Show yourself, Jesus. In the middle of drought and famine and disease, for God’s sake, why can’t you just show up?
This was the lament of the little village of Kingala, whose story is told by novelist Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible. It is the fictitious epic tale of a misguided mission to the Congo in the early sixties. Each chapter is narrated by the somewhat miserable minister’s wife and daughters. The youngest one writes:
Looking back over the months that led to this day, it seems the collapse of things started in October with the vote in the church. The congregation of Father’s church interrupted his sermon to hold an election on whether or not to accept Jesus Christ as the personal savior of Kingala.
The crops were flat and dead. Fruit trees were barren. There were rumors of rain in the river valleys to the west and those tales aroused – the thirst of dying animals and crops. Tata Kuvudundu (the local witch doctor) cast her bone predictions. And nearly every girl in the village danced with a chicken on her head to bring down rain.
Church attendance rose and fell. Jesus may have sounded like a very helpful sort of savior in the beginning, but he was not what the villagers had hoped.
We went ahead and had church that day and Tata Ndu, the chief sat in the front pew. Papa preached a railing sermon against idolatry:
‘The people revered the statue of Baal and went every day to worship him, but Daniel worshipped the Lord our God. Don’t be fooled by a statue of clay and bronze!’
Papa paused in his sermon for dramatic effect. Tata Ndu stood straight up and held up his hand.
‘Now is the time for the people to have an election. If you don’t mind, Reverend we will have our election now. We are making a vote for Jesus Christ in the office of personal God for the Kingala village.’
Papa tried to object by explaining that Jesus Christ was exempt from popular elections and that matters of the Spirit were not decided by polls. But Tata Ndu forged ahead.
‘You Americans say elections are good. You Americans say Jesus is good. Now we will have a vote.’
The voting bowls were passed up and down the pews.
Jesus Christ lost: 11 to 56.
One week after Easter, we are waiting for Jesus to show himself. One week out of the grave, we are waiting for him to make an appearance. To show up and do his job. His savior thing.
Now most of us recognize the messiah, the same way we measure success. By the measure of peace, the measure of power, the measure of prosperity. Money in the bank? Fancy car in the driveway? Promotion on the way?
We want a successful savior. One in a three-piece suit and a power tie. One who gets things done. One who can heal whatever sickens us. One who can resurrect whatever we may have ruined. Only water walkers and wonder workers need apply.
On this traditionally ‘low Sunday’ we have very high expectations. But given the current state of the world, like Thomas we have our doubts.
Doubt has dogged the faithful for two thousand years.
How can the divine die? How can the eternal end?
How can the dead bring the dead back to life?
Is this stuff historical? Or just mystical?
Physically true? Or just metaphysically true?
So much ink has been spilled struggling with these questions. Theological tome upon boring tome, has been penned trying to make sense of it all. Theology that would surely put you to sleep.
I typed resurrection in the Bishop Payne library catalog search box and 2043 titles popped up. Type in Easter, you get 1002. Doubting Thomas scores a mere 28.
Because maybe the story is ultimately not about Thomas (though we are ALL Thomas and Thomas is US). Maybe the story is about a “God coming to us, wherever we are”, no matter where we are.
Christians believe in a God who shows up.
On the second Sunday of Easter, two thousand years ago, Thomas the Apostle, was hoping for just that. Frederick Buechner writes:
Imagination was not Thomas’ strong suit. He was a numbers man, a realist. He did not believe in fairy tales. Thomas wasn’t around at the time the rest of the disciples were as they sat together in the Upper Room. Doors locked. Shades drawn. Scared sick one of them would be next to be nailed to a cross.
When suddenly Jesus came in. He wasn’t a ghost or a figment of their imagination. He said ‘Shalom’ and showed them some of the Romans’ handiwork. To show them that he was as real as they were – and maybe more so.
He breathed the Holy Spirit on them, gave them a few directions, and then he left.
Now nobody knew where Thomas was at the time, maybe out for coffee, but he missed the whole thing. And he said, NO, I don’t’ believe you. Let Jesus show me himself, the marks in his hands, the wounds in his side.
Eight days later Jesus shows up.
Dumbfounded Thomas does not have much to say except, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Jesus’ response to Thomas was to show up in person. Not in a book. Not in a creed. But in the flesh. Jesus let Thomas see his face and hear his voice and hold his ruined hands.
And that is the conundrum and miracle of Easter. We have a God with a human face – we may not recognize at first – but who shows up again and again.
In the tired nurse by the hospice bed.
In the relief worker handing out bread.
In the mother, hiding a timid child beneath her skirts.
In the words of a counselor, assuaging past hurts.
In the service of a soldier, setting captives free.
In the face of a stranger, in acts of random kindness and hospitality.
Thank God for this God. In this crazy and broken world, for me, this is the only kind of God who makes any sense. A God who embraces our lives despite our faults. A God who believes in us, though like Thomas we doubt. A God who lifts us out of the dirt and into the light.
To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.
To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.