Today we have some of the most romantic passages in the lectionary. I don’t mean that they are all lovey dovey. I mean they are the stuff of dreams. They are the kind of passages that draw many of us to think of ideal images of the church in harmony and Jesus returning to calm fears, answer doubts, and give power to those who follow him. These are certainly good images to hold onto, but there may be more to it than that.
For me, theses readings conjure up memories of singing around a campfire. It usually began with a two-part harmony chorus. The boys would often start – some faking a low voice until they could make one, or at least hide their awkward squeaks in the group.
Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ in the light
Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ in the light
Then the girls would come in a little too high before settling into something close to harmony.
Walkin’ in the light, ooh, ooh
We can trust each other
Walkin’ in the light, ooh, ooh
We can see ourselves
And the song goes on to reflect on the experience of God’s presence that can only be found in community – not just any community, but in a community of faith grounded in the experience of God’s active presence. That’s what made the church in Acts so unique. The early church in Jerusalem was not built in brick and stone but in hearts full of generosity and in lives shared in response to the resurrection of Jesus and the message of the grace and mercy of God!
Yet, they were not always so utopian, and sadly they did not remain that way. In fact they started out in just the opposite way. According to John’s Gospel they started out as a small group of conspirators huddled in fear behind locked doors. And then Jesus entered in. It does not matter how he came in or how he left. What matters is that he stood among them and said, “Peace.” And he showed them his wounds so that they would know that it was him – not an ideal copy or some unearthly vision, but the real Jesus with his wounds and his pain.
It matters that he was really with them, because only he could say, “Peace.” in a way that had the weight of the truth it held. Only he could say that word and have it stir their memory of the last time he had said it. It was just before he died. Right after he told them that he would die, he promised to send the Advocate – the Holy Spirit off God. Then he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” And this time he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Then he breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. Now, as weird as that sounds, breath has long been understood as the evidence of the creative force of God. In fact, one of my favorite things to do when I am stressed is to simply breathe and remember that I would not even have oxygen to breathe were it not for the love of God. The breath of God – the Spirit of God – is what hovered over the chaos of the cosmos in the story of creation. Our breath connects us to the creative force of God. Even today we talk of breathing new life into those things that we hope will continue – sometimes even the church itself! And so we are given this story about Jesus as the source of the breath of God.
Jesus, who offers peace. Peace calms our fears. The peace of Jesus is not manipulative, but it is transformative. It changes us. It puts us in league with the God who redeems by forgiving sins, for “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And we have that power – even here, even now – although you wouldn’t believe that if you turned on a TV or a computer these days.
The news media circus throws statistics from the right and the left like sharpened knives, while social media wields public opinion as though we were all judge, jury, and executioners, and viral videos show us subjective truths about events that shatter lives and challenge the social fabric that binds us together.
It’s a sad situation; people running scared
It’s a crazy mixed up world
Where there’s nothing to fear but fear!
I think that the presence of fear is why Thomas matters so much to us. He matters because he gives us permission to doubt, to question, and to make irrational demands of the one whose love for us makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. God’s love is not something that we can earn or return. It’s so much more than that. It is simply the reality that holds us, connects us, and keeps us from being consumed by the darkness that seems so present that we can’t seem to see beyond the task or the person or the moment we are stuck in.
We always walk in darkness, forget about the day
We’re afraid to face our problems
We’re hoping they’ll go away! (2-3-4 What do ya think your feet are for?) (Chorus)
That’s why we have each other, so that we can face our problems – even when they are with each other. The writer of 1 John talks about seeing and hearing and touching the “word of life.” And even that – even experiencing the risen Christ, even living in communion with God through the presence of Jesus – is not enough to make his joy complete. It’s as if he is saying, “We have to tell you about it. We have to share this faith. I need you to know that my experience of God doesn’t stop with my memories or my feelings. It pushes me into a relationship with you – a relationship where we will hurt each other and need to forgive and be forgiven.” Walking in the light doesn’t mean that we are perfect. It means that we are no longer defined by our imperfections. It means that we see them, and we see beyond them.
So we finally pull our heads up out of the sand
Where there’s light and warmth and sunshine
And it’s never dark again! (2-3-4 What do ya think your feet are for?) (Chorus)
So, what are we to do? Are we supposed to go back to the roots of faith and develop communes? That certainly wouldn’t go against the teachings of Jesus, but it’s not particularly sustainable. Still, there is something about the call to unity that tells us that we are responsible for one another. I think that’s why we get excited about the community ministries that we support like CUPS and our new Soles4Souls initiative. That same sense of mutual responsibility is what drives the theology behind our denominational programs like the Self Development of People, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
The thing is, walking in the light doesn’t just mean that we have some kind of spiritual flashlight to keep us from getting lost in the woods. It means that we see the world as God sees it. Like the Psalmist says, “darkness is as light to you.” When we walk in the light, we see that God is active and present in all things!
When we see the pain and suffering of this world it is as though Jesus stands before us, offering his wounds for our inspection. When we remember that God has given us the power to overcome sin through simple acts of forgiveness, we cannot help but unlock the doors that separate us from others. And when we hear that Jesus did so many other things – but these stories were written so that we might have life through believing in Jesus – it is my hope that we will hear that as an irresistible invitation to walk in the light.
Oh, one last thing – just before Easter some cards and flowers were taken to some of our home bound members. They all appreciated it so very much. There’s a note on the board from Val Craig saying that she received it as a gift from every one of us. I was also told that when Rita and Willie Gary received a visit, Rita answered the door and exclaimed, “Oh look, the church is here!” And truly, in that moment, we were.
So, maybe some part of the early church lives on, when we walk in the light that lets us see the wounds of Jesus, the power of forgiveness, and the grace and mercy of God in all things. In fact, grace, mercy, and forgiveness sustain the church – even here, even now. Amen.