“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
After death, people go through a bureaucratic examination to determine where they’re going. One room has a clerk who inputs records of what each applicant did on his or her last day of life.
The first applicant of the day explains that his last day was not a good one. "I came home early and found my wife lying unclothed in bed. She claimed she had just gotten out of the shower. Well, her hair was dry and I checked the shower and it was completely dry too.
I knew she was into some hanky-panky and I began to look for her lover. I went onto the balcony of our 9th floor apartment and found this guy clinging to the rail by his fingertips. I was so angry that I began bashing his fingers with a flower pot. He let go and fell, but his fall was broken by some awnings and bushes.
On seeing he was still alive I found super human strength to drag our antique cedar chest to the balcony and throw it over. It hit the man and killed him. At this point the stress got to me and I suffered a massive heart attack and I died too.
The clerk thanked him and sent him on to the next office. The second applicant said that his last day was his worst. "I was on the roof of an apartment building working on the AC equipment. I stumbled over my tools and toppled off the building.
I managed to grab onto the balcony railing of a 9th floor apartment, but some idiot came rushing out onto the balcony and bashed my hands with a flower pot. I fell but hit some awnings and bushes and survived, but as I looked up I saw a huge cedar chest falling toward me. I tried to crawl out of the way but failed and was hit and killed by it."
The clerk couldn’t help but chuckle as he directs the man to the next room. He is still giggling when his third customer of the day enters. He apologizes and says, "I doubt that your last day was as interesting as the fellow in here just before you." "I don't know," replies the man, "picture this, I'm buck naked hiding in this cedar chest..."
We do not know how we’re going to die, hopefully it’s not as scandalous as any of the stories just shared, but we are all going to die. Our mortality is a certainty. After hearing about so many super rich people and corporations that don’t end up paying taxes, the old saying about “as sure as death and taxes,” is now just “as sure as death.”
But what happens after we die is less than certain. And I don’t say this as a Christian doubting the afterlife because I don’t personally doubt the afterlife. I say this because believing in Easter is a choice. It was, as we heard in today’s Gospel about doubting Thomas; it is still today; and it always will be a choice to believe.
To believe in life after death is a matter of faith and that is something completely different than certainty. For me one reason I believe in Easter is because something changed all of those scared and timid apostles.
The ones who deserted Jesus at the cross because they lost their faith in Him are somehow the same ones who get called in before the council because they can’t stop talking about Jesus as we heard in Acts.
For me at least, the reason is Easter. They realized forcefully that Jesus was no longer dead, and when they realized that He lives, these people were changed.
To believe in the resurrection means to trust, first and foremost in Jesus, to trust also in those first eye witnesses, and then to trust ourselves. Maybe, hopefully, we’ve had those special, spiritual moments when we feel the reality of Jesus close at hand, and I hope church is a part of that.
Maybe, hopefully, those encounters help us to trust Easter stories from 2,000 years ago because if the tomb was empty, then Jesus can be present in our lives now. So it’s not just their experience; it’s ours too.
In this social media age, we have to be more attuned than ever to the fact that we must choose whom we will trust. Trusting Jesus, the eye-witnesses and our own spiritual experiences is a choice, and that’s why the resurrection can’t be a certainty. Faith is always going to be a choice.
And the choice to believe in life after death is really not a question that should wait until life after death. If we believe in life after death, well, we should live like we do. We have work to do if we’re really Easter people. There’s no sitting around waiting for heaven. We’re called upon to do heaven’s work now.
I love the passage that Anita read for us today: “The high priest questioned [the apostles], saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name [of Jesus], yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching … But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.’”
“Filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” How powerful is that? The apostles knew what the world wanted. They had to make a choice. They knew there would be consequences if they preached Jesus. They just witnessed what had happened to Jesus on Calvary. But they stood up to power anyway.
And it’s important to remember how they stood up to power. It was by offering something better. Too much of religion today is crass. It can be unimpressive and embarrassing. We don’t trust in its message enough to bring people in so we talk about the consequences of not coming in.
I actually heard a preacher the other day on the radio, I think he was from San Antonio, Texas. He was getting all excited about Jesus’ Second Coming and that there would be rivers of blood flowing for miles around Him as He raised His sword to save the righteous and to damn the wicked. The preacher sounded giddy over the expectation.
That’s not the same Jesus I hear in the Gospels. That’s turning Jesus into just another worldly power.
The apostles weren’t looking to get even. They were looking to offer something better and they filled the world with Jesus’ gospel, and people chose to follow because it is beautiful and inspiring, and that changed the world.
So if we’re people who have chosen to believe in life after death, we have stuff to do now. We need to get Jesus’ gospel out there above all the hellfire and brimstone preaching and charges of sins and sinners.
We need to offer a better example of extravagant welcome that invites people to choose to believe, because as the risen Jesus said to Thomas: “‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”
May the Easter mystery continue in us and through us as we strive to fill the world with Jesus’ message. In His name we pray. Amen.
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