Womb and Tomb…Birth and Resurrection

Easter 2B.

It’s a joy to be with all of you today at St. Michael and All Angels! Two verses from today’s Gospel reading: “But Thomas (who was called the Twin) one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

 So, as this morning’s Gospel reading reminds us,St. Thomas– the Apostle – had a problem with Easter! He had a problem believing, and relating to the fact, that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And I suspect that some of you, if you are honest, also have a problem with Easter. You too may have a problem believing, and relating to the fact, that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

 And that’s understandable! It’s easy to understand why many people have a problem with Easter. First of all, like Thomas, we often see Easter from the wrong side. We’re on the “outside” looking in, so to speak. We see, first of all, the deep darkness of the Empty Tomb. We experience the Absence of Christ, before we experience his Presence. Thomas missed the apostles’ first encounter with the Risen Christ because he wasn’t “in church” that Sunday! He wasn’t with the rest of the apostles when Jesus appeared to them.

 We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t there on Easter evening, but he wasn’t and so he missed the encounter. He was on the outside, looking in. And it’s very difficult to understand something you haven’t personally encountered. It’s the same with us. If you’re not part of the Christian community, it’s pretty difficult to understand what Christians are talking about with respect to Easter and the Resurrection.

 Secondly, we may have no personal experience to tie Easter to. It’s easy to relate to Christmas – everybody loves babies…and birthdays! We can relate to the birth of Jesus. And we can relate to Ash Wednesday and Lent because, deep down, we all know that we are sinners and that we stand in need of repentance and forgiveness. Our Jewish brothers and sisters explore similar themes on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Muslims do something similar during Ramadan. And so do many other religions.

 We can understand, and relate to, Good Friday, because most of us have experienced death. The death of a parent or grandparent or loved one…even a beloved pet. We know something about death and loss. We’ve experienced it. But Resurrection! Only Jesus has experienced that, and come back to tell us about it.

 So, because so many people – likeSt. Thomas– have a problem with Easter, we sometimes trivialize it. Because we have a hard time relating to Easter, we surround it with something familiar, something predictable – like the cycles of nature…and flowers…and eggs…and springtime…and, God help us, the Easter bunny! A chocolate Easter bunny, no doubt!

 And yet, you know, there is an experience that each of us had had that relates to Easter. It’s called – Birth! It’s called “being born.”

 Jesus’ tomb was a dark, confined space from which – Scripture tells us – he was expelled by a Force quite beyond his control. That’s why we really shouldn’t say “Jesus rose from the dead” but should say instead, “Jesus was raised from the dead.” Jesus didn’t raise himself. It was God the Father – by the power of the Holy Spirit – who raised the dead and buried Jesus from the tomb, from that dark and confined space. A Force quite beyond his control.

 But our mother’s womb was also a dark and confined space from which you and I were expelled, long ago,  by forces quite beyond our control as well! And the life we experienced right after being born must have been about as different from the life we experienced in the womb as the Risen Life Jesus experienced on the other side of the grave must have been. The womb and the tomb… Birth and Resurrection…are similar experiences.

 I think that’s where all that talk in the New Testament about being “born again” comes from. Becoming a Christian, and accepting the Resurrection of Jesus, is in fact like being “born again!”

It’s what our Collect, or Prayer for Today, was getting at: We prayed, “Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been REBORN into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith…”

 You and I have been born from the womb of our mothers, where we were sustained by embryonic water and nurtured by her own body and blood which we shared. We have also been re-born through baptismal water and are now nurtured by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist which we share with one another. One day, we shall be born yet again from the darkness of death into the Risen Life of God which we will also share. Our personal Easter is being born into the Presence of God whom we cannot see now, but one day will see – face to face! As Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.”

 I hope that you who are to be confirmed today have come to the point in your lives where you believe that. I hope all of you have come to believe in the Resurrection this Easter. For the Easter miracle is, in some ways, no more miraculous – and no less miraculous – than the miracle of birth and life itself. And, because of Easter, life has triumphed over death for ever!

 There was a 20th century Welsh poet named Dylan Thomas who once wrote a poem about death which stated that we should not “go gently into that good night”…that we should rage against it as against “the dying of the light.” We know that is not true. And that, when our time comes, we can indeed “go gently into that good night” for it is not the Dying but the dawning of the Light.

 I hope you have come to believe that this Easter. And my prayer for you comes in the form of an Easter Blessing, written by David Adams:

 The Lord of the empty tomb

The conqueror of gloom

Come to you

 The Lord in the garden walking

The Lord to Mary talking

Come to you

 The Lord in the Upper Room

Dispelling fear and doom

Come to you

 The Lord on the road to Emmaus

The Lord giving hope to Thomas\

Come to you

 The Lord appearing on the shore

Giving us life for ever more

Come to you

 FOR, THE LORD IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!

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