You can hear this sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it here.
My favorite part of April Fools’ Day is waiting to see what “innovative technology” Google is going to introduce each year. The first one I can remember was back in 2008 when Google announced Gmail Custom Time: the ability to make your email travel back in time. When your boss asked why you didn’t send the proposal yesterday, you could run back to your office and email it dated two days ago. You could even make it look like your boss had already read it. People got really excited, until they figured out it wasn’t real. My favorite was from 2012, when Google announced Gmail Tap, which would eliminate those clumsy little keyboards on your smart phone and replace it with a dot and a dash. Sending a text or an email would be revolutionarily simple using Morse Code. This year, Google announced Google Cardboard Plastic, a virtual reality device that was nothing more than a clear piece of plastic you wear over your face to help you experience actual reality. The tagline for Google Cardboard Plastic was “What’s realer than real? Probably nothing. Or maybe something. I doubt it though.”
“What’s realer than real?” That seems to be the central question in today’s Gospel lesson. The Easter story in John is about Mary, Thomas, and the rest of the disciples who seem stuck in the reality that Jesus is dead, when the realer reality was resurrection. In fact, John tells us that his whole Gospel was written so that we might all come know that resurrection life is realer than the life of this age, and that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, each of us can experience that same kind of life. “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” There are three different Greek words that get translated as “life” in English Bibles. Psyche, from which we get psychology, is the soul: the life force that is present within all living things. Bios, the root word for biology, is one’s livelihood: the way in which one lives their life. Zoe, the word John uses in today’s passage, is the spiritual life: the life given to those who have been reborn by water and the Spirit: eternal life. The life that John wants for his readers is a life that is realer than real, it is life that moves beyond merely existing: life that is abundant and everlasting in God.
The life that John hopes for us is the life that Mary, Thomas, and the rest of the disciples just could not wrap their minds around. Resurrection living is so vastly different from the life of this age, that it can be difficult to handle. Last week, we heard the story of Mary Magdalene, the first person to see resurrected life. She was so tied up in grief, anger and confusion that even when the resurrected Jesus was standing right in front of her, she couldn’t recognize him. It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that Mary could recognize the reality of resurrection life. After Mary had seen that a realer life was possible, Jesus made her the first apostle, sending her to find the disciples and proclaim the Good News of his resurrection. Her message was as simple as it was impossible to believe, “I have seen the Lord!”
Despite Jesus having three times told them that he would be raised on the third day, despite hearing what Mary had experienced in the garden, despite John and Peter having seen the empty tomb for themselves, the disciples just couldn’t break out of the sad reality that surrounded them, and so they did the only thing they could think of: they huddled in their rented room and locked the door out of fear and doubt. Suddenly, Jesus appeared in their midst, and he spoke a word of peace to them. Mary saw Jesus, but it wasn’t until she heard him that she believed. The disciples heard Jesus, but it wasn’t until they saw his hands and his side that they were able to believe. Once they did, their fear and doubt were quickly replaced by joy and excitement. After they had seen the resurrected life of Jesus, he made them apostles, sending them out in the power of the Spirit to share the Good News and to follow his example of loving service and the forgiveness of sins. Thomas had missed this amazing encounter, and so the Apostles went looking for him. When they found Thomas, they exclaimed a message as simple as it was impossible to believe, “We have seen the Lord!”
But Thomas couldn’t simply break out of the sad reality he was stuck in. Despite Jesus promising on three different occasions that he’d rise again, despite having heard the word from Mary early on that first Easter Day, despite John and Peter having seen that the tomb was indeed empty, despite the new news from the whole group that Jesus had stood among them, Thomas still couldn’t quite believe that resurrection life was really possible. He needed the same sort of proof that the rest of them had received: he needed to see those wounds with his own eyes; he needed to touch them with his own hands. Thomas, like Mary and the rest, was so stricken by grief, doubt, and fear that he just couldn’t imagine that life could be any realer than the real heartache he was feeling. It took a week, but Thomas got what he needed: a word of peace; a chance to see and to touch; and as a result he moved from simply being a disciple, to becoming the key evangelist in John’s Gospel. From Thomas’ lips comes the first human proclamation of Jesus’ divinity, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus blesses Thomas, and all those who would come to believe in the resurrection life despite never having the chance to see him, hear him, or touch him.
Even when it is standing right in front of you, believing in resurrection life is not easy. Jesus knew that those of us who would follow after the Apostles would have to work hard to keep the faith. Unlike it was for Mary Magdalene, Jesus probably won’t be standing before you, calling you by name. Unlike it was for the disciples, Jesus isn’t likely to appear out of thin air in our midst and offer us his peace. Unlike it was for Thomas, Jesus won’t be inviting you to place your hand in his side anytime soon. We are those who Jesus said would have to be blessed by believing without having seen him, heard him, or touched him. We are those who will have to overcome the empirical evidence that suggests that, more often than not, grief and anger, confusion, fear, and doubt are as real as it gets. John wrote his Gospel to tell you that there is something realer than the reality of this life. Resurrection life is available to everyone who hands their life over to God and enters a relationship with the resurrected Jesus. This new way of living after the miracle of the resurrection takes grief, anger, and confusion and turns them into the peace that passes all understanding. Resurrection life takes doubt and worry and turns them into a joy that is complete. Resurrection life takes estrangement and sorrow and turns them into deep relationships of trust, compassion, and love. Resurrection life takes real life and makes it realer.
When that peace is sustained by the Spirit, when that joy grows through ongoing relationship, when that love becomes so ingrained as to simply be a part of who you are, you’ve found the sort of life that is infinitely realer than you could ever ask or imagine. That kind of living can turn even the most timid disciples into apostles and evangelists, sent by the Spirit to proclaim by word and example the Good News that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; the Good News that resurrection life is available for everyone who believes in him; the Good News that life can be something more than nightmare it so often seems to be. Google’s April Fools’ joke was onto something. There is something realer than real: resurrection life. Amen.