Sermon on First Sunday after Easter

April 23, 2017

Holy Humor Sunday

“Laughs and Locks”

John 20: 19-31

The story of doubting Thomas.  It’s the same every year.  Usually we’re on a three year cycle or lessons so you get a variety of readings each year.  Not on this Sunday.  Every year the Sunday after Easter has this lesson.  As the Associate Pastor, it’s usually my Sunday to preach.  I’ve preached a lot of sermons about Thomas.

Last year we deviated a bit and talked about how this Sunday has historically been seen.   On the one hand it has been called “Low Sunday.”  No one seems to really know why.  One theory is that in the Catholic church, when worship was in Latin, the Latin word for praise, “laudo” was a prominent word in worship on this Sunday after Easter.  The priests and the educated would call this Sunday ”Laudo” Sunday.  But for the uneducated, those who didn’t speak Latin, maybe those in the back row who didn’t hear so well, they may have heard it as Low Sunday.  The title stuck.  Now pastors sometimes joke about Low Sunday meaning that the attendance will be low because Easter is over.

On the other hand, this is also called, “Holy Humor Sunday” in some traditions.  This day builds on the good news of last Sunday, Easter.  “He is Risen, He is Risen indeed!”  We celebrate that the resurrection of Jesus is God’s ultimate joke on evil and sin and death.  And so we laugh.  Sometimes pranks were pulled on Pastors or members.  Often jokes were told.  Last year we even invited a clown!  No clown this year, but just for fun I did pull out a couple of my favorites.  There’s no point to these jokes, no connection to the sermon, I just like them.

The first we could maybe say is in honor of the 500th year of the Reformation and celebrating the good relationships we have with our Brothers and sisters in the Catholic church.  It concerns a priest.  It seems a man was attending the horse races for the first time.  He was a bit unsure of the betting procedure so he thought he’d just observe a few races.  He noticed that at the start of every race, a priest would walk in front of the horses as they were lining up, and would bless one of the horses.  Sure enough, each time that horse would win the race.

This seemed to happen at each race and the man was really starting to get confident.  The priest never missed!  Finally on the last race of the day he got up his courage, and decided to place a bet.  He watched carefully as the priest blessed one of the horses and then he ran to the window to place his bet.    The horses took off, but his horse stumbled out of the gate, took a few steps, collapsed and died!  Frustrated and confused the man ran down to confront the priest.  “I don’t understand!  I watched you bless one horse before each race and that horse always won.  I put my money on the last horse and he died!  What happened!”  “That’s the trouble with you Protestants.  You never understood the difference between a blessing and last rites!”

Or in honor of the beautiful day and golf season underway…  One beautiful Sunday a pastor woke and decided it would be a terrible shame to miss out a round of golf on such a day.  He called his council president and said, “I’m terribly sick and can’t take the service…can you fill in.”  No problem, so he packed his clubs and off he went.  He was having the round of his life.  Par, Birdie, Birdie, Par.    Meanwhile, up in heaven God and Peter were watching and Peter was really getting upset.  “God you’ve got to do something!  He should be punished for skipping church.  He shouldn’t be rewarded.”  “Don’t worry it’s all fine.”  Hole after hole pars and birdies.  The pastor was ecstatic.  Finally on the last hole, 160 yard par three.  Hole in one!  Now Peter was really mad.  “God how could you do that?”  God turned to Peter and said, “Who’s he going to tell?”

It’s good to laugh, but the lesson today is very serious.  There’s so much here. Today, rather than focusing on Thomas, I want us to think for a minute about locks and the phrase, “The doors were locked for fear of the Jews.”  Two times in the story the doors were locked, but still Jesus appeared.  No locks or doors would keep Jesus out.

Think about literal doors and locks in your life.  Have you ever been locked out…or locked in?  I remember as a boy my sister somehow got locked in the bathroom.  I remember someone got a ladder and tried to get her out through the window, but that didn’t work, neither did trying to instruct her.  Finally we had to call a locksmith who was able to extradite her.

I remember in Tanzania last year, the pastors house has several guest rooms that we stayed in, but in our room, they had just installed a new lock.  Problem.  The lock was on the outside of the door.  We could unlock it from the outside, but couldn’t do anything from inside.  Someone could lock us in, but we wouldn’t be able to get out!

Have you ever been locked out of your house? Or a hotel room?  Maybe a car?  I remember days when it was common for police to get a call from someone who had locked their keys in the car.  Do you have your own stories about being locked in, or locked out?

Imagine that first day of the week.  Mary had seen Jesus and had reported the news to the disciples.  Now it’s evening and they are still locked in the room.  Imagine the conversations.  Do they believe Mary?  Do they dare step outside?   The doors are locked, but Jesus appears to them.  No locked doors would keep Jesus out.  And Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Then a week goes by.  Nothing seems to have changed.  The doors are still shut.  Michael Marsh writes that it’s as though the house has become their tomb.  Jesus is on the loose and the disciples are bound in fear.  The disciples have separated themselves and their lives from the reality of Jesus resurrection.  Their doors of faith have been closed.  Life will now be different, but they don’t know how.  They have locked out Mary’s words of faith, hope, and love.  They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and blindness.  They have locked themselves in.  All this and it’s only been one week.

It’s been one week since Easter for us too.  Is our life different?  Are we living today in the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind locked doors?  Michael Marsh writes that when John describes the house, the doors and the locks, he is speaking about more than a physical house with walls, doors on hinges, and deadbolts.  He is describing the interior condition of the disciples.  The locked places of our lives are always more about what is going on inside of us than around us.

What are the closed places of your life?  What keeps you behind locked doors?  Is it fear?  Questions? Disbelief?  Maybe grief or loss.  Is it anger or resentment?  Are some of us unwilling to be open to change or new ideas, or opportunities?  Do we get locked into old habits and traditions?

Jesus is always entering the locked places of our lives.  He comes.  He is there beside us. Sometimes unexpected, sometimes uninvited, sometimes even unwanted and he steps into our locked lives, closed hearts, closed minds.  Today we remember that, like he did with the disciples, Jesus stands with us in our joys and in our fears.  He breathes new life into us.  May we hear his words of promise and hope, Peace be with you. Amen