Never in my life has the violence in the Gospel of John seemed so recognizable. Now it corresponds to the daily news: a man fears going out in public in Jerusalem, as Jesus did on that festival of booths. This simple act can result in either glory or destruction, depending on whether “the street” murmurs disapproval or approbation.
A person’s final words are important. When they are out of character or trivial, we remember them with some embarrassment. Elvis Presley, for example, supposedly said, “I’m going to the bathroom to read.” Well-spoken words, on the other hand, provide a fitting conclusion to a life and encouragement for those who remain.
About a year and a half ago my wife and I bought our first house. Before we moved in there was a lot to do: hang new curtains, paint, pull up old carpet, install new counter tops and purchase a microwave. Although we are now settled in, I have not been able to kick the habit of perusing the real estate pages of the Sunday paper.
Who would have thought that being a waiter could be so dangerous? One might expect impatient customers, lousy tips and long hours—these come with the territory. But more dire consequences? Surely not. Yet in the sixth chapter of Acts Stephen is chosen as one of seven who will “wait on tables,” an occupation and a witness that will lead to his death.
The storyteller weaves it all together—an unknown traveler named Cleopas and his companion; the resurrected Jesus, who is present but in an unrecognized, mysterious fashion; the travelers’ sudden recognition of Jesus; and his sudden disappearance.
John begins the Easter story with the words, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark . . .” This is always how our discovery of the risen Christ begins—in darkness. While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to a tomb because earlier in the week Jesus had been killed. With him, her hope died.
So where was Thomas anyway that first Easter evening? In my childhood Sunday school classes, Thomas was a “bad guy.” When the other ten disciples told him that Jesus was alive after his crucifixion, Thomas refused to believe it. He separated himself from the others and demanded to see Christ for himself.
When the promising young Hebrews were dragged into exile in Babylon, they were not kept in prisons or even camps. They were free to marry, build homes, plant crops and exchange goods. Some became quite wealthy. They were also free to assemble, elect leaders and worship.