I want to acknowledge the obvious right up front: Easter is a difficult holiday for modern Unitarian Universalists. For our mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, of course, This is the most important day in the liturgical year. For many of These Christians, Easter That is the day Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead. A small percentage of modern Unitarian Universalists give much attention to the notion of the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus - And an even smaller percentage of us believe That the literal, bodily resurrection happened. Still, Christmas and Easter are the two Most Important Christian holidays, and coming out of the liberal Protestant Christian tradition, Unitarian Univerasalists celebrate both. Christmas is Easier to work with, of course - few of us doubt That Jesus was born, aunque doubt the nativity accounts of the gospels, including the virgin birth. But real challenge is Easter. So These Are the Concerns I have each year as I write an Easter sermon. Sometimes when I'm drafting a sermon, I have a working title That Helps me get going. My working title for today's sermon was, "He Is Risen: Discuss Amongst Yourselves". I was not sure exactly what I would acerca talk, but I knew that I wanted to keep the focus on Jesus. That I am determined to Easter is about Jesus, and I try not to avoid That reality.
So let me take you through Quickly the main events of Holy Week. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, or Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, made under unusual and humble Circumstances - Namely, I was riding on a borrowed donkey. Triumphant entries are seldom made on donkeys - let alone borrowed donkeys - but this brilliant to Hebrew scripture about the Messiah (Zechariah 9:9). What happened next? Forgive me ... but as my friend puts it, that's When Jesus got off his ass and did something. Namely, That's When Jesus made his famous protest in the Temple. That Jesus was outraged the Temple of God was being used for non- worship purposes. Entered the temple and Jesus Told off all those buying and selling Who were in the temple, and overturned the tables have of the moneychangers and cast them out and so on. Very briefly, the rest of the week included the Last Supper (Portrayed as a Passover Seder, lest That we forget Jesus was Jewish), his time of prayer and spiritual agony in the garden, his famous betrayal by Judas, and his capture, trial, torture, and crucifixion by the Romans. Those of you Who were raised as Christians learned That Might Have each of the gospels has a somewhat different account of the resurrection event. There are, in effect, four different-but-"official" resurrection stories. I do not have time to summarize the four different accounts. Instead, I want to focus today on the account in the Gospel of John, the last of the four canonical gospels to be written. The resurrection story in the Gospel of John Mary Magdalene discovering Starts With That the stone has-been rolled away from the tomb. (Some scholars have pointed out That, interestingly and surprisingly, it is some combination of women who first come across the empty tomb in all four gospels -. remarkably and Mary Magdalene is the only one there in all four accounts) In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene after sees the empty tomb, she runs to tell Peter and John. Peter and John run to the tomb then - biblical scholar Elaine Pagels was the honored lecturer at Life the UU General Assembly several years ago, and she Referred to this as the famous "foot race" - so Peter and John race to the tomb each other ... not surprisingly, Given That this is "John's" gospel, it is John who wins the Foot Race with Peter. In any case, They arrive to find That Jesus is gone, but his burial clothes are left behind. They do not know what to make of this and simply, and somewhat astonishingly, go home. Mary Magdalene in the tomb Remains, crying, When Two Angels Appear to her, as well as the resurrected Jesus. She does not Recognize Jesus at first, That thinking I have is the gardener. Jesus tells her not to cling to him, for I have not yet ascended to God in heaven.
