Sermon – Easter 2
The Rev’d Lynda Hurt
April 11, 2021
I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Good morning! And welcome to the 2nd week of Easter…Christ is risen. We are in the preeminent season of hope and renewal and the high point of our liturgical year…we’ve unearthed our Alleluia’s and proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with pure, unbridled Easter joy…a welcome kind of joy after the desert time we spent in Lent not to mention the kind of year we’ve all experienced. This entire year has sometimes felt like Lent that has lasted 365 days, yet as Christians, we are an Easter people, and we live in the hope that loss leads to something new. So, I will say it again, Christ has Risen, indeed.
I am a little ashamed to admit that growing up as an on and off church goer, I was not familiar with the period of Eastertide…the forty days before the Ascension. In my mind, Jesus rose from the dead and went straight to heaven. I was raised in a Protestant church, and not to disparage them, am not real sure I ever heard the word Ascension, or if I did, it didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me…not until I became an Anglo-Catholic and learned about the importance of the forty days after Easter. The post-resurrection stories of the Risen Christ walking among the people were arbitrary to me…like separate little unconnected vignettes. When I recited the Apostles’ Creed and said Christ died, was buried, rose three days later and ascended into heaven, I assumed this was a pretty quick process…it was one day and that was it. But that is not how it happened. Although details of the time are far less well-known, we do know that Jesus spent forty days (fifty if you’re Orthodox) walking and talking in places where he had ministered before, performing miracles, and healing many, and on the whole demonstrating to His followers that He truly was alive. This post communion time was not for Jesus simply to celebrate the resurrection, but he had work to do…work to restore his disciple’s faith through the evidence of the resurrection and to “bring peace to counter the turbulence of his death” He had a clear mission of preparing his disciples to continue the work that he started.
In our Gospel reading today, we learn about two of these appearances, both in the presence of Jesus’ disciples in a locked room, and each occurring on two separate occasions about a week apart. The Apostle Thomas was not present for this first encounter between Jesus and the disciples. So, when they go to Thomas to tell him that Jesus is living and walking among them, he doesn’t believe them and then audaciously demands proof…he is quoted as saying "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." That does not sound like an unreasonable request. People did not just rise from the dead. Jesus’ death was a shock, not just to Thomas’ but to all of the people he appeared to. But this moment of skepticism earned Thomas the moniker “Doubting Thomas,” which evolved into a term for anyone who needs proof before they believe something. As a young Christian, I was taught explicitly that being a Doubting Thomas was wrong. He was deemed a scoffer and someone with weak faith. And when the passage is read out of context, it might seem that way, but throughout his time spent with Jesus, we know that he was a devoted and loving follower of Jesus who wasn’t going to settle for someone else’s experience of the resurrection. We all come to believe in our own way, and blind faith is not always how we get there. Thomas was grieving…his Master had died and his hopes of a Messiah had been shattered. How many of us in our sadness and despair give in to doubt? We are human and just like Thomas and the disciples, we don’t understand when where God is in our sorrow. Unlike Thomas, we have the benefit of eyewitness stories that have been given to us in Scripture. Centuries of illumination of our sacred texts have helped modern-day Christians to live out the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection time and again…so none of this is news to us. We are much more prepared to accept the reality of the Risen Christ than were the early followers. But, as we contemplate this passage, we may hear that Jesus’ is rebuking Thomas for his doubt, and we, for centuries have been fixated on that fact. What we miss is the Good News… Thomas asked for proof and Jesus lovingly and graciously offered him what he needed to believe. We need to lean into the reality that Jesus opens a way for all of us to believe.
Although countless sermons have been written about this Gospel lesson admonishing doubt, the greater message is a message of assurance that doubt is realistic in matters of faith and perfectly human. Doubt can bring us to wholeness. When the label of doubter is used as an insult, we are implying that it is incompatible with faith, when in fact is simply signifies uncertainty, perplexity and irresolution.  This is an accurate description of what Thomas was feeling.. I’m actually skeptical of people that are resolute in their beliefs in an uncompromising way. I think we would all do well to believe in the transformative power and depth that doubt, and critical thinking brings to our faith life. So, in defense of Thomas who may have been unfairly portrayed, I would like to re-dub him Determined Thomas, or Discerning Thomas (you might have your own names). But, even if the Doubting Thomas label sticks, which it will…it needs to be understood that God holds space for our questions and doubt that will lead us to a stronger faith.
Perhaps the bigger story in our Gospel reading today is not about Thomas the Doubter, but a phrase he uses that compresses the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in five short words…”my Lord and my God”. We are not explicitly told that Thomas touched Jesus’ wounds, but there was a something…a metaphysical change in what Thomas experienced in that moment when he uttered those word…My Lord and my God…It is considered the highest confession of Messianic faith in the entirety of the Gospel. Thomas recognized the Risen Christ as God and began to understand the broader meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the Christian church, we have come to define these moments as a visible form of invisible grace…a sign of a sacred thing.  This was a sacramental moment for Thomas and his stunning declaration of faith is inextricably tied to the sacramental rites of our own Baptismal and Eucharistic experiences. In Baptism, we become participants in Jesus Christ’s life and his redemptive ministry.
We experience both the death and resurrection of Christ, taking part in the whole story of God’s people. As baptized Christians, when we partake in the Eucharist and eat the bread and drink the wine, we encounter the Real Presence of Jesus Christ and are inwardly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit that unchains us from doubt and empowers us to be Christ in the world.
In a few minutes, we are blessed to be baptizing baby Lorelei. Now, she may not remember this occasion, and won’t understand the promises that her parents are making on her behalf. But the communal nature of Baptism gives us all not only the privilege, but the responsibility of participating in the faith development of this child. I encourage you to immerse yourself in words of the baptismal liturgy this morning…let them be a reminder of your renunciation of evil and your promise to live a life modeled after Jesus. Lift Lorelei in your prayers and welcome her as our new sister in Christ. And many you come to the fullest realization of what these words mean to you in your life of faith in the Resurrected Jesus. Amen and Alleluia.
 (O'Day 2015)
 (O'Day 2015)
 St. Augustine
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!