Well, now what?

“Well, now what?” I don’t title sermons, but if I had to, that’d be it today. “Well, now what?”

Of course, Sundays have titles, at least off-the-record. You now, there’s “Good Shepherd Sunday” and “John the Baptist Sunday,” not to mention all those “Bread of Life Sundays” that come up during the summer. This weekend, though, I’d like to start a trend: “Well, Now What Sunday.”

You see, that’s what’s going on in our gospel reading today. The disciples have heard the rumors that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. And while the resurrection stories tell us that the disciples believed, something stops them from living into this new, post-Easter life. In fear for their lives, they hide themselves behind locked doors and begin to ask themselves that ever-holy question: “well, now what?”

They’re afraid, sure. But if I had to guess why they were in hiding, I think the bigger reason they locked the doors was because they didn’t fully understand what it meant that Jesus had, indeed, risen from the dead.

I can only imagine what was going through their minds that first Easter evening. It seems that this Jesus thing isn’t going to work out after all, so we should probably just go back to the way things used to be. Thomas and Nathanael, you guys can go back to fishing; Matthew and Levi, it IS tax season — maybe H&R Block is hiring!

All kidding aside, the disciples were locked away, and just as all hope seems lost, just as they ask that question, “well, now what,” Jesus appears, stands among them, and says “peace be with you.”

Wow! In that locked room, in the midst of fear and uncertainty, in the middle of the dark of night, Jesus comes and brings peace. And, thinking about it, that may be the best answer to the disciples’ holy question, “well, now what?” Peace, forgiveness of sins, new life — or, to phrase it differently: an encounter with the Risen One.

Now, as we say in the clergy world, “that’ll preach!” What wonderful news. Jesus is risen, alleluia! I could sit down right now! But I won’t, because that’s only part of the story.

What about Thomas? He wasn’t there when Jesus appeared that first Easter evening. Where was he? What was he doing? Did he already go back to the daily grind? How did he answer that holy question: “well, now what?”

We’ll never know, because all we get from John’s gospel is that he wasn’t there when Jesus was. And, of course, that he wouldn’t believe without seeing.

I admit, I feel bad for Thomas. I think he gets a bad rap because of today’s story. The fact is, Thomas just wanted what everyone else already had wanted and experienced — physical proof. An encounter with the risen Christ, in-the-flesh.

Another week passes, and the disciples are together again — this time with Thomas. And right on cue, Jesus appears, stands among them, and says “peace be with you.”

I think we often misread what happens next. It’s easy to think Jesus is angry with Thomas, but what if he is meeting Thomas right where he is? Thomas needed proof and Jesus gave it to him. Jesus doesn’t punish, he doesn’t rebuke; but instead Jesus invites him to be a part of this new resurrection community.

And then, right on cue, Thomas professes the clearest, most powerful confession of faith that we find in John’s gospel: “My Lord and my God.”

That’ll preach — I could sit down again. But I won’t, because I have a question for y’all.

“Well, now what?”

It’s the second Sunday of Easter, and we’re gathered once again to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. The Holy One is present, standing in our midst, breathing the breath of life and peace into our lives.

We are blessed to encounter the risen Christ in this place; we receive the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins; we hold his flesh in our hands, we drink his life-giving blood. But through this mystical encounter, we ourselves become the body of Christ: raised up, made new, ready to join — no, ready to become — the Jesus Movement.

That’s why we’re here, isn’t it. To encounter the Risen One, and to be sent out as Risen Ones.

And, friends, the world needs us to do just that. You see, just like Thomas, the world demands proof. Just like Thomas, the world desperately needs to encounter Christ, but the world does not believe what it cannot see.

But remember how Jesus treats Thomas. Jesus reminds us that demanding proof or having doubt doesn’t make us bad Christians. In fact, I think it makes us perfect humans: logical creatures with memory, reason, and skill.

After all, there’s just too much suffering and shame, loneliness and death in this world. There’s too many reasons to doubt that Christ is alive, that God is still working. All we need is a hint of proof.

But there it is, right there, did you see it? That’s exactly the place God appears. It’s in the doubts and fears, it’s in the demanding proof, it’s behind the locked doors of our hearts that Jesus stands among us and says, “peace be with you.”

So, if we are the body of Christ, if we are the risen and living members of this Jesus Movement, what better proof is there than us, the body of Christ, fed and forgiven, going out into the world, standing amid suffering and shame, loneliness and death, saying with utmost conviction, “Jesus is alive; be at peace”?

This is the end of John’s gospel. And the very last verses of this passage speak directly to us, the readers and hearers.

“Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

All these things, this entire gospel — in fact, the entire bible — is written so that you might encounter the Risen One and experience God’s abundant life. Furthermore, these things are written so that we might become Risen Ones, sharing that abundant life with the world.

We are the risen body of Christ, going into the world and touching the wounded hands and feet. We are the risen body of Christ, going into the world and saying, “peace be with you.” We are the risen body of Christ, going into the world confessing, “My Lord and my God.”

Christ is risen, and so are we. Well, now what? Amen.

This sermon was preached April 22, 2017 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Woodbridge, NJ, and again April 23, 2017 at St Michael’s Episcopal Church in Trenton, NJ.

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