There are those moments wherein which someone says something so striking and so compelling that you have to sit with it for a while and let it wash over you. I had a moment like this about a month ago, when the clergy of the diocese had our first Zoom call with Bishop White in which he informed us of his intent for a pastoral directive to cancel in person worship until further notice. The moment came near the end of the hour-long call when Father Matt Bradley, former Rector of St. John’s, Murray and now Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville, named that our experience of this time of Easter in the midst of this pandemic will likely be the closest many of us will ever get to how that first Easter felt; that the fear, the apprehensive joy, and the confusion about the future are all things which those first disciples felt. It was one of those observations that I haven’t been able to put down as we finished our Lenten journey and walked the Way of the Cross, and it’s something that has especially stuck out to me this past week as I reflected on the story of Thomas’ faith in our gospel lesson today.
When I think about the reading that we just heard, I am reminded that we are the same proximity from Easter morning. About a week after, the disciples and Thomas were in the house, again, and Thomas is still struggling to believe. I think Thomas has gotten a bad rap being known as doubting Thomas, and I don’t think I’m saying that because I highly value the role that doubt plays in one’s faith journey, or that my own life experience has taught me that there is no faith stronger than a faith that asks good, hard questions. The second Sunday of Easter is always the Sunday when we hear the story of Thomas’ faith; for the disciples, the second Sunday of Easter is when the “now what?” questions come into full force. And I don’t know about you, but the way that this first week after Easter has unfolded in 2020 has left me feeling quite similar to the disciples—often in my house, afraid, and confused about what will happen next. For the disciples what happened next was that, although they were in a locked room, Jesus appeared to him and showed them his wounds; even when the disciples thought that they had built every hedge of protection that the world offered, Christ was still able to come and be present with them, and chose to show his wounds again so that Thomas might believe.
I’m not sure, but I wonder if the Christ was willing to do so, not just so that Thomas would believe, but as the writer of the fourth gospel tells us, so that we may believe as well. And I also wonder if Jesus came a second time because he knew that sometimes the good news is hard to believe, especially when you are scared. Jesus comes and shows Thomas what the other disciples already had the chance to see: that Christ’s wounds are real, that his pain and suffering, even after the resurrection are tangible. Maybe Christ did this because he knew that hope is often hard won, especially when one is swimming through grief and fear.
This exchange between Jesus and Thomas shows us that God is with us in both our doubts and in our faith, just as God was with Thomas. And maybe Christ came again for Thomas because he knows that believing is relational; to believe in something is not to check a box and once believed, always believed. No, rather, it is something that is fluid, that grows; belief is something that can survive literal death, and still be a foundation upon which we will allow ourselves to be changed by the hope of the resurrection.
One of the things that has been striking to me is how our faith is one that is so often full of paradoxes. In our life of faith we can hold dear to the joy and hope of the Easter season, even as we navigate the grief and fear which are so present in our lives at the moment. That we can be, as Saint Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Because for Christians joy is not the opposite of grief. Yes, technically joy is the antonym of grief, but the fact that the greatest joy was revealed in that one word to Mary Magdalene while she was deep her grief just last week can be tied back to the reality that our faith is full of paradoxes. We are tasked with going out and spreading the good news of God in Christ, even in the midst of a chaotic time.
I know that we are tasked to do so, because even as the disciples were huddled together in a locked room eight days after the resurrection, Christ comes and tells them to go out. In the midst of their grief, fear, and confusion, Jesus comes to them and helps them to believe and reminds them that the Holy Spirit has given them all that they need to minister to the people, even as they stand in the middle of the paradox. My sisters and brothers, there is little more to celebrate in the midst of this season than the unrelenting hope of the resurrection. A sort of hard-won hope that sticks in your heart and helps you to persevere when things fall apart. This is the what I mean when I say unrelenting hope of the resurrection.
And I know it’s unrelenting because I have been through difficult times, and yet that hope it still there. I have seen whole communities have everything torn away by a natural disaster, and yet that hope is still there. I have seen how you all have stepped up and responded to this current way of life, and I have seen that hope is still there. So, responding to the great commission as we are all worshipping in our individual homes might feel impossible; it might feel like we are unable to minister to our community in the way we often did. It might feel like it is impossible to share the Good News when we can’t even be physically close to each other; it might feel impossible, but I know that it’s not. I know that it’s not because our faith is one of paradoxes; it’s one that finds hope in the crucified and resurrected Messiah. Our faith is one that is changed by the unrelenting hope and joy of the resurrection; our lives are ones that will be changed by this great Easter joy that we so boldly proclaim in a time that doesn’t offer much joy.
One of the things that we miss when we do Morning Prayer during this season is Deacon Kellie boldly charging us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Alleluia! Alleluia!” What it looks like for you to go in peace to love and serve the Lord will look different during this time, but it’s no less our charge. We are no less tasked with standing in the paradoxes of our faith as we hold our grief and our joy, just like the disciples and Thomas. But we can do it; I know we can do it. Because our faith is strong, and our hope is hard-won, just like Thomas, the believer.
A sermon delivered via live-stream to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky for Easter 2A on April 19, 2020.