A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on Easter 2B, April 8, 2018 on John 20:19-31
“I want to know three things about you: what’s your name, what’s your mama’s name, and where did your grandmother grow up?” This was the question posed to a group of us gathered to hear a talk by Vincent Harding, speech writer and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the first Wild Goose Festival in 2011. Harding was giving a talk about the power of storytelling and relationships; that we can’t fully know each other if we can’t hear each other, and how it is crucial to know the relationships that shape the other to be able to see them. When we get to witness these deep connections, it’s not purely about observing them, it’s about a deeper level of understanding into who those people are and the relationships that shape them.
In our gospel passage today, we pick up where the story of the resurrection is left off. The day has drawn to a close, and while word about Christ’s resurrection has begun to spread, most of the disciples are locked in a room, held there by fear. Jesus appears to them, greets them, and then shows them his wounds from the crucifixion; Christ then breathes out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon them. A week later, Thomas, who was missing that day, comes and the disciples excitedly tell of Jesus’ resurrection appearance, but unless he is able to lay his hands upon the wounds of Jesus, Thomas refuses to believe it. Again, the disciples were in a room with the doors shut and Jesus appears to them and greets them. He tells Thomas to touch the wounds on his side and on his hands, and Thomas believes. Jesus then pronounces a blessing on all those who come to belief without seeing.
Not only was poor Thomas a week late to the Alleluia party, he has also had to bear the brunt of being known as “Doubting Thomas” because of this story, when all he needed was what the other disciples got to experience, witnessing the resurrected Christ. And while this sermon won’t be about doubt, know that reading today’s gospel passage as a condemnation of doubt is to see it, but not to believe the truth held within it.
Every year, on the second Sunday of Easter, we hear the story of Thomas; every year we remind ourselves of this story that had taken on so many interpretations, that perhaps it could be easy to miss the mission. Just as God sent the Son, so the Christ sends out his followers into the world. Jesus, once he has invited Thomas to touch his wounds, pronounces a preemptive blessing on coming generations who will have to hold the belief of the disciples, but without the advantage of seeing the resurrected Messiah.
We who call ourselves Christians cannot solely be followers of the Christ of the stories, or the Christ of the miracles, or the Christ that sought out those on the fringes, we must also be followers of the crucified and resurrected Messiah. The tangibility of Jesus in that locked room is not the point of this gospel passage. It is not about whether or not Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds, because John doesn’t actually tell us of he did or not, but what matters in this gospel passage is that death does not get the last say.
One of the challenges of the time that we live in currently is to remember to hold space. In a world where by Friday all the Easter candy had been sold for half price and the Easter eggs have been recycled for next year’s celebration, it is hard to remember that Easter is not just a one day event. The season of Easter lasts for six more weeks; we are only 8 days in to the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Now, I’m not saying if you have packed up your Easter decorations that you are failing to live into the spirit of the season, but it does pose a challenge to us.
We are the same distance from Easter Day as Thomas was in our gospel passage today. Throughout the Gospels, the disciples are enigmatic of all believers; they represent a vast array of people who follow Christ. Most of the disciples in our passage today have an immediate and powerful interaction with the resurrected Christ, and while they relay this experience to Thomas, he cannot fully believe it without seeing as they did, because Thomas had a relationship with Jesus and was holding on to what he knew to be true: that dead people don’t come back to life.
Thomas, like the other disciples, is forever changed by the deep understanding that Christ is risen. We who follow Christ, we who have not seen and yet have come to believe, are changed as well. We know that Eastertide is one of the most joyous of all seasons in the life of church, and it provides us space to grow in our relationship with the crucified and resurrected Christ. We have to hold these Great Fifty days as a space in which we take stock of how our own lives and faith are shaped by the resurrection.
Belief in the resurrection is not a stamp on the passport of our souls; belief in the resurrection is not a box that we check so that we can go to Heaven, or so that we can claim to be faithful Christians. No, belief in the resurrection is not about seeing it, or even is it solely about believing in it without having seen it like Thomas and disciples did all those years ago, but belief in the resurrection is about being changed by the resurrection.
The resurrection is all about relationship. It is about the relationship between life and death, it is about the relationship with God and God’s people, it is about relationship between hope and fear. To believe in the resurrection is to let all our relationships be shaped by the ultimate truth: that Christ has risen indeed.
We don’t have the resurrected Jesus to put our hands upon. Doubt is okay, important, and necessary, but we as a faith community still believe the Christ did rise from the dead. While we have this faith, there are those who are still looking to see the truth of the resurrection. There are those we know, or perhaps even those in this congregation, who struggle to believe in this truth because their experience with people of faith has not been shaped by the truth of the resurrection. There are those whose experience of people of faith has been that fear wins and that God doesn’t care for God’s people.
Just as God sent the Son, so Christ sends his followers out into the world as resurrection people. God is moving in this world through God’s people, and we, as God’s people, must be shaped by the resurrection above all other things. How will you make this truth known over the next six weeks? How will you live into your calling to be resurrection people? How will you reach out to those who are still looking to see the truth of the resurrection and the fact that Christ is risen indeed! We have been given a mission to go out into this world as resurrection people; we have been given a mission to help make the truth of the resurrection known to all people. We are tasked with sharing the good news of God in Christ, that death does not have the last say, and that the resurrection hope conquers all fears. Alleluia, alleluia!