by Linda McMillan
We have not yet broken the pattern of the tomb! How will we ever get free?
Vampires can not stand the light. Have you noticed that? They run for the cover of their dark tombs as soon as daylight begins to creep across the horizon. It’s a pattern of science fiction literature. Vampires can’t stand light.
Over these past few weeks you probably noticed that the writer of John wrote a lot about light and darkness. In fact, he paired several light stories with dark stories. The man born blind, for example, lived in darkness. Healing him, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” and brought light to his eyes. Nicodemus went to visit Jesus at night. The woman at the well met him in broad daylight, though. Mary Magdalene was out in the daylight, tending to the tomb. But, the disciples were hidden away in fear. Oh, and our man Thomas… he was out and about too. The other disciples were in hiding, rightfully fearful of the brutal Roman empire, but Thomas was out in the daylight, walking around.
There is another literary device used in the book of John that I want to look at. It is significant to us now because in today’s reading the pattern is broken, and it’s broken by Thomas.
This is a pattern of testimony which leads to discipleship. Basically, someone finds their way to Jesus, they tell their story, faith is kindled and the person they told begins to follow Jesus too. But, when the disciples told Thomas their story about being visited by Jesus he didn’t believe them. There was no kindled faith, no journey to Jesus. Thomas broke the pattern. That’s two patterns Thomas broke!
Even though most of us are not pattern breakers like Thomas. He still speaks for us when he says that we want proof, we are not convinced by second-hand information.
There is ample evidence for the tomb, after all. It is hard, and cold, and real. In our own time we deal with addiction, depression, epidemic anxiety, and a society so violent that in the United States of America someone is killed by a gun every 17 minutes of every day. Oh, we don’t have any trouble believing in the tomb. It’s the real fear when our children walk out the door, the real anxiety that keeps us up at night, and the real violence that is killing us. You know the tomb. I know the tomb. We may call it by different names, but we know it all too well. The tomb is real. We believe.
Thomas’s declaration that he won’t believe until… is not a statement of doubt, though. It’s a statement of hope. Like all of us, he desperately wants some evidence against the tomb, some reason to believe in resurrection. He has to be careful, though. And we feel his caution in our own hearts. We’ve been conned before, after all. There was the serpent in the garden, there had been exile, slavery, and failed revolutions. And, more recently, most of us have made a thousand false starts and missteps. We don’t’ want to be fooled again. We want to know that Jesus is not only alive, but that he’s for real. But we are not sure. We have not yet broken the pattern of the tomb! How will we ever get free?
The problem is that, like vampires, we have come to prefer the safety of our dark tombs to the great unknown of resurrection life. Stepping out into the light is not always the smart or safe thing to do, after all. It is plenty risky. And, when Thomas declared Jesus to be his Lord and his God, he might as well have said, “Come and get me.” Those words were reserved for Caesar, saying them to Jesus was a death sentence. That’s the level of risk we’re talking about.
Nobody blames the other disciples for going into hiding. Rome killed thousands of people every year, Jesus was just one more to them. Twelve more would hardly have been a thing to take notice of. I suspect that many of us would have been in hiding too. It was the smart thing to do.
One of the things we see in this reading though is that whether you’re in the light or in the dark, Jesus will find you, and he has a message for you: I am sending you out of this tomb! That is what he said to the disciples in hiding, “I am sending you.” And then he breathed the Holy Spirit on them.
Here’s what happens next. As soon as Jesus breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit he started talking about forgiveness. It was the very next thing out of his mouth. You know what forgiveness means, right? Most of us have had to do it a few times, or a lot. And there might be a few little things that we’ve, ahem… “retained.” It’s hard, after all, and especially if you’ve been hurt. Forgiveness means that you give up those revenge fantasies, give up on angling for a different outcome, stop obsessing about it and accept the damn thing. Oh, and you have to stop feeling all self-righteous about it. From the front side it feels like giving up all power and all hope. But, that is the first thing Jesus talked about. Forgiveness.
The Bible doesn’t say it in so many words, and I might be wrong, but I suspect that getting out of our tombs starts with some kind of forgiveness. I don’t know what kind of tomb you are in, or what you need to forgive. Maybe nothing. Good for you! But, maybe you need to forgive somebody who wronged you, hurt you, maybe badly. Maybe you need to forgive yourself, or ask someone else to forgive you. I don’t know. But, I am pretty sure that working on forgiveness is the first step out of the tomb!
Here is what I know for sure: Whatever you have done, or not done, however long you’ve “retained” the sin of another, whatever has happened to this point, you are well-loved and forgiven. In this mini-Pentecost that we have this morning where Jesus breathes on his friends and they receive the Holy Spirit, you too can receive what you need to walk as a forgiven child of the light.
Linda McMillan lives in Yangzhong,China… but she goes to Shanghai a lot.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
John may have been appealing to Jewish Christians when he insists over and over that the miracles, signs that Jesus does, are to show that he is the Son of God. They would have remembered Exodus 10:2 in which Moses says that all the signs he did before Pharoah were to show God’s glory, not his own.
The pattern of disciples making disciples began when John the Baptist told Andrew to follow Jesus, and he did. Andrew went to get Peter, and Peter became a disciple too. Jesus found Philip, and Philip went and told Nathaniel who also became a disciple. The Samaritan woman at the well testified to her whole village and they became followers of Jesus too. It’s a pattern.
The writer of John uses lots of patterns, repeating phrases, etc. It’s a wonderful book to study for its literary style. These are just a couple of examples which are of interest to us today because the pattern is broken.
Here is an article about gun violence in the USA.