Later, the resurrected Jesus goes to the disciples. Jesus does not go to the eleven remaining disciples (remember, Judas is gone) ... In the Gospel of John, Jesus does not go to the eleven remaining disciples as I does in the other three gospel accounts, but instead to ten of them. It Seems that Thomas, Also called "didymous", meaning "the twin" When Jesus is not present Appears. Jesus breathes on the watch, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Then comes the third and Most important of the stories in the Gospel of John That inspire the term "Doubting Thomas". This story is found only in the Gospel of John. Namely, When the other ten disciples tell Thomas That They have seen Jesus, Thomas does not believe them. In fact, I says, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails Were, and put my hand into his side, I will . not believe it "A week later, Jesus comes back to all the disciples - this time Thomas is there. And Jesus says to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. "So Thomas does this, and proclaims," My Lord and my God "Jesus Responds To Which," Because You have seen me, You have Believed!; blessed are Those Who Have not seen and yet have Believed. "Clearly, the lesson is that good, faithful Christians believe without having To Have physical proof. Some have said Unitarian Universalists That we are the modern collective "Doubting Thomas" of everything, nevermind the thought That Jesus was literally and bodily resurrected from the dead. And I must give my apologies to any among us who do believe This Morning in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus - as some Unitarian Universalist Christians do. But For Those of us who have trouble believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, We Might want to pay special attention to the story of "Doubting Thomas". After all, we are I have, in a sense. Hearing this story, a question jumps right out, At least for me. Namely, why does the Gospel of John alone single out Thomas as a person of little faith doubting? Elaine Pagels, the same biblical scholar who delivered the prestigious Ware Lecture at the 2005 UU General Assembly That I Mentioned before, This very question asked in her 2003 book Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas , And her book informs much of this sermon. I had the pleasure of being present at Pagels' Ware Lecture, where she Largely Summarized the findings of this thesis and . book of hers, Beyond Belief She is a very dynamic lecturer - as well as a peripatetic one - she never stopped pacing back and forth across the stage for two hours as she lectured brilliantly and without notes. I was riveted by her talk and her constant motion - as I am also riveted by her book.
In essence, Pagels' thesis Is that the writer or writers of the Gospel of John were very deliberately trying to counteract and contradict Un Certain Teachings from the writer or writers of the Gospel of Thomas. So what is the Gospel of Thomas? The Gospel of Thomas is one of the so- called "Gnostic" gospels - one of the several gospels (or collections of stories or sayings of Jesus) found in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt or upper. There are dozens of These Gnostic, or "Secret" gospels. These gospels never made it into the official canon of the Christian church - only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John made That cut. In fact, these "secret" gospels from the Nag Hammadi discovery are Largely unknown to Most Christians, and Have Been Declared heretical by the official Church. The Gospel of Thomas is Probably the most complete and important of These Nag Hammadi gospels. It turns out, scholars tell us, That the Gospel of Thomas was written around the same time as the Gospel of John, at the end of the first century of the Common Era, or acerca 70 years after Jesus' Death. The Gospel of Thomas is what biblical scholars call a "sayings gospel"; That is, it is a collection of various sayings of Jesus, with no narrative stories whatsoever, making it feel different from the four canonical gospels Which we're more familiar with. Being a sayings gospel, Thomas does not include a resurrection story - but then, it does not include any stories, as I said. So What Were The Teachings of Thomas and the Thomasine community of Christians in That the first century so appalled John and the Johannine community of Christians? Among its 114 sayings, the Gospel of Thomas includes many sayings in Which Seems to Jesus That proclaim We all have the truth and Light Within us - all human beings. As Pagels puts it, "What John Opposed ... includes what the Gospel of Thomas Teaches - That God's light shines not only in Jesus but, Potentially at least, in everyone. " What the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas Seems to be saying - and what so appalled John - was, as the Rev. Victoria Weinstein put it in today's reading, That "You are the resurrection and the life". Let me be more specific - let me quote Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas. First of all, Thomas' Jesus Believes That the kingdom or realm of God is not "otherworldly" or a "future event". In fact, the disciples say to Jesus, "When will the resurrection of the dead eat, and when will the new world eat? "Jesus replies," What you look forward to eating Already have, but you do not Recognize it. "Later, the disciples ask Jesus again When the kingdom of God will come, and Jesus says, "It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is.' Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it. " But what does this mean, really, That the kingdom of God is here, spread out upon the earth yet Most of hidden to us? As Pagels tells us, Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas encourages you to find us the way for ourselves. Tells his disciples I - and through them, us - That we "Already have the internal resources [we] need to find what [we] are looking for. "
