Second Sunday of Easter – Year B
John 20: 19 – 31
Jesus is risen indeed, alleluia! May our words and meditations give glory to God, who raised Jesus from the dead. Amen
It is good to be here.
We are surrounded these days with information and left to wonder whether or not it is true. Often these stories are not about anything important, but sometimes it is very important to know whether or not some story is real.
That’s the dilemma of the early disciples of Jesus. They wanted to be sure that the people who came after them would know and believe that what they said about the Resurrection of Jesus was true. We have just celebrated the Resurrection. It is the central belief of our faith as Christians. St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)
That’s how important it is to believe the Resurrection. But, let’s face it, this is a difficult task. This asks us to stretch our imagination. This asks us to believe that God can do what seems impossible in real life. The early Christians knew this. They knew how difficult this would be.
All today’s readings are about truth – about what is real and what is not – about what is possible and what is not.
That is why we read in Acts of the Apostles: “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,”
The Epistle this morning is filled with assurances that what is being said is true:
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.
In the Gospel we find Thomas. I love Thomas. Without him I would wonder if God would still love me, even though I have doubts. I have trouble understanding and explaining the Resurrection. Thomas shows me that doubt and faith live together in us and Jesus loves us just the same.
Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared to the other Apostles. He simply was not there. He did not see. And when he joined them what did he find? Instead of grief and fear, he found rejoicing. He must have thought they had lost their minds. There he stood with his broken heart, broken hopes, and broken dreams and found the others rejoicing – unbelievable!
The other Apostles asked, “Where have you been? You should have been here. Jesus is back! He has been raised from the dead. He came to us right here, even though the door was locked. We didn’t even recognize him at first, but we saw his wounds. It was really him! He is alive!”
Did they not remember the cruel death of their master? Did they not understand that all was lost? Jesus was dead and the dead do not return. That is real. At least, that was Thomas’ reality as he stood in that room with the rejoicing Apostles. We can imagine his thinking, “What?! Raised from the dead? I saw Jesus raise others from the dead, but this is different. Those others returned to much the same life they had had before becoming ill. But, what the other Apostle are telling me is quite a different story. They are expecting me to believe that Jesus was raised. A dead person cannot raise himself. Are they expecting me to believe the impossible?”
Let’s face it, he was right. People do not return from the dead. They just don’t. The one thing we know for certain, is that the dead DO NOT RETURN. We know this. We have all experienced grief over the loss of a loved one. We have all prayed for our loved-one’s return. But, in real life this does not – cannot – happen.
Now, here is where Thomas gets the bad reputation. He says, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ And for this statement, he is accused of doubting. I don’t see doubt. What I see here is a man trapped within the normal boundaries of what is possible. His was a request for the information that would move him beyond those boundaries. And he couldn’t go beyond that without the same kind of proof that the others had received. They had SEEN and then believed. I don’t think it’s too much for Thomas to wish for the same experience.
In a small way, I once stood in about the same place that Thomas stood all those years ago. I was pretty much minding my own business when, at a party, I overheard a comment. From way across the room I overheard someone say, “You know, it’s the strangest thing, but the local seminary is accepting lay people to study there, even some women are studying there.”
At the time, this comment meant little to me. I was taking a couple of courses at
the local college, studying for a Master’s degree in Education. But, somehow, that comment would not leave me alone. With the encouragement of a friend who actually knew where this seminary was, I made an appointment and went, fully expecting to be laughed out of the building. What was I thinking? – a Roman Catholic lay woman showing up at a seminary filled with future priests! Impossible! It didn’t make much sense, even to me. I just knew it was something I had to do.
My only conclusion, when they accepted me, was, “They must need the money.”
Later, I felt a distinct call to the diaconate and was broken hearted to discover that in the Catholic Church only men need apply for ordination.
So, there I stood, much like Thomas. His question was, “Was Jesus’ death real or is the Resurrection real?”
My questions were much the same: “Was my call real? Can God call a woman to ordination or does God call only men? What is real?” They could not both be true. I had to either doubt my call, or doubt the wisdom of an entire church.
I, like Thomas, needed the witness of others. I needed proof. I needed to SEE. I needed to know what was real. It wasn’t until many years later when I came to the Episcopal Church that the proof showed itself right before my eyes. My husband and I came to the Episcopal Church from two traditions – Roman Catholic and Lutheran. We came because it was time for us to worship together. And, when we arrived, not only were we welcomed and embraced by the community of Grace Episcopal Church, but the theology and worship were comfortable and meaningful for both of us. The truth is: we were probably Episcopalian long before we arrived at the Doors of Grace Church. Then, wonders of wonders, there, before my very eyes stood an ordained WOMAN.
And, just like Thomas, who fell to his knees and proclaimed his belief, “My Lord
and my God!” my soul screamed, “YES! It is real! You do call women!”
You can’t imagine my joy! It was like encountering the Risen Lord, just as Thomas did, just as all those first witnesses did. And my life, like theirs, has never been the same because, when we know what is true, when we accept the Resurrected Jesus as real, he says the same thing to us that he said to those first Apostles. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When we believe, when we meet the Risen Lord, we are given the same job to do – to spread peace.
That command brings us to our knees, just like Thomas, and leaves us with questions to ponder. I know that I had to ask:
- Was I willing to trust the witness of those first believers who left testimony of what they had seen and heard, and touched?
- Was I willing to accept that God is not bound by our rules about what is possible?
- Was I willing to believe that Jesus is truly risen, even though it is impossible to explain?
- And, if I accept the Resurrection as real, was I ready to take the next step?
- Was I willing to follow Jesus’ command and begin to spread peace in our broken world?
I look around me now and ask, “Do I see people around me following Jesus’ command – in 2018 – in Brunswick, Maine? (pause) Are there people here who have encountered the Risen Lord and are about the business of spreading peace?”
My answer is a resounding, “YES!”
I see the evidence of that choice all around me at St. Paul’s. Most of the people
here have plenty to do with jobs, family, worries of one sort or another. It’s not as if we didn’t have enough to fill our days and nights. Yet, what do I see here?
- I see folks leave their homes to go out to others.
- I see you in Bible Studies, serving at the altar, visiting the sick, cooking meals for the hungry, building houses for the homeless.
- I see folks, otherwise busy folks, taking time out to plan activities to build community among us.
- I see you working for justice and reaching beyond these beloved walls to bring Christ to others.
- I see people who provide a listening ear to others,
- who speak kindly,
- who do not judge others,
- who bring meals to people in need,
- who soothe a suffering friend.
- I see folks who grieve with the grieving and rejoice with those who rejoice.
- I see parents tending a sick child with great tenderness when they are exhausted.
- I hear people praying for their friends and neighbors when their love and concern is not returned.
In other words, I see folks who have met the Risen Lord. I see people who know they have been sent to bring peace and are busy doing just that. Many of you have become my models, my teachers, and my companions.
As Christians, we proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus, though we cannot explain it. Do we still harbor doubts? Many of us do. But, we see in the story of Thomas, that doubt does not prevent Jesus from loving us and accepting us as we are. So, we proclaim the divine action of God, who is not bound by our notions of what is real. And we do it in simple ways and extraordinary ways, by following Jesus and his instruction, “As the father has sent me, I also send you.” Amen