Rev. Caroline Barnett
One Week Later
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
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."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."
Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.
It’s been one week since Easter, and a lot has happened to the disciples.
Just one week ago, they ate dinner with their friend and teacher, witnessed Judas betray him, Peter deny him, watched helplessly as Jesus was arrested and killed.
And then they started to hear some rumors, from the women who also followed Jesus, strange stories about an empty tomb, and an angel, and a gardener who wasn’t actually a gardener.
They are intrigued by these stories, optimistic about them, but cautious about actually believing them.
Why get your hopes up for something so impossible?
Because one week later, things feel pretty the same as they did before. The world hasn’t changed, the sky is still blue, the sun still rises in the same place, the Roman Empire is still in charge, people are still hungry.
One week later, the promises Christ made to his disciples, while nice words, don’t feel like they’ve changed much about the day-to-day life of the people who loved him.
You and I both know something about things staying the same.
About a month ago, things changed drastically for us all— and not for the better. But what was once novel— working from home, schooling from home, technology replacing in person communication, is now becoming routine. We’re finding our way in this new normal—that’s not to say that this is easy now— but it’s almost becoming mundane because this is how we will do life for the foreseeable future.
Between last week and this one, between Lent and Easter, our lives have not changed all that much.
On Easter morning, we were in our separate homes as we have been for the past month, we worshipped a risen Christ, a God who defeated death. And we were reminded that this is a truth we all share in, no matter where we are worshipping. Spiritually, we moved from the somber, sacrificial tone of Lent into the celebratory and joyful reality of the resurrection.
But come Monday morning, life was back to our new normal. Bad news, social distancing, and all.
Things didn’t feel all that different.
And so I get Thomas’ doubt, even as the other disciples experience the resurrection and start to believe.
I understand his wariness— this week has been hard on Thomas, and to believe without physical confirmation would be to get his hopes up for something he understands to be impossible, and I don’t think his heart could take it if he were believe and be let down again.
One week later, it doesn’t feel like Easter, and he has his doubts that it ever will.
But we have always lived in a world that doesn’t feel like Easter.
In February 2011, an earthquake struck New Zealand, killing 185 people in the towns of Christchurch and Lyttelton. It destroyed most of the city— damaged many buildings— and to make matters worse, it happened only six months after a different earthquake had devastated the same area.
And amongst the damage done to the city, the Christchurch Cathedral collapsed. Built in 1856, the cathedral was not only a church home for Christians in the area, but its history and location in the city center made a part of the city’s whole identity. It’s by no means the most important thing that was lost in these earthquakes, but it’s hard to imagine that something that looked so permanent could be razed.
Ten years later, the Cathedral is still in the process of being rebuilt. These things take planning, time, and money, though who knows what the future now holds.
But while the church and town considered how to rebuild the Cathedral and surrounding area, they built another one — a temporary one — out of cardboard.
Yes, they built a cathedral which can seat over 700 people out of cardboard just a couple of blocks a way. They call it the Transitional Cathedral, and it has been used for worship, and concerts, and civic events until the stone one is completed.
It is an astounding piece of architecture: It is built with large weather-proofed cylinders of cardboard and other materials, it is bright and airy inside, and even has a stained glass window meant to remind you of the windows in the original cathedral.
It’s a beautiful building with a fascinating story, but I wonder what Thomas would have thought if he were in the room when this plan was proposed.
Because the idea of a Cathedral made out of something so flimsy as cardboard, especially after a traumatic event that has destroyed things that felt permanent, it seems impossible.
And Thomas, as we know, doesn’t like to deal with impossible things. He prefers evidence he can touch and see.
But one week after Easter, two years after the earthquake, the impossible happens.
A worship space is opened, the first community or civic space in Christchurch to reopen, giving hope that the city would rebuild.
And it is built out of nontraditional materials, as if to say the future that the church holds is likely to be just as imaginative.
And one week later, Thomas and the other disciples are greeted by Jesus, and they are given a peek into a future that is unlike anything they could have imagined.
They are given new life.
It’s not new life in the sense that the world has magically changed around them.
Instead, they have been changed, and they can see that the world that is is not the only way to do things.
They take seriously Christ’s message of a God who loves, of a God who becomes human, who sits with and befriends the marginalized, of a God who grieves for God’s loved ones, but does not give death the final say.
And they believe that all of these things mean something for us here and now, and in the days to come.
It might take them a minute to get there, which is about the most human thing I have ever heard of. Thomas and the disciples might scoff at the plans of a future built in cardboard and in empty tombs, but they believe— or at least hope— that through Christ impossible things can happen.
One week later, not much has changed.
We are still watching the news, grieving over the death of so many people, fearful that there is more to come. Each day is more of the same.
One week after Easter, not much has changed.
Except, Christ is with us, even in our grief and fear, our stress and boredom.
One week later, Christ still calls us to new life, while allowing space for doubt.
One week later, Christ is creating new things, even if they are made out of cardboard.