In fact, Jesus states, "If you bring forth what is Within You, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is Within You, what you do not bring forth will destroy you "Jesus goes on:". The Kingdom is inside you, and outside you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be KNOWN, and That you will see it is you who are the children of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty, and it is you who are That poverty. " Pagels says That the Gospel of Thomas Teaches That "the divine light Jesus embodied is shared by humanity, since we are all made 'in the image of God'. "And so, Jesus is teaching That" the image of God "or divinity is" hidden Within everyone, although Most people unaware of REMAIN its presence. " 8 This is appalling to the writer or writers of the Gospel of John. ACCORDING to the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world, and whoever Believes in Me will not abide in darkness. "So for John, Jesus Brings us light in a unique way, and without Jesus, there is darkness. As Pagels reminds us, "Thomas, like John, Identifies Jesus with The Light That Existed before the dawn of creation [That is, 'in the beginning was the Word' and so on ... But] ACCORDING to Thomas, Jesus says That this primordial light not only Brought The entire universe into being but still shines through everything we see and touch. " So in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says to his disciples, "If they say to you, 'Where did you come from?' say to them, 'We came from the light, the place where the light came into being by itself, and was revealed through Their image. ' If they say to you, 'Who are you?' say, 'We are its children, the chosen of the living Father. '" This all reminds of the ancient Pagels tradition of Jewish mysticism, This notion That "'the image of God 'is hidden Within each of us, secretly linking God to all humankind. " 10 For me, This notion That divinity is inherent in each of us reminds me of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Over-soul and the Transcendentalists of our Unitarian heritage. Also It reminds me a bit of Carl Jung's "collective unconscious ", que acerca I have spoken a few times here in the context of synchronicity. It's Unlike the not thinking of Eastern mystics. Jesus of the Gospel of John Also says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. "It's interesting to note That in the Gospel of John, Jesus directs this statement to none other than Thomas himself. The Gospel of John and the Johannine community of the first century, Strongly Believes That Jesus is the unique Embodiment of God - God incarnate, the one and only Son of God. And so, it is not surprising That Thomas - the "Patron" or supposed author of the Gospel of Thomas - is presented as faithless and full of doubt and obtuse - Thomas is not even Present with the other ten disciples to Have the resurrected Jesus breathe the Holy Spirit onto him, as you will recall. I'm sure modern Unitarian Universalists That strike some conservative Christians the same way today - as I said before, we can be viewed as a kind of collective "Doubting, faithless, obtuse" Thomas, At least from a conservative point of view. But I would say That, if we are, in fact, a kind of collective "Doubting Thomas", that's not Such a bad thing. One of the joys of being a Unitarian Universalist admirer of Jesus is That I am absolutely free to embrace the Gospel of Thomas every bit as much as the canonical gospels. And I find the Doubts of Thomas to be, if anything, comforting and endearing. Besides, Doubts can be a source of strength, not just a weakness. As Robert Weston's words in our hymnal remind us, "Cherish your Doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth."
But beyond all of this is the "good news" that I bring to you this Easter - and it is the good news of the Gospel of Thomas. As Pagels puts it, "the hidden 'good news' That Thomas' gospel proclaims "Is that the divine light is within all of us.
To our "inherent worth and dignity" (our 1 st UU Principle), the Gospel of Thomas adds That We each have divine Light Within us. Pagels Also reminds us That "Thomas" means "twin", and she finds In this "the symbolic meaning of attributing this gospel to Thomas "; Namely, That "by encountering" Jesus, "May Come to one Recognize Jesus as oneself and, so to speak, identical twins. "
I would add, Perhaps we must die to old ways of thinking - for instance, That the only path to "light" is an external one through Jesus - So THAT we can be spiritually resurrected and Given new ways of thinking - for instance, That the idea to the "light" might be Already in us, just waiting to be awakened and Realized. Perhaps we must die to our old ways of thinking acerca Christianity - defined by creeds and Ideas of who will go to heaven and hell - so That we can have a resurrected way of thinking of the Teachings of Jesus and Their relevance for us today. And so in closing, I come back to today's reading by Rev. Weinstein. If Jesus is the resurrection and the life, then indeed, so are we. "You are the Resurrection and the life." And as she writes, "The stone has got to be rolled back from the tomb again and again every year. Roll up your sleeves. " We have work to do. Would not it be great if, by some miracle, Jesus Could Eat back, see us, and say, "This is what I meant!" Or to use the words of th century Christian mystic St. Teresa of Avila: "Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through Which Christ's compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by Which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by Which He is to bless us now. "May we rise to the light Within Us. Blessed be, and Amen
You Are the Resurrection and the Life, by Rev. M. Lara Hoke April 8, 2012 Preached a sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover