Saturday, April 2, 2016

Blessed Are Those Who Arrive Late

John 20:19-31
Easter 2 / Holy Humor
April 3, 2016
William G. Carter

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

God bless Aunt Alice! She was the second child of nine, my father’s older sister. She was a wonderful woman in every way, mother of five, stepmother of two. Aunt Alice always had a quick smile and a kind word. When she walked into the room, she lit the place up. Everybody liked her. She was a lot of fun.

Just one thing about her: she was always late.

We would drive six hours to go to a family reunion. Even though Dad knew the territory like the back of his hand, we would leave plenty of time to find the right pavilion at the county park. Uncle Russ and Cousin Steve would each have one foot up on the picnic bench, as they picked out “Winchester Cathedral” on their guitars. Cousin Jeff would be tossing a baseball with Cousin Duane. Cousins Darla and Trudy would be talking to my sister. The food was ready, it’s time to eat. Where’s Aunt Alice? She’s not here yet.

Her eight brothers and sisters all knew better. So did the in-laws. When Aunt Alice’s kids were old enough to drive, they arrived at the reunion long before her. “Just can’t get Mom moving in time to get here,” said Cousin Bob. His brother, Cousin Bill, said, “Yeah, we tell her to put in gear, and her only gear is reverse.”

About the time we turned our attention to dessert, here came Aunt Alice, carrying a large plate of Jello with strawberries in it. “That’s a good thing about Jello,” she said with a broad smile and a Venango County twang, “you can have it as a side dish or eat it as dessert.” She was a wonderful woman, but she was always late.

Now, to her credit, she didn’t make any excuses. She could have done that. A lot of people do. Why were you late?

·         My hamster died. I had to plan for his funeral.
·         I had to go audition for American Idol.
·         My watch was set to Tokyo time.
·         I was waiting for my deodorant to dry.
·         I was watching the Final Four and it went into overtime. Go Syracuse!
·         I had to wait for the Fed-Ex guy, who was bringing my Richard Simmons Sweatin' to the Oldies DVD.

No, Aunt Alice never gave an excuse. She would say, “What did I miss?” Well, you missed Uncle Bob’s story about shooting four groundhogs with a single shot. “Oh, he already told me about that.”

You missed Aunt Joyce’s three bean salad with horseradish, jalapenos, and sweet pickles. “Oh,” she said, “did you leave any of me?” No, it’s all gone.

“What else did I miss?” You missed Aunt Twila. She was playing the accordion by ear. “Well, how was that?” We said, “A little imprecise. It would have been better if she played with her fingers.”

“Well,” she said, “I’m sure glad I got here in time to see all of you.” Well, we were glad, too. At least those of us who hadn’t already left.

Do have an Aunt Alice in your family? What is it about people who show up late? Maybe they have a lot to do; you know, everybody has a to-do list. I’ve noticed some people don’t take the items in sequence. They get to them as they see them. You’re on the way home and she says, “Wait, I wanted to stop here.” You didn’t know anything about it.

For some people, they are late not because there is a lot to do, but because time moves so quickly. Maybe not for you, as you listen to a sermon, but certainly for Doctor Seuss, who said:

            How did it get so late so soon? 
            It’s night before it’s afternoon.
            December is here before it’s June. 
            My goodness how the time has flewn!
            How did it get so late so soon?

I’m pretty much a stickler for starting things on time. The choir will tell you that. Kay knows we want the call to worship to begin precisely at 10:00. Those who give a ten-minute minute-for-mission know that we have talked about installing a trap door in the pulpit that goes directly to the furnace – and we will give the button to Chuck Woolever.

I can say all these things, but the truth is, thirteen years ago, on the day of my wedding, it was time to start and my bride was nowhere to be seen. Turns out she was hiding in the back stairwell, just to yank my chain. She did it to declare once and for all that I wasn’t in charge. As she later stated, “Nothing was going to start until I got there.” She was right.

