This past Sunday, Christians around the world read the Gospel account of the Risen Christ appearing to his followers (John 20:19-31). Traditionally, this 2nd Sunday of Easter is known as “Thomas Sunday,” as this annual Gospel passage features the infamous figure of “Doubting Thomas” and his need to see the wounds on Christ’s body to believe the account of the resurrection. But if we only focus on Thomas, we miss so much of what this text has to offer us.
We miss, for example, that as the scene opens, all the disciples are locked away for “fear of the Jews” (we’ll bracket aside John’s problematic anti-semitism for the moment). The point is not so much what the disciples are afraid of, but the fact that they are indeed locked away. In the absence of their teacher, their mentor, and their friend — they are trapped by their own fear. They have trapped themselves in a metaphorical tomb of fear, even as Christ himself is rising from the literal tomb. When Jesus appears among them he does a couple of interesting things: He greats them with words of peace. He breathes on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. And then he commissions them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” More specifically, he commissions them specifically to go out into the world to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. He sends them out into the world, in other words, to bring life, peace and freedom to a world desperately in need of them. Which brings us to poor, unfortunate Thomas. Yes, he doubted. But when he encounters Christ the second time, when he has the opportunity to see and touch Christ’s wounded body, Thomas becomes the first disciple to make the proclamation: my lord and my God.
This story for the second week of Easter is not just about making a intellectual argument for accepting the truth of Christ’s resurrection (important as such arguments may be). Rather, it is a story about those of us who proclaim to be followers of the Resurrected Messiah. It is a challenge for us to move out of the tomb and prison of fear which can so easily beset us to a faith which embraces life and freedom. It is a faith that compels us to go forth in the name of Christ and proclaim the presence of God’s outrageous love for our world. And it is a faith that calls us to the courageous conviction that sometimes the way to true life more abundant requires dying to ourselves.
Now let us discuss certain legislation being passed around our country in the name of protecting religious freedom and places of worship. Legislation which gives organizations the right to discriminate against fellow human beings on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Legislation which denies certain individuals the ability to use a public bathroom without embarrassment. Even legislation that gives security teams at churches the right to kill in the name of “security”.
I know that I am for the most part effectively preaching to the choir in this blog post. I know most people reading this are appalled by such legislation. But I think it is worth considering for a moment why such legislation stands against the spirit of the Christian proclamation. For one thing — these laws hurt our fellow human beings. Whatever the position certain religious communities hold on human sexuality, surely there is a way to express those convictions without actively harming others made in the image of God. But perhaps more importantly, such legislation gives into a spirit of fear. It reflects a mentality of drawing battle lines and protecting what is one’s own, in place of a proclamation of Christian hope.
The question for all of us, wherever we fall on the political/theological spectrum, is that challenge — can we leave the place of fear and accept the challenge to share in Christ’s risen life? Can we live in hope, faith, and love of one another?