Gethsemane, posted outside the Church of All Nations, there is a sign that reads, “Please: no explanations in the church,” a polite way to warn to the thousands of tourists who pass through the church every day, and their tour guides, not to carry-on, in a sacred space. But it reminds me of something a cranky old minister once said to a mischievous boy in his confirmation class: “The church is no place for questions, young man!”
But that is not the church of today, as it wasn’t of Thomas, the questioner. Nor should it be for the church of Jesus Christ, anywhere! Is the resurrection real? and why am I living this way? are not questions that will arise, if we remain entombed in fear.
The great theologian Paul Tillich, in his classic Dynamics of Faith book, claims that doubt, is in fact, an inescapable and essential part, of faith. And, a questioning faith requires an element of risk, and more than a little courage, he said, because there is always the possibility of failure. ‘Sometimes we ask questions and receive no answer. Sometimes we ask questions and don’t like the answer we receive.’ And these are the risks we take when we honestly engage the divine. Thomas was willing to risk asking the tough questions about a risen Christ who was the same as the crucified Jesus! And it made him into the greatest evangelist in the eastern church.
Today we are deeply honored to have members of Sarah’s Circle open our new Gallery exhibit. It takes great courage to show the art that comes from a vulnerable place, as I’m sure any artist will tell you. But it is a beautiful testimony to me, to see how the places of fear in our lives, can be resurrected, and broken open, to live to see a new day, as we find here, in the Gallery.
What are the toughest questions you are afraid to ask? Sometimes these are the very ones that lead us to freedom and a new found courage. Mary and Peter, and all the followers of Jesus, soon came to realize that their faith in the resurrection was truer and more important to them, than their fear of being arrested. Fear of what others may think or say, was small, compared to relationship of knowing Jesus, and Christ crucified and risen, for the salvation and freedom of the world.
What they felt was true in their guts, released them from their fears, and gave them the courage of faith to stand up to the authorities. Now! the rulers in Jerusalem were becoming afraid, of them! What’s in your heart, about Jesus the Christ, that is dying to come out? And, what do we want our faith heritage to be, going forward?
Alleluia, Christ is risen!