“My Lord, what a morning!” –the song adopted as the title on Henry Bellefonte’s album, and Marian Anderson’s autobiography, could also be used for this morning’s Easter Gospel. Jesus’ closest friends, huddled together in the upper room, where they’d spent the last night with Jesus, suddenly hear Him speaking to them and saying,
“Peace be with you.”
Only the word they heard was “Shalom!” which some of us have sung to one another at church or Scout camp:
“Shalom, my friend, shalom, till we meet again.”
turning Jesus’ Easter greeting into a “Goodbye.”
And whenever we say it, we may use it in ways that lose its intended meaning:
“Shalom” – in its Hebrew richness means “whole, untouched by violence or misfortune, being happy individually and harmony in the community; a reality intended to exist between God and humans, and one another. (source: “A Theological Word Book of the Bible, editor Alan Richardson, P. 165-166)
“Shalom,” Jesus’ Easter greeting to His closest friends which they receive as His PROCLAMATION:
“Shalom” – now given to them, as the Apostle Paul, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, would later carry to Jews and Gentiles when he wrote: “He is our peace (our Shalom)!” (Eph.2:14)
There, on that Easter evening, the back-from-the-dead Jesus was giving Himself to them; He was becoming Shalom to them, the fullness of Himself in them!
Thomas, however, missed that meeting and demands physical proof; he needs to touch the nail-pierced hands and feet, and sword-cut side, and Jesus obliges him, which artists show Thomas reaching out and putting his fingers on the scars, but their paintings are wrong. Thomas, like the others the week before, only needs to hear the invitation. At the sound of Jesus’ voice, he answers,
“My Lord and my God!”
From Jesus’ PROCLAMATION: “Shalom!” to Thomas’ EXCLAMATION: “My Lord and my God!”
“My God!” the first and only time that confession is made and preserved in the Gospels. We hear the title: “Jesus” – God saves, “Messiah” – the anointed One, carried into Greek as “Christ,” and “Immanuel” – God with us; but now from the lips and heart of Thomas, the name -“God” and not just “God,” but “MY God!”
For Thomas, the Easter Jesus becomes the fullest image a human can get of God, a God, Who with scars of crucifixion, gives the “Shalom” of God’s forgiveness, a God Who with His “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” transforms all who now embody Christ’s “Shalom” into a “holy temple, a dwelling place for God,” (Eph.2:21-2)
And now it’s our time to hear and receive today’s Gospel, like those who were the first in the upper room on the first evening of Easter, or, this Sunday, a week later, like Thomas who was convinced, as were the others, with the sound of the voice of God who spoke and brought world into being.
Now it is our turn to hear Jesus’ Easter PROCLAMATION:
and like Thomas answer with the Easter EXCLAMATION:
“My Lord and my God!”
“My God made know to me in Jesus Christ” – as the Confirmation prayer has us saying, “MY God!” – “I give myself to you as your own, to love and serve you faithfully all the days of my life.”
A cartoon pictures a man about to be rescued after being ship-wrecked on a tiny dessert island. The sailor sent to bring him back, steps on the island holding a stack of newspapers in his arms. As he hands them to the man, he says, “Compliments of the Captain.” But then he adds, “The Captain would like you to glance at the headlines to see if you still want to be rescued.”
The headlines of our time, a personal crisis or fear that is taking on a crushing weight, a family situation that seems too complicated to resolve, or the gridlock in our nation’s government, and a world scene that is dark with breakdowns in diplomacy and flare ups in violence; the news of today, might be what threatens to turn us away from Jesus’ Easter PROCLAMATION: “Shalom!” and Thomas’ Easter EXCLAMATION: “My Lord and my God!” and send us looking for a deserted island.
But that is also why the Easter Gospel has us hearing the voice of Jesus, coming to us to penetrate every cell and every thought and every part of our being, to dominate us with the gift of His greeting.
Jesus’ tomb is empty so He may fill us with the “Shalom” of His presence and overpower evil with good, shame injustice with mercy and self-centeredness with compassion, and conquer our last breath with life on the other side of death. Jesus’ tomb is empty so He may find some way to bring us to personalize Thomas’ exclamation: “My lord and my God!”
And so, a political prisoner condemned to die in his cell emerges after 20 years, kept alive by personalizing Thomas’s confession. In our nation’s dark history of slavery a plantation owner used his whip to keep his slaves from forgetting he was their lord, but they endured each lash by saying to themselves,
“My Lord is King Jesus.”
A dear friend, Rev. Anna Dederer, who had served as a missionary in Micronesia, retired to California. After visiting us, we heard nothing from her and later learned she’d become terminally ill, endured three weeks of pain, and died praying, “My Jesus will come and take me home.”
Three people who received Jesus’ “Shalom” and personalized it with Thomas’ “My Lord and my God!”
Today’s Gospel PROCLAMATION that invites our EXCLAMTION, trusting that, in spite of the headlines, God is in each day’s dawning, awakening us to say or sing: “My Lord, what a morning!”