2nd Sunday of Easter
April 8 2018
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Rev Anita Venter, Bethlehem Bible College
What a significant place to be during Easter time. For those of you who might not be aware of it, in this land Easter is celebrated on two occasions. Last weekend Easter was celebrated by Catholic and Protestant Christians and this weekend according to the Orthodox tradition.
Unlike the Christmas story that is ushered in with a chorus of heavenly angels announcing the Good News, unlike the witnesses at the stable seeing the Savior in the manger, no one is there at the tomb to see him rise.
Instead, Easter begins in darkness. And for good reason. The world of the disciples has fallen apart. Matthew tells us that from the sixth till the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land (Matthew 27:63).
It is in darkness that Mary Magdalene is on her way to see the tomb on Easter Sunday (John 20:1). The hopelessness of death is evident in that the bloodstained Cross still lays on Golgotha, the torn curtain flaps in the wind, the four pieces of Jesus’ garment tossed somewhere already forgotten, his tunic hanging in someone’s house as a form of trophy for victory through violence and the disciples huddle behind locked doors fearing for their lives.
It is in this darkness of sorrow that Mary finds the empty tomb adding more despair for fear that someone has stolen the body of Jesus.
The appearance of the “holy fire” is an annual key event in Orthodox Christian celebrations of Easter. The process of the fire’s descent occurs in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also called the Church of the Resurrection, here in Jerusalem and is considered a miracle by Orthodox believers.
Watching the event on live streaming I was amazed at how fast the fire, or for this matter the light, is shared and passed on once it emerges from the tomb. Within minutes, thousands of people carry the light and in about an hour it reaches Beit Jala, Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. From Jerusalem, the “holy fire” is also distributed to several Orthodox Christian countries.
With it comes a great sense of joy, celebration, praise and worship. What does it symbolize you might ask? According to Orthodox belief, it symbolizes the light that illuminated the tomb of Christ after His resurrection where Mary saw the Angles and encountered the risen Lord.
The power of the resurrection has dispelled darkness and has overcome the power of death, sorrow, fear and despair.
Resurrection meets Mary and the disciples in their grief and turns it into joy. Knowing that the disciples are fearing for their lives, sealed the doors of their hearts and having lost their purpose, contemplate to go back to their fishing nets, Jesus moves through the locked doors and speaks peace and new life into every broken and disturbed heart.
He knows Thomas is missing and comes back again the following week to make sure the Twin is not left out and is met in his struggle of unbelief. Refusing to condemn his disciples for betraying him, or blaming Thomas for doubting, the resurrected Christ breaks the relentless violent cycle of revenge by which our ordinary world operates.
As people of the Resurrection we do not need to hide or banish our hurts and doubts, or pretend to have it all figured out.
From this story it is evident that an honest admitting and articulation of our greatest needs leads us to a deeper faith. Jesus comes to meet us where ever we are in our questions and unbelief, in our fears and pains. He touches our wounds and offers us what we need.
But there is more. The Risen One, in his life of glory, does not leave his wounds behind.
He restores the faith of his disciples by showing them his wounds.
What follows next leads me to believe that Jesus did not show his wounds with the sole purpose of convincing them that he really is their risen friend and teacher.
Immediately after showing them his wounds, Jesus says to them: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you”. (John 20:21) Then he strengthens them by breathing the Holy Spirit on them.
In fact, he meets the needs of Thomas for a personal assurance and encounter by inviting him to touch his wounds.
Seeing and touching the wounds of Christ he restores their purpose by commissioning them to a ministry of witness and reconciliation.
He prompts them … and us to touch the wounds of the world, just as he did. In his book on traditional religion in the 15th and 16th century England, Eamon Duffy notes that “the wounds of Christ are the sufferings of the poor, the outcast, and the unfortunate.” To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street, to also touch the hungry, the hurting, the lonely and thereby spread the light and new life of the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
This year on both Good Fridays Christians were not alone on their journey into the darkness of the cold blooded killing at the Crucifixion of Christ. People in Gaza are still in the sorrow of death and suffering. Eerie pictures of the darkness of the smoke of thousands of tires that where burnt on the borders as they peacefully demonstrate for their voices to be heard and their right to return flooded the media. They are facing the darkness of an 11-year siege, three wars, the denial of much needed electricity, medical equipment and clean water. As they voice their agony and mourn the cold blooded killing of their people, they and all of the suffering people over the world are the wounds of Christ that he sends us to touch.
When our wounds persist, as they did for Christ in his resurrection, they do not have to be the final word. They can become a place of meeting, a place of restoration and of healing.
I was inspired by a project called Nur al-Amal that was recently launched. In a nutshell they are fundraising to send little sun solar lights to the children of Gaza. What a wonderful and practical example of reaching into the wounds of Christ, meeting a need and spreading the resurrection light.
The following is a poem that was posted on Facebook by Yusef Daher
Does Holy fire burn?!
She was asking her mother in Jerusalem …
At first it doesn’t
The boy from Gaza asked
Do Burning tires burn ?!!
The mother said
The fire is in the hearts
That one burns
Not the tires
Not the candles
Only God burns us
In order so that
We resurrect from death to life
From oppression to freedom
Long live People who burn
Jesus is risen
May the risen Lord strengthen us with His Holy Spirit in order to go forth with burning hearts, touching the wounds of the hurting, to love and serve and bring the good news to all.
Holy Fire: How Orthodox believers …
Brighten the future of Gaza’s children
Palestinians in Gaza reflect on 10 years of siege (2017)
Crown him with many crowns (CH4 459)
How good it is when God’s will is done (CH4 90)
Now the green blade riseth (CH4 417)
You satisfy the hungry heart (CH4 671)
Rejoice! The Lord is King (CH4 449)