I have always found the Gospel story for the Second Sunday of Easter very interesting. In the Gospel text, Thomas says that unless he can personally see, feel and experience the Risen Lord, he will not believe. And as we all know, when he sees the evidence, Thomas then believes, and he testifies to that belief by saying, “My Lord and my God”! (John 20:28).
I find that story very meaningful and very important because the Easter event, the Resurrection, is the reason that the Church even exists! And Thomas is not alone. Just like the doubting Thomas in that upper room, there are skeptics in the world today. What about them? What evidence can we offer them that Jesus truly lives?
Now I know we have all heard the old saying, “For a believer, no proof is necessary; and for a nonbeliever, no proof is possible”. For me, however, this question of proof has never been an idle question. When I was a young man, I once had a job in which I worked with another young man who was preparing to become a Rabbi. I remember feeling very inadequate at the time because I could not defend my faith. “What proof do you have? How do you know?” Those were questions that I could not answer at the time.
So just in case you’ve ever had that experience I thought it might be helpful for us to review the evidence. Consequently, I started to look over the material I have collected over the years, both Biblical and non-Biblical, that gives witness to the resurrection and the empty tomb. But when I sat down to read through them, I put myself to sleep. So I am not going to make you endure that today. If I did, I would put you all to sleep. Instead I want to share with you a couple of stories, stories that give witness to the fact that the Risen Jesus is alive and well. History and statistics have their place but I believe that examples speak louder than words.
My godfather had a cerebral hemorrhage when he was in his forties. He lost all motor skills. He could move his head and his eyes but that was about it. He could no longer walk or talk or do anything. He basically became a vegetable. And he lived in that nonfunctional body for another twenty five years. On one occasion, I was talking to him and he was trying to respond. But all he could do was make a few grunting sounds. I tried repeatedly to interpret what he was trying to say but I was totally unsuccessful. I could see in his eyes that he was becoming very frustrated over the fact that he could not make himself understood. So I patted him on the hand and I said, “That’s okay. I know it has to be frustrating. But know that we all love you. I love you.” And he looked at me with a look of surprise in his eyes. Like he had just heard something he had never heard before. And he started to cry. I mean really cry. He cried like a baby. I felt terrible for making him do that, but it told me loudly and clearly how important it was for him to know that he was loved. That was obviously something that he really needed to know.
My godmother is a similar story. When she was on her deathbed, she lay comatose for a couple of days. During that time she was surrounded by her children. Before she died, however, she regained consciousness and when she awoke she talked for about four hours.
During that four hour period she told and retold the story of a journey she had experienced. She said that it was an incredible experience and she wanted desperately to share the news of what she had experienced with her children. She said that on her journey she could see the living. Not just her family, but everyone. She could see that all these souls were being held captive by their own little confined space. Everyone wanting feverishly to free themselves from their confinement and were struggling very hard to do so! She said that there was a place of safety, security and freedom and those who had gone before her were there but she couldn’t reach them. She could only reach the living.
She said that some of the living were being very successful in gaining their freedom from their confinement by holding hands and working with and helping one another. She said that she could also see those that wouldn’t cooperate with others but tried repeatedly to gain their freedom on their own. She called these people the dummies. They were dummies because they just couldn’t or wouldn’t learn.
It was apparent that she was having difficulty putting into words what she had experienced. But she said that it was important to her that her children understand. She said, “Remember to love one another. Help one another. Take care of one another.” She told and retold the story and that message as long as strength permitted her to continue.
Both of my godparents left me with the same message. There is nothing in life more important than the love we have for one another. The apostle John said, in his first epistle to the early Church, that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16). And Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). And, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35).
Now it is important that we understand the kind of love that my godparents were referring to, the kind of love that both John and Jesus are referring to, is more than just an emotion. Real love is a decision and a commitment. Real love is demonstrated by actions and commitments made solely for the benefit of another. God is love, and to surrender to such love is to surrender to the Spirit of God. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus within us. And Jesus said when we do that, when we surrender to that loving Spirit, “You will know at that time that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.” (John 14:15).
Therefore, Jesus lives in and through his people. He lives in you. And He lives in me. We will never experience the reality of the resurrected Jesus by reading the facts and statistics that give witness to the resurrection and the empty tomb. Similarly, we will never be able to prove the reality of the resurrected Jesus to a doubting Thomas by quoting that information to him. It is only by accepting the free gift of His love, abiding in that love and sharing that love that He is found. And it is in revealing His love to the world that we give witness to the fact that Jesus truly lives.
There are, and have been, many saintly people who spend their entire lives revealing the presence of the living Jesus to the world by serving the poorest of the poor, the sick, the mentally and physically challenged, the imprisoned, and the hardened hearts who are hardest to love. But we don’t need to go to soup kitchens, or poverty and disaster stricken areas to find the children of God who are most in need of experiencing the risen Jesus. We need only to look around at our immediate families, our places of work, or the person we sit next to in Church. The hunger to know and experience the loving Jesus exists all around us. And we reveal the living Jesus every time we step outside of our comfort zone and surrender our will to the kind of love that asks nothing in return, the kind of love that loves without conditions and requirements.
Yes, Jesus lives. He lives on in you. And He lives on in me. And He has commissioned each and every one of us to reveal Him to the rest of the world. He said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21). In other words, as I have done, you are to go and do likewise.
I think Mother Teresa said it best.
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”