Apr20MonEaster 2, April 19 2020 sermon April 20, 2020
We all know the story of Doubting Thomas.
Thomas, the other black sheep among Jesus’ disciples.
The one who needed to touch Jesus in order to believe.
Doubting Thomas’ experience is like our own at times when we need rational, logical proof before we will trust some new idea.
Yet, the story of Thomas is not about proofs and logic.
It is about a journey of faith that results in a stronger belief,
A belief and a claim, that Jesus is Lord.
A journey of faith that occurs in community.
An existence-changing path that we can identify with.
And this journey begins with Thomas’ disappointing discovery.
Thomas discovered that he wasn’t there in the room.
When Jesus appeared, Thomas was absent.
All the ten other disciples were in the room to see the risen Saviour.
But not Thomas.
Where was he?
I’ve often wondered about that.
Unfortunately, the text does not tell us.
Perhaps he was getting food for the others.
Or maybe he was so depressed he couldn’t leave his house,
Or maybe he was caring for his sick child.
Whatever the reason, he missed out.
And he’s probably quite annoyed.
Perhaps frustrated at himself or his friends,
or angry at Jesus for this missed opportunity;
this chance of a lifetime.
Thomas had heard from Mary Magdalene about her encounter with the Risen One outside the tomb.
He is caught up in the air of expectation among Jesus’ followers.
He is excited, incredulous, gossiping,
“Have you heard the news?”
“It’s hard to believe what Mary has claimed!”
Like Thomas, even we long to see Jesus.
Perhaps our friends have told us stories of some great spiritual epiphany. Stories of times when they felt God was very near,
or they experienced Christ’s love and help: from a friend or stranger.
And we have longed as well to experience the mystery,
the mystical presence of Christ in our lives,
perhaps even more so in this time of pandemic.
And we are disappointed that we haven’t seen or experienced what others have, because we aren’t there when it all happens.
Just like Thomas who misses out.
His friends see the risen Jesus and Thomas isn’t there.
And then, Thomas tells his friends that he has trouble believing them.
Their story is too incredible.
He cannot believe what they have told him.
He declares that unless he is able to touch Jesus,
he will not believe.
He needs to feel the body,
the physical body of the Risen One,
to assure himself that Jesus is no mere Spirit, no wandering Ghost. Thomas must touch the resurrected flesh of Jesus to experience it all for himself.
Much like Thomas, we struggle in our faith.
We struggle to believe all we read and hear about the Easter stories,
the encounters of the risen Jesus with Disciples in Emmaus,
in Jerusalem, by the Sea of Galilee.
“How can it be?” we ask. “What is the resurrected Jesus like?” we ponder. We fight against those voices that assert that it’s all a sham:
“no one can rise from the dead” “It’s ridiculous.” The critics scoff.
The life of faith is hard, and it’s normal to have doubts.
It’s normal to struggle.
This Easter Season, is perhaps the most difficult Easter we have collectively or individually ever experienced.
The anxiety and worry about our own potential infection with COVID-19 ,
or that of loved ones, is paralyzing.
The loss of employment,
the chaos of children at home from school,
struggling with a new online learning curriculum,
The disruption of schedules,
The enforced productivity despite working from home,
The decrease in mental health,
As well as the extreme stress levels for those in essential services,
esp. nursing homes, and hospitals.
Our faith may be damaged, or dormant,
or maybe it just doesn’t pass the stress test and give us any comfort or calmness or relief.
The doubts creep in, the fear is real, and there seems no end in sight.
Furthermore, we cannot gather with our loved ones as we would like,
we are cut off from physical touch and hugs and dinner parties,
we are alone in taking care of ourselves and it’s making us tired,
so very tired.
Our friends are struggling by themselves,
and they have hardly any time to help us out— on our rough days.
It’s a rotten situation, that’s for sure.
Who do we turn to?
Where can we find the ground to anchor ourselves?
A week later, Jesus appears.
Jesus appears again, to all the disciples.
