Open Cathedral, San Francisco
I speak to you as a child of God.
I speak to you as a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed last April with a stage II melanoma. That means that I had the scariest form of skin cancer you can have—but we caught it, before it invaded my body. It will be a year, next Saturday, since I got that phone call from my doctor. I had surgery, which may have cured me. Chemotherapy makes me exhausted, and sick, and gives me almost constant headaches. I’ll finish that on June 26.
I tell you this so that you will know, I have come close to death. I know a lot about fear. I know about pain. I know about sickness. And I have the best prognosis possible. I also have an amazingly supportive community. I know a lot about hope. I know a lot about love. I know what my body, and my God, have taught me about living a resurrected life.
Thomas didn’t have what I have. He didn’t have what we have. He didn’t have a community that comes together every week, that sings and prays and tells the stories, that eats the bread and drinks the cup, and that remembers and celebrates the risen Christ. He was huddled with his community of friends, in a locked room in a locked house, barricaded against danger from outside. The other disciples had seen Jesus. And they were still just as frightened as Thomas was. They were in that locked room, together. They didn’t know that the story ends in hope, in resurrection, in victory over fear and sin and death, for ever. They were living it, for the first time.
The last time Thomas saw Jesus, Thomas was rubbing the sleep from his own eyes as he watched Jesus being dragged away by Roman guards. Jesus was on his way to face trial for inciting a riot amongst the Jews, by turning over the tables in the temple. Thus, for committing crimes against the Roman state. This kind of journey never ended well. The penalty was a slow, brutal, bloody, painful death.
The disciples knew what crucifixion was. They didn’t have to see it, to know that Jesus was dead. They knew exactly what had happened to him.
He was dead. Dead people don’t come back. He was dead, and wrapped in sheets, and buried underneath the rock. They knew they'd never see him again.
So who was this, suddenly standing in their living room? The doors were locked. He did not have a key. He was not invited. He walked right through the wall.
What would you say, if someone that you know has died, appeared in front of you and said, “Hi! How ya doin’?”
You’d freak out. You’d be terrified. The world would not make sense anymore. This absolutely could not be happening. And yet, it was.
Thomas had said, “I will not know him, unless I see the marks of the nails in his wrists, and put my hand where the spear pierced his side. “
Jesus turned to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here.” Touch the scars that the nails left in my flesh. Feel my pulse, beating. Know that I died, and that I live again. Here I am, standing in front of you.
And that’s when Thomas recognized him. Not by the miracle of walking through the wall, and appearing out of nowhere in front of them. By the scars that suffering and pain and death left on his body. By the evidence, on his skin and between his bones, that Christ had indeed died, and that death could not hold him.
His wounds did not go away. Nothing was erased, covered over, or forgotten. The marks on his skin, told his story better than any special effects or white light or flashy music could have. We know who he is, because we can see where he has been.
Where do we recognize Jesus, today? Where do we see Jesus, on the streets of San Francisco? Look around you for a minute. Look into the faces of the people standing next to you. Each one of us has a story. Each one of us has struggled. Each of us has suffered. We have all been afraid. Some of us have lost jobs, or apartments, or health care. Some of us have lost friends, or family members, people we love very much. We have all lived through grief.
The risen Christ walked through the wall of that house in Jerusalem. He walks today, through the wall of our own fear. When we care for one another, Christ is with us. When we bear each other’s burdens, Christ is with us. When we support one another, to make choices that lead to sobriety and health, Christ is with us. When we offer shelter to a friend who needs it, Christ is with us. When we listen to each other, Christ is with us. When we feed one another, Christ is with us. At night when we are sleeping, Christ is with us. We are never, ever alone. Christ has been, where we are going. The body of Christ knows the worst that humanity can do. And we are loved, and loved, and loved some more.
Christ is with us in our terrible times. Christ is with us, in our triumphs. Christ is with us, in our love and in our joy and in our hope.
And we will all die. But death is not the end of the story. The story ends, in the presence of the risen Christ with each of us, and all of us. The story ends, in our own redemption from sin, and fear, and death. The story ends, in the absolute and unchanging, unbreakable, unconditional, eternal love of God.
We are about to tell the story again, of the last supper that Jesus ate with his disciples. We will remember the words of Jesus, “Eat this bread. Drink this cup. Remember me, and I will be with you.”
Come to the table, and eat. Christ is risen. Christ is here. Christ is with us, always. Christ touches each of our wounds. And Christ will raise us up.
Sunday, April 19, 2009