John 20:19-31

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 Jews, 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.

MESSAGE         “Who is Looking?”        Rev. James Renfrew

It always happened the same way as I was growing up.  “Mom, have you seen my baseball glove?  I can’t find it anywhere!  Mom!  Where is it?”  Or maybe it was winter gloves, or a comic book or a box of crackers.  With three children, my Mom was a pro at answering this kind of desperate plea, and I can recall exactly what she would say every time, “You have to look under things, look around things, and look behind things”, and she had her own sign language to describe this more vigorous kind of looking.  In my Mom’s world, looking was not casual or laid-back or passive, you had to apply all of your senses and mental talents at peak efficiency.  And then – voila – you would find what was lost or missing faster than you could snap your fingers.

Of course, I have my own formulaic statements to offer in moments of crisis.  When my son was telling me that he couldn’t move any faster to get his coat on or get his shoes tied, I would always point out:  “If a bear was chasing you you’d already be done”.  On Friday I was walking around the art museum, too slowly I guess for an impatient granddaughter, so Ellieana suggested that I’d be moving faster if a bear was chasing me.  Hmmm.  I wonder where she got that from?

So with a Bible story about looking I’m still remembering what my mom said to me when I was a boy:  “You have to look under things, around things, and behind things”.

But today it’s not the missing baseball glove.  It’s Jesus.  The tomb is empty.  Where can we find him?  Rumors are flying.  His disciples are excited, still scared, and definitely confused.  If we could find Jesus everything would be cleared up.  Where should we look?

Have you ever gone looking for someone?  Where do you begin?  The last place you saw them.  Familiar locations where the person has been known to be in the past.  Asking friends, strangers, looking high and low.  Looking for hints and clues.  Calling out the person’s name.

So this week I’ve been reading through the stories about Jesus after the resurrection.  There are only a few of these stories.  I wish there were more.  One of the most frustrating verses in the Bible is in today’s reading from John, where in just one short sentence it summarizes Jesus’ resurrection appearances like this:  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”  I’m thinking … what!  John, you’ve got to be kidding me.  The most incredible thing to ever happen and you didn’t want to include every last one of them in your Gospel?

But let’s consider the stories we do have.  (1)  Mary meets Jesus in the garden outside of the tomb.  We heard this one on Easter Sunday (2)  And there’s today’s story of how Jesus appeared in the locked room.  (3)  There’s the story in Luke’s Gospel of a stranger walking along the road with two of Jesus disciples, and they don’t even recognize him, not until he breaks bread and then they see him.  (4)  There’s the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on a mountaintop in Galilee.  (5) And then there’s the final story in John’s Gospel, when the disciples see Jesus walking along the beach while they are out on the lake fishing.  (6)  You could add one more story from the Book of Acts when Saul meets the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus.

There may be only these few stories, I wish there were hundreds more, but this is what we have.  So I want to explore them not as evidence or proof of the resurrection, or anything like that, but as rich metaphors that draw us into the love and hope of God.

We begin with the garden, a place of many growing things.  Do you have a garden?  What surprises does it hold?  What has been growing in the garden?  What has been growing in you these days?  Would a garden, your garden, be a good place to meet Jesus?

Then the locked room.  Have you ever been in such a place?   What’s it liked to be locked in?  And maybe it’s not a lock, chain or key, but your locked in a situation, a relationship or a behavior?  Is a locked room a likely place for you to meet Jesus?

Then we’re walking along a road.  You’re going somewhere.  What are you seeing?  Whom are you meeting along the way?   On a long walk you’re reflecting on your life.  Would you find yourself walking alongside Jesus without knowing it at first?

There aren’t too many mountaintops in Byron, but there’s something about a high or higher place that gives us a panoramic view, a bigger perspective, a look at where we’ve come from and where we hope to go.  Is there a higher place where you and Jesus might meet?

A rocky beach along the Sea of Galilee.  The disciples out on the water in their boat.  Peter saw Jesus walking on the beach, and he jumped right into the water to reach him.  Would a beach be one of the places you might discover Jesus?

And then there’s the Road to Damascus.  Paul was taking that road to get to Damascus so he could arrest and torture Jesus’ followers there.  But along the way something unexpected happened.  He got thrown off his horse he lost his sight, but he met the risen Christ.  Is it when you’re dealing with the unexpected, is it when you’re out of balance, is it when your life takes a 180 that Jesus is most present?

So explore these rich metaphors as you look to meet the risen Christ for yourself, but here’s the most important thing about these resurrection stories.  I hope I haven’t given you the impression that it’s all about you finding Jesus.  In these stories it is Jesus who finds them, Mary in the Garden, the frightened disciples in the locked room, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the disciples in Galilee, the disciples fishing, Paul on his way to Damascus.

This is the remarkable, radical dimension of Christianity.  I keep returning to it, not because I understand it, but because I need to understand it better.  God acts, God initiates, God reaches out, God loves.  It’s not up to us to find God.  Every one of these stories emphasizes that God is the one doing the looking!

This always turns my world on its head.  I keep thinking that the way to reach God takes extraordinary, almost impossible steps, but it turns out that I’m completely wrong.  And God can find you anywhere at any time in the garden, a locked room, on a mountain, on the road, on the beach.