And Thomas is there to see Him.
It is the next Sunday, the first day of the Week,
the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection, when Jesus appears.
And the Disciples are gathered on a Sunday in a room, to pray, to sing,
to tell stories about the Lord and to hear recent exciting news.
And to await Jesus’ coming.
Much like how we gather on a Sunday,
in normal times in a church building,
or in abnormal times like these, around the radio broadcast.
We pray, we sing, we tell stories, meet up with friends,
and we read Scripture.
We also await
Christ’s presence among us, in Word and Sacrament,
in the reading and preaching of God’s Word, and in the Common Meal.
And we proclaim together that “it is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to God”.
We as a mass of believers and doubters, we, a believing and doubting family gather.
Jesus is here, and all the gathered are here,
and Thomas is here with Jesus.
And Jesus in turn tells Thomas:
“Touch me. Touch my side. Do not doubt, but believe.”
Jesus helps Thomas believe.
Many of us have been invited in the same way as Thomas.
Maybe we were the outsider coming into a new neighborhood,
or a new congregation.
We felt lost and didn’t know if we belonged.
And hopefully someone invited us in, asked us to “come and see”,
to “touch and believe”, and we have recognized Christ in that person.
Christ’s invitation extended through one another, through community to us, and we were struck by God’s grace accepting us, without condition.
And Thomas wishes to believe, to know that his Redeemer lives.
And Jesus does not ignore him or shun him.
He does not rebuke him or chastise him.
He invites the unbeliever to believe,
Jesus invites the doubter to have faith.
It is precisely the black sheep to whom Jesus stretches out.
Welcoming the outsider, the one who had previously missed out.
We hear Christ’s voice extending acceptance to us,
despite our doubts, our failings and shortcomings.
We hear Christ asking us to think and to ponder and to grow in our faith.
To disagree and to contemplate the mysteries of faith,
and particularly the mystery of Christ’s resurrection. [.]
Jesus invites us, just like he invites Thomas.
Paradoxically, it is the Doubting disciple who gets the most attention.
It is the hurting, isolated disciple with whom Jesus spends the most time.
Jesus meets Thomas where he is on his faith journey, accompanies him, and asks him to touch him.
To touch his side, and to believe.
To Doubt no longer.
To receive his peace.
And Thomas responds: “Jesus, you are my Lord and my God”.
He confesses Jesus as Lord.
Thomas, the Doubter confesses and believes in the Risen Lord.
The cross, and the marks of the crucifixion for Thomas
spark something within.
Seeing and touching the effects of the cross,
Thomas is changed for good.
His existence is radically altered.
The encounter with the risen Christ, who bears the marks of suffering, changes Thomas’ life.
Seeing that the Risen Lord is the One who suffered as a human on the cross, Thomas is rocked by the transformative, mysterious, dizzying power of the resurrection, and falls to his knees and exclaims,
“My Lord and my God”.
Yet, Thomas’ claim is Thomas’s claim.
We may well say: “well he got to touch and see Jesus. What about me?” How am I ever to really believe in Jesus’ resurrection?
It’s all so long ago, so far away.”
How can we not see and yet believe?
It seems impossible.
In Community, we doubt like Thomas,
but we also confess like Thomas,
in the company of friends we have our misgivings and our questions,
But we also exclaim that Jesus is Lord and God.
We do this when we gather in the name of the Holy Trinity.
When we gather around the Table.
When we gather virtually, by the hundreds, at the Golden Hour.
Being in community strengthens us and helps us to receive
As friends we accept the invitation of the crucified and Risen One.
And we stand with Thomas, who proclaims Jesus as Lord.
“Jesus, my Lord and my God”, announces Thomas the Believer and Confessor.
Thomas’ journey of faith from skeptic to believer parallels our own journey. In community when we gather, whether in person or virtually, we also doubt, but we get the strength to confess our crucified and risen Saviour as Lord and God.
What a great mystery.
Jesus is Lord and God, we proclaim.
Jesus is Lord.