Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Second Sunday of Easter

This Sunday is always the conclusion of the Octave of Easter, the Day of Resurrection itself and the seven days following. The Gospel is always the encounter of Jesus and Thomas (our Patron!) in the locked room. It's a great story and always full of meaning. Here is my offering for this day:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
The Second Sunday of Easter 2008 (BCP)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Ps 118:19-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20-19-31
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable to you, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.

It’s rare that the passage of time in the Gospel matches the passage of time in real life. It happens in Holy Week, of course. We enter in to the Triduum, the Three Days beginning Thursday night through Sunday, in much the same time sequence as how the passion narratives relate them. Notably, all four Gospels observe in almost exactly the same language, that very early on the first day of the week, various individuals discovered that the tomb was opened and that Jesus was not there. There are a few other days this happens, including the Ascension, forty days after Easter, which is May 1 this year, and Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, May 11. And finally, today as well. John recounts that a week after Easter, or today, Jesus appeared a second time to the disciples behind closed doors. The first time, Thomas, our beloved patron, was not there, but he was the second time. And that, for better or for worse, is where poor Thomas gets the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”

I don’t know about you, but I guess I have a problem with that nickname. Thomas wasn’t there the first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples. So when they said to him, “yeah, we were all there behind locked doors so the authorities wouldn’t find us, and all of a sudden Jesus was there too!” I can see Thomas saying, “Uh, right. What spices did you use in that lamb you had that night? How much wine did you drink?” To be fair to Thomas, the disciples didn’t believe Mary Magdalene either when she told them that she had seen the Lord. And we don’t call them the Doubting Disciples. So I think Thomas got a bit of a bad rap.

And you know what? I think John may have thought so too. When Thomas is present a week later, same as today, Jesus appears again and immediately invites Thomas to do what he had said he needed to do. He showed Thomas his hands and his side, the wounds of the Crucifixion, and asked Thomas to inspect them. And then Thomas says, “My Lord and My God!”

That’s truly an amazing thing for John to have Thomas say. In one brief sentence Thomas, the so-called doubter, utters the climactic confession of who Jesus is, in the entire Fourth Gospel. He definitively proclaims Jesus as not only Lord but also as God himself. No other human being in this Gospel gets that singular honor in quite the same way. So it seems to me that Thomas should be called The Confessor rather than The Doubter.

But there’s more to this story, as if that weren’t enough. We hear this very passage every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. There’s a very good reason for that. We Christians make the shocking claim that the man Jesus is, as Thomas described him, both Lord and God. It was just as difficult to accept back then as perhaps it is now. Because we really do mean that. We really do confess that there was a human being who was both human and divine, that that no one else was ever like him, and that because of him, our separation from God who creates all things is ended. One of the reasons we have this story on this day every year is because it asks us to stop and think. Do we really believe what we’ve been saying? Is this really who we believe this Jesus to be? Are we sure?

It’s easy to get swept up in the emotion and grandeur of first Holy Week and then the Great Vigil and Easter Sunday itself. Our liturgies are designed in part to do exactly that. But that was last week. We’ve had a week to calm down and think things through, to go back perhaps and examine those passages of scripture, those hymns. What do we mean but all of that? Do we believe? And in what?

In John’s gospel, “belief” is more like trust and not so much like intellectual assent. So for Jesus to say, “do not doubt, but believe” is more like saying, “It’s OK - trust in what you see.” Jesus was telling Thomas that no, his eyes were no deceiving him and that yes, it really was Jesus standing there. And Jesus says the same thing to us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” In other words, so what if you haven’t seen exactly what Thomas and the other Eleven saw in the locked room nearly two thousand years ago. That’s OK. What do you see and hear and taste and smell and feel, right now? Those sensations are real and you are blessed when you trust in them.

And what do you see and hear and taste and smell and feel? I’ll tell what I sense when I open my eyes and ears and heart. I see a community of Christians gathered in honor of this very apostle. I see a community that reaches out to those less fortunate, especially in the Interfaith Hospitality Network and the other feeding ministries we support. I hear a community when it says it’s important to not only worship, but to serve. The Hiker Hostel is a wonderful and unique ministry that we will want and need to continue and strengthen. Along with you, I hear the Word and taste and smell the Body and Blood of our Risen Lord every Sunday at this Altar around which we gather. And I feel my heart opening with the warmth and love that you have for each other. And because of all that, I trust in what I observe about this place and this community. I join with our blessed patron in saying “My Lord and My God” because I can see and hear and taste and touch the Lord all around me.

My friends, I think Jesus was very clear that it’s OK to doubt, to question, to not be exactly sure. Jesus doesn’t ask us to sign on a dotted line and affirm a long list of theological propositions about himself. And neither does the Epsicopal Church. When we, in just a few minutes, recite that ancient statement of faith, the Nice Creed, we start with the same words that Jesus uses: “We believe.” In other words, we trust. We trust in the reality of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we trust in what we sense in this community when our hearts open to the reality of Jesus in and among us here at St. Thomas’s. The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. Certainty doesn’t need trust to get along. Faith does. When we become so certain in the ideas and statements we assent to, that we don’t actually need the reality of Jesus anymore, then we have actually ceased believing altogether.

So this week, I invite you to join with Thomas our patron and use all your senses to seek the Lord. Schedule a few minutes each day to spend some time with yourself. It could be, like Thomas, behind a literal closed door. Or it could just be a time for yourself when other distractions are lessened. It doesn’t have to be a long time. Maybe while you’re shaving or going to work or on the bus to school or doing chores. How do you see Christ now in your life? How do you hear him and feel him and touch him? Are there ways you seem you don’t sense Jesus that you find you need? Areas in other words, which you doubt, where you find it difficult to trust in what you are actually sensing? It’s perfectly fine if there are. Thomas, after all, needed to touch Jesus in order to come to faith. Jesus met Thomas right where Thomas was and gave him just what he needed. As you examine your own faith this week, ask Jesus to help you where you need help. Do you need to see Jesus? Touch him? Hear him? Feel him? If you find these – perhaps I should say, when you find them, because we all have a bit of Thomas in each of us – don’t feel ashamed or dismayed. Jesus didn’t shame Thomas, after all. Individual faith, and the faith of the community, cannot grow, cannot strengthen, without understanding what things to work on, to invite Jesus to enter more fully into.

My friends, that’s the real faith that is the opposite of doubt. Not certainty. That’s merely false faith. But the faith that grows from questioning and wonder is true faith. That’s the faith that will enable each of us to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. Then our proclamation, along with St. Thomas our Patron, of “My Lord and My God” will be not only words, but real, something that people can see and touch and taste and feel in the world around us and around them. That’s the Good News, not only said with our words but lived out in our lives. Amen.

And for a worthy conclusion to these most holy days in the Christian year:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

No comments: