Readings – Acts 10: 34-43; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15: 1-11; John 20: 1-18
Our God is just awesome, inviting and embracing with love, giving second chance after second chance after second chance.
Remember Thomas? Following the arrest of Jesus, what did he do? He fled. When Jesus appeared on Easter Sunday, the others were all together behind locked doors; Thomas was nowhere to be found. Before the next Sunday, another disciple invited him to rejoin them, and reluctantly he agreed. Again, the Risen Jesus appeared and immediately addressed Thomas. “Put your fingers here, and see my hands. Reach out your hand, and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” For Thomas, the Risen Jesus was too good to be true, but there he was. “Do not doubt, but believe.” Tradition has Thomas going to India proclaiming the Risen Jesus.
On the Emmaus Road, two unnamed disciples were walking away from Jerusalem. They left after the women shared the news of the empty tomb. Unconvinced, they were returning home when the Risen Jesus joined them. In their despair, in their grief, they did not recognize him. Then at supper, he joined them, took, blessed, broke, and shared the bread with them. Their eyes were opened, and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
How about Judas? He was one of the original disciples. He longed for the restoration of the Kingdom of David. He envisioned the long-expected warrior Messiah, not a Messiah who was arrested and lead off to Pilate. This Messiah was not the one he expected. Maybe, just maybe, if Jesus were arrested, he would show his power and rule from Jerusalem as many of the prophets of old projected. Instead, Jesus was hung on a cross to die. Judas’ expectation was destroyed, and so Judas destroyed himself. In this life, he never got the second chance like Thomas, and like the Emmaus Road disciples.
Then were was Peter. Peter, too, had the expectation of a conquering Messiah, triumphing over all. In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, he directly challenged Jesus, even rebuking him when Jesus shared that “he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised”. Peter cried out, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you”. How did Jesus respond? “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter, it seemed, shared the same expectation as Judas, yet he continued to follow. In the garden of Gethsemane, when the temple police arrived, Peter took out his sword, and swiped at the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Later, in the courtyard of the high priest, when all the other disciples had disappeared, Peter continued to follow, though denying he even knew Jesus. How many times? Not once, not twice, but three times before dawn and the rooster crowing. Peter continued to huddle with the fearful disciples, even running to the empty tomb as discovered by Mary Magdalene. The Risen Jesus guided the false expecting, the sword-swinging, the denying Peter to become the leading disciple, and the traditional head of the early Church.
There are additional examples in Holy Scripture of the faithfulness of Jesus and the faithlessness of his followers. I will conclude with Mary from the town of Magdala, Mary Magdalene. She is linked in tradition as the woman at the pharisee’s dinner party in the Gospel according to St. Luke. Weeping, she let down her hair, opened an alabaster jar of expensive ointment, and bathed the feet of Jesus, and dried them with her hair. She was noted as a woman of the streets, with a badly tarnished reputation. To her, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven”. She responded by following him to the cross and watching him die. She descended into grief. Through forgiveness, Jesus had given her new life. As we heard in today’s Gospel reading, she was the first to arrive at the tomb at daybreak where she discovered that the stone across the opening had been rolled away, and the body of Jesus gone, perhaps stolen. The tomb was empty. She found Peter and John who ran to the tomb and found it just as she said. And then the text says Peter and John went home. There was no mention of their rejoicing or proclaiming that Christ is Risen. They just went home. And, Mary, forgiven Mary, went back to the empty tomb and became the first of many to encounter the Risen Jesus, the first. Like the Emmaus Road disciples, she did not immediately recognize him, until he called her by name, “Mary”. Mary forgiven, grieving, the Risen Jesus called her by name, and she became the first to see the Risen Jesus.
Jesus gave Thomas, the Emmaus Road disciples, Peter and Mary Magdalene second chances. And I would venture that Judas, got a second chance though not in this life. I believe Jesus is always ready to forgive us and to invite us into greater faithfulness even as we stumble and fall, even as we pursue false expectations, even as we swipe at others with a sword, even as we run away and hide, even as we deny not once, not twice, but multiple times.
The Jesus of the Gospels did not give up on the people of his own day, and the Risen Jesus does not give up on us. There is a wideness in God’s mercy that exceeds our every expectation. The Risen Jesus does not give up.
As the people of the Risen Jesus, we are invited to follow in his way of inviting, of lovingly embracing. As the Risen Jesus gave second chance after second chance to Thomas, to the Emmaus Road disciples, to Peter, and to Mary Magdalene, so we too give second chances, inviting all to live more fully into the people God created us to be.
The Way of Jesus is to reach out and embrace with love.
Our Way, as the Risen Jesus’ People, is to reach out and embrace with love.
The Risen Jesus is relentless, he does not give up.
And neither do we, his people.