The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – April 12, 2015 – Easter 2, Year B: John 20:19-31
Happy Easter! Still!
We get to say that for fifty days as we celebrate resurrection right up through the day of Pentecost. And actually every Sunday all year is a celebration of resurrection, that’s what we are about in this place all the time. But during the actual season of Easter that we hear the resurrection stories, we sing the “Alleluia” hymns, we decorate to proclaim that “He is Risen!” and we pray the prayers that remind us what it means to be a resurrection people.
Now on the second Sunday of Easter we always hear the story of Thomas, “The Twin.” Note that he’s not referred to as “the doubter” in the gospel although that’s how tradition has come to speak of him. Thomas was the one who needed more than the disciples testimony in order to believe and so he’s gotten a bit of a tough rap through the ages. Even after all the other disciples had come to believe, Thomas was clear with them that he needed to see for himself: “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,” Thomas told them.
And so Jesus came back to the room where the disciples met again. And that in itself was a beautiful thing, a gift of sorts. Jesus came back again and without hesitation, gave Thomas what he needed. The famous artwork by Caravaggio depicts that moment with Thomas actually placing his hand in the side of the wounded yet risen Christ. It’s a powerful piece that communicates both the humanity and the grace of the encounter as Jesus actually guides Thomas’ hand to the wound in his side. There was touch and there was forgiveness; there was reconciliation and there was recognition of a miracle all wound up in Jesus’ granting Thomas and the others a profound, resurrection-like peace.
And so here we are today and one of the things I always do on this Sunday is remind us that there is room in this place for doubt, for questions, for the kind of wrestling that Episcopalians believe strengthens faith rather than threatens it. I have told you before that I consider Thomas one of the patron saints of the Episcopal Church because I know that many of us found our way here, or stayed here in this denomination because there’s room for us to question and to continue searching even as we proclaim a budding or a changing, evolving faith.
Life brings new questions to us all. And our needs change in terms of what sustains belief in us. And so we make room for the kind of growth that comes from doubts and that springs from honest questions of faith. As a general practice, we invite the Thomas’ in to be here among us; we even call out our inner Thomas’ and ask them to be at home here. And it’s important that we make that known to all who come.
I want to take this one more step this morning, because making room for Thomas is an important piece this story but this isn’t only a story about an individual’s journey in faith. This isn’t only about Jesus accommodating Thomas. I think that Thomas is also giving a gift to the Body.
Here’s what I mean:
Thomas actually calls the Body of Christ to a certain level of accountability in this story and in our story too. He demands that there be some evidence behind what we say, and what we preach, and who it is that we say we are. I think Thomas very faithfully raises the bar for how we come to express being the Body of Christ, for how we are church for one another and for this world. He raises the bar because he wants resurrection to be more than testimony. He wants it to be an experience.
Remember that Thomas came to Jesus having seen all that went before this moment. He’s often quoted as the one who needed to see more, but sometimes I think Thomas’ challenge was that he’d seen too much. For several years at this point in the story, Thomas had witnessed all the people who needed healing; they’d come to Jesus in droves. He’d seen all the people who were hungry gathering in crowds around Jesus asking for bread. He’d walked with Jesus throughout the entire region and so Thomas had seen the brokenness in this world. And in this gospel, Thomas was actually the only disciple who had said that he would follow Jesus all the way to the cross. So he’d watched the arrest, the trial, and witnessed the crucifixion too.
And so when it came to resurrection Thomas’ bar was high because his experiences had been painful and they had been real. So words alone weren’t going to do it for Thomas.
And he makes me wonder if words alone ever should.
Part of what this story tells us is that as Body of Christ we have a responsibility to be more than our words. We have a responsibility to be an experience of all those things that we say we are about, a visible, tangible experience of forgiveness, reconciliation, love, healing and peace. That’s what the Thomas’ of the world need. That’s what the Thomas’ in us need.
The words matter a great deal, but only because they shape us. The words have genuine, transformative meaning when we embody them (which is in itself a theological, Christological statement). “The Word became flesh” is how this gospel began and it’s how we are to live, as Body of Christ. It’s the shape we take that matters most to the Thomas’ of this world.
Absolution takes hold when our sides are open enough to receive those who seek forgiveness. The passing of the peace means something even more when we reach out beyond our own walls and be that peace for others. “The gifs of God for the people of God” transforms all of us when all of God’s children are welcome and encouraged to receive that for which we hunger. And proclamations of “Alleluia!” truly change lives when lives that have been changed are willing to be that kind of new life for the world everyday.
There are so many people in this world who are hungry for an experience of resurrection. People who are tired of just words. Or people who are exhausted by the words and the actions of faith actually contradicting each other. Thomas set the bar high while demanding something of us that is gift to us all. While he’s growing in faith, Thomas’ needs grow the Body in our ability to offer that faith, to proclaim it and live it with integrity. The opening collect put it as a prayer: “May we show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.”
The good news of the gospel is that that as Body of Christ, with God’s help we’re up to the challenge. Not a perfect people by any means. We are a wounded people who, like Thomas, have seen a lot; but we are on the rise, we are always on the rise.
So place your hands, those who hunger, those who search, those who hurt. Place your hands, those who question, those who doubt, those who fear. Place your hands those who have seen too much or have yet to see whatever it is you need to believe.
Place your hands, all you people of God. And help us rise with you.