Second Sunday of Easter – B
April 11, 2021
Snapshots of Faith
1 John 1:1-2:2
Grace and peace to you from God the Creator, Christ the Risen One, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Welcome to the second Sunday of Easter. This past week in New York has certainly felt like the promise of resurrection – the weather is getting warmer, the sun is out for longer, flowers and plants are springing forth from the ground, vaccination rates are continuing to increase, and we’ve moved through our week with the echoes of Alleluia, Christ is risen (Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia) ringing through our hearts.
It has certainly felt like a week of resurrection, even as we continue to carry grief anniversaries, new losses, and worries that a “return to normal” will overpower the opportunity we have been given to carve out new ways of being and existing with each other and the created world.
It has felt like a week of resurrection – and yet we find the disciples today in a locked room. Closed off, with stale air, the fear of persecution hanging heavy. Their teacher, their friend, had been handed over to state execution. They watched him die. They feared the same fate for themselves. And then, when the women who loved him and followed him went to care for Jesus’ body, it was gone. They found an empty tomb, and did not understand.
Mary stays, weeping. And Jesus, resurrected, appears. She doesn’t recognize him at first – she mistakes him for the gardener – until he speaks her name, and then she recognizes him. Jesus meets her there, in her weeping, in her mourning. Meets her with the sound of her name. Going to the tomb, Mary expected to find Jesus’ body. She needed to sit by his body, sit with the reality of everything that had just happened. Instead, she encounters the risen Christ, and cries out with a proclamation of belief – “teacher!” Mary brings this world-changing news of the resurrected Christ to the disciples. I imagine her heart and her words are filled with hope and promise and grief and fear and belief.
And yet, we find the disciples in a locked room. While we might receive the news of the resurrection on Easter as a joyful promise fulfilled, this first Easter proclamation from Mary doesn’t seem to shake the disciples fear. But then Jesus appears again, in our scripture this week, this time to the disciples. Jesus came to where they were hiding, stood among them, the first words from his lips: “Peace be with you.” He shows them his wounds, proving, revealing, his identity. He appears in their midst, the locked door proving no match for the risen Christ. The stale air of the room is refreshed by the Holy Spirit, breathed into the disciples. They are sent, as Jesus was, with the power to forgive sin and the power to hold onto sin.
When Thomas, who wasn’t with them, returns, they tell him of this world-changing news, proclaiming the resurrected Christ, again. Just as Mary’s words didn’t transform the disciples belief until they witnessed Jesus themselves, the disciples words don’t transform Thomas. Thomas knows what he needs in order to move from unbelief to belief. Until he touches Jesus’ wounds, the hope and promise of resurrection just might be too much to bear.
Where was Thomas, the first time Jesus appears to the disciples in this house? Why wasn’t he sheltering behind a locked door?
Was Thomas an essential worker, who didn’t have a choice but to continue in his daily life after the death of his teacher, bringing food and provisions back for the other disciples?
Was Thomas still stricken with grief, needing to be alone, not with the people who I’m sure reminded him so much of his time with Jesus, needing to wander, to pray?
Was he out searching for Jesus? Was he the one disciple who took Mary seriously, and was in the world, seeking the risen Christ, to touch his wounds, to see him?
Was Thomas holding in tension his doubt, his need to see and touch Jesus in order to believe, with his faith, shaking off his fear, driving him to be in the world, caring for others and proclaiming the glory of God?
Another week passes. And still, Jesus finds the disciples in a locked room, the doors shut, this time with Thomas present. Again, Jesus first tells them, “peace be with you”. And then he offers his hands and his side to Thomas. In order that Thomas would not doubt, but believe. We often call him “doubting Thomas”, but it might be better to call him “disbelieving Thomas”, since a more accurate translation of Jesus’ comment to him is: “do not be disbelieving, but believing.” Belief is active – it’s a process – and a single snapshot, a single moment, doesn’t tell the full story.
Offering his wounds to Thomas is an incredibly intimate and vulnerable act. We know that Jesus showed the disciples his hands and sides, but here he offers them to Thomas to touch. To touch his wounds, to touch the sites of trauma, and injury. Wounds that remained after the resurrection. Jesus’ presence has changed – we know that because those closest to him did not recognize him at first – but his body is still marked by his life, and by his death. The resurrection doesn’t erase everything that has happened. Our God is a wounded God, scarred by Empire.
Thomas needed to know that. That the crucifixion was real. The empty tomb was real. His grief, his fear, was real. And the risen Christ is real. From what we read in this account, Thomas doesn’t end up touching Jesus’ wounds. Witnessing the resurrected Christ was enough for him to come to belief, to trust his experience of God. God met him, not with what he thought he needed – to physically touch the wounds – but what his belief actually needed – to witness Christ, resurrected. And then Thomas utters one of the most profound statements of belief and faith in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God.”
Belief has room for questions, for doubt, for fear, for hope, for trust. Believing in Jesus means that we can ask to touch his wounds, to hear him call us by name, to see him, resurrected, scarred, whole. Belief is an action over time – processing the miracle and the promise of the resurrection. At any one moment, we are living in a snapshot of our own journey from unbelief to belief.
And scripture is filled with snapshots of belief in action!
The disciples, locked in a stuffy room, alone. The disciples, receiving the Holy Spirit. Mary, weeping. But then Mary, proclaiming. Thomas crying out, “My Lord and my God”.
The community in Acts, sharing all things in common – so that everyone survived and flourished. And not only sharing food, or property, but also doubts, and prayers, and the stories of their lives. This community was living into their belief of life abundant in God, even as they navigated hardships and challenges. Who heard the testimony of the resurrection, and received grace upon grace.
The readers of 1 John, who are urged to confess our sins, to stop pretending that we don’t sin, and to believe in the forgiveness of God. To trust in God’s promise to lead us from the shadows, into eternal life. To put our trust, our belief, into practice – knowing that God has poured Godself out for us, and for all of Creation.
We can place ourselves among these snapshots. Noticing where we are, today, right now. Noticing what we might need to live into our beliefs, naming what we need, and staying open to the surprising, life-giving ways God might be moving in our lives.
We are the ones who are moving from unbelief to belief.
Who are sharing our doubts, our questions, and the stories of our lives, with each other, and with God.
Who are trying new ways of living into our belief – taking action, confessing our sins, trusting in life abundant, fostering relationships.
Who are proclaiming our faith in our Lord and our God, after weeping, after mourning.
Who are witnessing the risen Christ, still scarred, still wounded, and wondering what that means for us and for our lives.
In all of these snapshots, God is present. God finds us. Jesus appears in our midst, again and again.
And we are fed and nourished by the presence of Christ in word and sacrament. We don’t encounter the resurrected Jesus the same way Mary did, or Thomas, or the other disciples did, with a body that is at once recognizable and new, physical and transcendent, but we do encounter the tangible, real, presence of Christ. The tangible, real, presence of the Holy Spirit. The tangible, real, presence of God, at the table.
In communion, Jesus meets us wherever we’re at, today, this moment, in our process of belief. In communion, we witness Jesus’ wounds, resurrection, and promises. In communion, our hands and mouths proclaim, “my Lord and my God”. We are nourished and sent out, assured of God’s grace, Jesus’ presence, and the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Come to the table, so that your joy may be complete. Come to the table, that you may not be unbelieving, but have belief. Come to the table, that through believing you may have life in Christ’s name.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Vicar Reed Fowler,