But I have to wonder where Doubting Thomas was on Easter Evening. Why wasn’t he with the other disciples? Did he run out to the store at the last minute to get something? The Gospel of John doesn’t say. John does say the door was locked because the disciples were afraid; perhaps Thomas had gotten himself locked out. How comical, then, that Jesus shows up anyway – locked doors never kept out the Risen Savior. Jesus is there, Thomas is not. We have every reason to think he was late.

He would be a week late, as it turned out. In the meantime, he had missed the moment when Easter became real. He didn’t hear Jesus bless them with peace.  He didn’t hear Jesus commission them to continue his ministry of forgiveness. He didn’t feel the breath of Jesus, who breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

No, Thomas missed all that. And he refused to believe it. Hear what he said? “Unless I put my finger in the nail holes in his hands . . .” Now, that’s disgusting. What is this, a bad joke?

I think Thomas would have done far better to offer an excuse for being late. I can think of a few excuses:

  • My heat was shut off, so I had to stay home to keep my rattlesnake warm.
  • I had to let out the dog and water my Chia pet.
  • I stopped at Rite Aid to check my blood pressure and my arm got stuck in the machine.
  • I heard a fire truck, so I went home to make sure my house wasn’t on fire.
  • I would have been here on time, but when I was putting in my contacts, I reached for the wrong bottle and  accidently super-glued my eye.
  • I was abducted by aliens. They were debating about sucking out my brains, but they couldn’t find any so they turned me loose.
Thomas doesn’t even have an excuse. Neither does he take responsibility for being late. Maybe he should have done that. Perhaps he could have said, “If the Lord wanted me to be here, he should have told me what time to show up.” But no. And he doesn’t make it any better when he insists, “Unless I stick my finger in the nail holes . . .” What a goof!

Now, I know this is the Bible, but I think Jesus rubs Thomas’ nose in it when he suddenly appears again, and says, “You want to see those nail holes?” I mean, Jesus is not only risen; he had been listening in on that previous conversation between Thomas and the others. He can come and go, he can listen and stay invisible.

Thomas sputters, because he’s been smoked out. “Stop doubting,” Jesus says to him. “Just stop it.” Thomas sputters again, and then he says, “Oh My God.” And that is the Really Big Creed in the Gospel of John.

But here’s the really important thing: Jesus turns from Thomas toward all of us. We weren’t there, either. In fact, I check the clock and you and I are running late, about two thousand years late. From Thomas to all of us, Jesus offers his final beatitude, his final blessing: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

That’s all he says. He doesn’t judge Thomas for showing up late, because faith comes to every person only when the time is right. For a lot of us, it’s a tangle path of doubt and drama, clarity and confusion. Physical proof would be nice (that’s what Thomas wants), but for us, it is not longer possible.

If you go to Jerusalem today, one of the crazy things you will discover as a tourist is that the Christian church can’t even agree on the location of the empty tomb. It could be over here, it could be over there. Nobody knows, because he’s not in it. Sooner or later, we simply have to trust that Easter happened, that Christ is risen, and that, in his good humor, he is listening in on this conversation, too.

God bless Aunt Alice. She taught me a deeply spiritual lesson. There is no judgment on what time we show up or the route we took to get there. Blessed are those who arrive late, because at least they arrive. I suppose there are all kinds of reasons for being late:

·         The line was too long at Starbucks so I couldn’t get to coffee hour.
·         I was losing my mind, and it took me a half hour to find it.
·         The usher wouldn’t leave me alone until I put more in the offering plate.
·         I dropped my glass eye down the drain and couldn’t see what time it was.
·         I was listening to the sermon and overslept.

Any of those might be valid reasons for being late. But the blessing comes when we arrive. The good humor this day is a sign of the grace of God, the eternal God who can wait out any one of us until we get to the place where we trust and believe. However this happens, whenever faith forms in us, it always occurs at the right time, because that’s the moment when the heart says “yes.”

(c) William Carter. All  rights reserved. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Rev. Carter. And, thanks for the 'excuses' I can use in the future!