A Homily for the Second Week of Easter

I gave this homily at our final evening Eucharist of the semester just before our party for graduating students.

I used to teach a course called “Creation & Evolution.” I initially created this course because I really like studying the Christian doctrine creation, and so I knew right away that I would have my students read commentaries on the first chapter of genesis.

But the evolution side of things was a little daunting to me. Many of you know that science is not my strong suit.

Moreover, as a kid my family had subscribed to creationism — you know, the idea that Genesis 1 is a faithful, scientific report of how God created the world. So, on the sixth day, God created all land creatures as we know them today, including the dinosaurs.

My commitment to this ideology was short lived, but I realized that one aspect of it had stayed with me: I had never really grappled with the idea of evolution, its origins as a theory, or its relation to my work as a theologian.

In short, I had let fear guide my intellectual development, and not courage. 

And so, in addition to reading Genesis 1 commentaries, we also read Darwin’s Origin of Species.

My students were none too happy!

Friends, fear, as Darwin himself would tell you, is a primal instinct. It is a force of survival. Fear recognizes that death is the ultimate enemy. Fear persuades you to make compromises in order to stay alive, in order to hold on to life most dear.

Fear is what the disciples were all about there in the upper room.

Even after learning from Jesus directly, even after witnessing his miracles and hearing his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the disciples were still more in touch with their instinct to survive than they were with Jesus’ revolutionary message.

And so Jesus appears to them finally, and the first word he speaks to them is peace. He alleviates their fear. He heals them not only from the terror of losing their lives, but from the plague of being subservient to fear itself. 

Caravaggio’s  The Incredulity of St. Thomas

Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of St. Thomas

But in order to do this, Jesus has to first show them that death is no longer the ultimate enemy that it once was. 

See the wounds in his hands, his feet, his side? He still has the wounds, but the consequence that they led to? Death? Death slid off Jesus like a cloak in the resurrection. 

It’s no wonder the disciples were scared, or that Thomas clung to his doubt. As much as we all attempt to hide from it, deny it, pretend it does exist, the reality of death is all around us. 

Who would have thought that Jesus was stronger than death? 

Internalizing this radical truth about the resurrection, the truth that the life Jesus lives has destroyed death, and that we will also share in this life with him….

Coming to terms with this truth takes time, perhaps even a lifetime.

That said, we need to start coming to terms with it, even if in little bits.

The resurrection does not just make a difference to the after life. It makes a difference in this life, too.

If life really is more powerful than death, then the resurrection challenges us when we make allegiances with death, when we bank on others failures, when we benefit from intimidation and breeding fear in others.

But for most of us, the resurrection is most difficult because it asks us to reevaluate our fears and those moments when we make decisions out of fear. 

The resurrection can change the way we relate to our enemies. The way we value our friendships. The way we set our priorities. The way we care for and educate children. 

My friends, a little more than a dozen of you are taking a big step, initially out of Williamsburg, but then into a swiftly moving stream. 

And in that stream, fear comes easy. I’m not saying that a little survival instinct is wrong. But as you continue to ask yourself what you value, what’s most important to you, what center you want to organize your life around, I want you to take a hard look into the cold face of fear. 

I want you to think carefully about how easily fear can persuade you to compromise on those values.

And then I want you to look to Jesus, who says to you, again and again, Peace. 

And then I want you to ask yourself, which of these — fear or Jesus — will you serve?