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Easter Message 2024

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“Resurrection Overcomes Doubt”
“My Lord and my God!” John 20:28
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
One of the striking events in the wake of the Resurrection of Jesus is how the disciple Thomas doubted so strongly. Even Mary Magdalene’s eyewitness account of witnessing the Risen Lord (John 20:18) could not convince Thomas nor the other disciples. Peter and John also saw the empty tomb (John 20:6-8) but even they were living in doubt and confusion. For them, an empty tomb was not yet Good News, but a source of fear and disappointment.
In the early hours of that first Day of Resurrection, the disciples are still asking questions: Had the body of their teacher and friend been stolen? Is this a trick by the religious or political authorities? The body of the one they watched hanging on the cross, which they knew had been laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, is reported to now be walking and talking to Mary and sending messages through her. How could this be? How does this make sense?
For this reason, they gathered together and locked the door for fear that the same fate might come upon them. Fear and doubt can do this to us. It can paralyze us, lock us away, and prevent us from seeing both the present reality and the future possibilities.
And still, into the midst of this intense fear and confusion, Jesus appeared. Jesus stood among His disciples in spite of the locked door, in spite of their doubts, in spite of all manner of earthly rules or laws. And when he had appeared he greeted them by saying, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) Then he showed them his hands and his side, marked by the nails and the sword which had pierced his precious body. He wanted them to see and to know that he was not a ghost!
It was only then that their eyes were opened and they understood. Then they rejoiced in the Lord! (John 20:20)
Now they understood that all was coming to fulfillment, just as Jesus had told them earlier in his ministry: that He would rise from death on the third day. Now they understood what Jesus meant when He said He would bring them comfort and joy and when he promised to send the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth. It may not have all been clear as yet, but with Jesus standing before them, they were starting to see that their mission was to go into the world, strengthened by the Good News of the Resurrection, to let the world know that God loves them as they have loved Jesus. (John 17:23)
Therefore, “Peace be with you,” said the Risen One.
The world, and especially this Holy Land, desperately needs peace today. The Day of Resurrection is an opportunity to consider what peace means from a Christian perspective.
First, Christ peace is a peace of the heart. When Christ enters our lives and hearts, we are saved from the power of fear, sorrow, doubt, and despair. When Christ enters our hearts, we are saved from the hold that sin can have on our lives—including hatred of our neighbor, or the desire for revenge, retribution, or violence against them.
Secondly, peace can never be divorced from justice. As the psalmist writes: “Justice and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10) When justice is done by the people, when it is enjoyed by all, then peace is the gift given by God to all. This is the reason we hear the words of Jesus and are strengthened by them to do the work of creating justice, for he has said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
In the midst of the war between Israel and Hamas and the awful tragedy being inflicted on the people of Gaza, many are living with the same fear as the disciples on that first Day of Resurrection. We, and in fact the whole world, are stricken with confusion, fear, doubt, and even anger. We are not locked in a room, but we are locked in a situation that seems to have no door of escape. We have lived through war after war, attack after attack. Where is the possibility of justice? Where is any kind of path to peace?
These feelings are especially powerful because it seems that world powers have lost their compass. Not only are they not seeking justice, they seem only to be caring for their own narrow and economic interests. They are seeking votes and not God’s will and desire for humanity. Peace based on justice has become only a dream. Care for the oppressed and suffering in the world has become a meme, sent out as a message to the world only when it is convenient.
And still…dear people, know that in spite of all this, we are not actually locked away. We are not victims of fear and doubt. We are not without hope. We can confidently trust in the One who not only preached life, but was raised to life by our Loving Creator. Our Risen Lord Jesus overcame all the things which the world thinks are unavoidable and all-powerful: Death. Sin. Oppression. Dehumanization. Violence. Racism. Hatred. All this and many more have been erased from our hearts by the Resurrection.
And now, we are sent out with the peace of the Risen Christ to erase them from our midst. We are sent out to proudly and bravely claim the peace that already exists, work for the justice which will come, to open doors and open hearts to the truth that life is stronger than death, and justice is stronger that any kind of oppression.
Today, if you are feeling locked away because of fear and despair, you only need to join your siblings in Christ in raising your hands to proclaim: “Alleluia! Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!” and to offer this prayer together:
“Lord Jesus, you are our only refuge. Grant this land of Resurrection the same peace you granted the first disciples. Let justice and peace kiss one another in this place and in the whole world. Let it begin with me. Amen.”
You may still doubt, even as you pray this prayer. But remember that Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared in the locked room. Without proof, he still could not believe in any option but a dead Jesus.
After these terrible months of war, perhaps we have become a bit too much like Thomas. It’s too much to comprehend the level of death and destruction around us. The children of Gaza are dying in growing numbers of starvation and dehydration. By some accounts, one out of three children are malnourished. Some reports say that more than 70% of homes have been destroyed. What can be the purpose of such violence? It is certainly a massacre. It is clearly becoming genocide.
And so we, like Thomas, have reasons to doubt. Thomas had seen death by public execution. He had seen his teacher laid in a tomb. What reason did he have to believe in any other option but a dead Jesus?
In the same way, what reason do we have to believe the lip service given by world leaders? What reason do we have to believe their empty promises of help or tired commitments to peace?
As expressed by one of the Palestinian Christians taking refuge in a church in Gaza: “It seems the world powers have forgotten us. But our trust is only in God and we know mercy comes only from the Risen Lord.”
St. Augustine in his confessions also prays to God about his doubts: “With good reason is there solid faith for me in Him, because you will heal all my infirmities through Him who sits at your right hand and intercedes for us.”
It was one week later, after the Day of Resurrection, when the disciples had once again gathered in the upper room to pray. This time, Thomas was with them. Jesus did not scold Thomas for his doubts, but rather asks him: “Do not be faithless, but believe.” (John 20:27)
And then Thomas replied: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
For me, this story is so very powerful because it assures us, even when we doubt, even when our eyes are filled with the horrendous scenes of war that is intolerable, even when we cannot look away from the suffering of our loved ones, that the living God is still present among us. The Resurrection has taught us that our living God has not and will not leave the oppressed, the sorrowful, or the doubtful.
As long as there is a living God, death is not an option.
As long as there is a living God, war is not an option.
As long as there is a living God, occupation is not an option.
As long as there is a living God, there is always a living hope for peace based on justice, and reconciliation based on forgiveness.
And so in this Holy Week (alongside our Muslim compatriots who are also honoring a holy season of Ramadan) let us join together to praise the One God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Let us join Thomas in saying, “My Lord and my God!” for we know that our prayers will be heard, and our hearts will be healed, and our bodies will be strengthened for the continuing work for a just peace in this land and in the whole world. The captives will be released. The starving will receive food. The injured will be cared for. The bombs will be silenced—and the tongues of the world leaders will be freed to speak the truth.
This we know, because we have seen the Lord!
From Jerusalem, the City of Resurrection, we say:
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Al Masih Qam
Haqqan Qam
AMEN.

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