Sunday, April 24, 2022
Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
Prayer of the Day
O God of life, you reach out to us amid our fears with the wounded hands of your risen Son. By your Spirit’s breath revive our faith in your mercy, and strengthen us to be the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Readings and Psalms
Acts 5:27-32 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus
Revelation 1:4-8 Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead, is coming
John 20:19-31 Beholding the wounds of the risen Christ
Title: Community of Doubt, Body with Wounds
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
This is the year we are going to Thomas a break. What do you say? Yes, he shows up every year the Sunday after Easter, what we call the Second Sunday of Easter, because Easter is not just a day on the calendar it is a whole season, 50 days long. A week of weeks. (Yet, if your really want to get down to it, Easter is not a day, not even a season, but rather it is a way of life for every day of our lives.) But okay. Here it is. The Sunday after Easter, the crowds are gone, but the lilies are still looking great. This year they are looking especially great as they are coming into fuller bloom today than last week. And maybe there is a parable in that. Keep it in mind.
But, as always, this Sunday brings Thomas into our awareness and our celebration. Thomas with his “show me and I will believe.” Thus, forever burdening him with the title of Doubting Thomas. Now as I said, this is the year I am proposing that we give Thomas a break. Because I would like to highlight that he is not the only one who is experiencing the life changing, world changing event that is the resurrection of Jesus with doubts and questions and hesitations.
Each gospel gives us different stories around the resurrection event. And none of them display the followers of Jesus as paradigms of faith. In Matthew, when the disciples gather in Galilee as directed, Jesus is standing right in front of them, about to ascend into heaven and it says that some doubted. At least Thomas believed once he saw.
Mark’s gospel, the first to be written has the least amount of Easter day accounting. The angel tells the women who have come to the now empty tomb to go tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee (as in Matthew), however, the women are so freaked out by this that, as the last verse of Mark states: “the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Afraid – that is the last word of the gospel of Mark.
This year, we read the account according to Luke and as we heard last week that the disciples heard the women speak of what they had seen and thought it an idle tale and they did not believe. Only Peter ran to the tomb and he walked away amazed. Did he believe, or was it just amazed that something had happened to the body.
Which is exactly what Mary is asking in John’s account when she sees the risen Jesus but thinks him the gardener. “What have you done with him?” She asks. And after telling the disciples, they are still locked in the room where we find them in today’s reading. Not exactly the behavior of folks embracing without doubt the news of this miracle.
Add one more story, again from Luke, the road to Emmaus where the two disciples running from Jerusalem on Easter evening – again, not the behavior of believing people, they walk with Jesus and do not know who he is.
Now, back to Thomas. Clearly he is in good company in terms of doubters, hesitant to believe that the news of this resurrection event was true. Or should we say his only shortcoming was that he was absent to witness the confirmation when all the others had their doubts resolved because they saw for themselves. And that is all that Thomas is asking for.
Wisely, if the folks were who eyewitnesses had a hard time believing, the first believers certainly knew that those of us who would come to faith later, with no visual confirmation, might have an even harder time. So, good for them, they are honest about their doubts, their confusion, and their hesitations regarding this news that seemed too good to be true.
So, let’s thank Thomas and all the rest for their honest accounts, for their questions, for their demands for confirmations, for their expressions of doubts and fears, for, in the end, their most truthful faithful witness. And see that from the beginning, the community of faith that confessed Jesus as crucified and risen Lord did so through and in spite of their doubts, fears, and confusions.
Therefore, what are we to do with this story if its not about berating doubting Thomas (because he is not alone in his doubt) and patting ourselves on the back because we are blessed for believing even though we do not see. (Thank you, Jesus.)
Perhaps for the early church, the central element of this story is not Thomas (a doubter among many) but Jesus with his wounds. That is how the disciples know him the first time. Take note of verse 20. John writes that AFTER Jesus showed them his hands and his side. THEN the disciples rejoiced seeing that it was indeed the Lord.
Jesus, the one who was, for a fact, crucified, was alive. The one who was condemned and killed by an oppressive system created by a collaboration of political and religious leaders, had been raised by the power of God. The victory did not belong to the human institutions who continued the legacy of Adam and Eve trying to displace God. No, the victory belonged to God, creator of the universe, almighty and all present, the one defined by love and steered by mercy. The victory was and will be forever in the hands of the one who shares with us grace and glory.
In spite of their doubts, the first followers wanted the world to know that Jesus was alive. Through the clouds of doubt, the tears of grief, the fog of confusion, the shock of fear, they saw him, they knew him, they spoke with him and they ate with him.
In addition to their dedication to this proclamation of faith, the early church was also dedicated to an act of treason. Yes, that is right, treason. For while the first part of their resurrection witness was that Jesus is alive; the second part was that Jesus is Lord. And for anyone in the Roman empire to say that someone other than Caesar was their Lord was an act of treason. But, as we read, they saw their Lord. And their Lord who brought God’s kingdom, now was breathing the peace of the reign of God upon them. A peace no earthly ruler would ever or could ever give. And Jesus commands them to take far and wide the message of reconciliation with God that he has made known to them.
This is their message – Jesus is alive. Jesus is Lord. This is our legacy – Jesus is alive. Jesus is Lord. The truth of these statements surrounds and defines us. We feel it and embrace it in the waters of baptism. We see it and taste in at the Lord’s table. We hear and receive it in the word. We share it in community through the power of the Holy Spirit. And through the work of the Holy Spirit we are now the body of Christ and therefore, we are the body of Christ with wounds.
Wounds that call us to practice peace and forgiveness even when we are being wounded. Wounds that are a sign of strength and victory not weakness and defeat. Wounds that call us to speak the truth to a world that continues to injure and kill the innocent, that persecutes with it ways of injustice. All the while this world sees members of this very wounded body staying silent or worse joining with political forces that wage war and oppress. We see this presently with the Russian Orthodox church, we have seen it for far too long and too often with the American Christian church.
This body of Christ with wounds that we are speaks of hope to us and to others, hope that carries us even through death. Wounds that are very much a part of our new life in the risen Christ. Perhaps the greatest testimony to the power of the resurrection shared by Thomas and Mary and Peter and those early witnesses and now share with us today is that, in spite of the wounds, we still have been given the hope, the grace, the faith, the courage to shout:
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!
The Rev. Mark Erson