Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31
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We gather this morning in the afterglow of last Sunday’s magnificent Easter celebration.  This Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, we read the passage that we’ve read on every single other Second Sunday of Easter, the story of Thomas — Doubting Thomas, as he has affectionately been called in the Church.

I cannot speak for everyone in this room, but I get the sense that we all have a little bit of Thomas in our spirits in one way or another.  I’d wager to believe that there is a little bit of that unbelief in each believer, that seed that is always asking critical questions and refusing easy answers.  This was, after all, a man who was at one point “all in’ for Jesus, willing to go with him even to death.[1] He followed Jesus on his way to Jerusalem as the people laid palm branches on the road, shouting “Hosanna!” as he made his way into the city.  He was there in the Upper Room for the Last Supper, hearing the words “This is my body, broken for you…this is my blood, shed for you.”  But there came for him a crisis of faith, much like there comes a crisis of faith for each of us.  There came a point in which he saw his hopes and dreams nailed to a tree, dying a humiliating and painful death.

Perhaps our crises are not that extreme, but we all have those moments in which we are forced to grapple with the paradox of our faith and the reality around us.  I was in high school when I had my crisis, when the doubts and questions that I had pushed aside for so long came raging to the forefront of my spirit.  I spent countless nights in bed, staring at the ceiling and praying for some kind of spiritual breakthrough.  When that didn’t seem to work, I tried to rationalize everything that I believed about God, and that led to long conversations with friends about what I believed about the Bible, about theology, and about faith itself.

While that provided a small degree of solace, I still felt that something just wasn’t right.  I ended up in college studying those same questions that I had in high school, this time reading what theologians and those who had come before me in faith had to say about them.  I grappled with theological treatises and existential questions, with biblical interpretations and church history.  Not fully settled with what I learned in college, I moved on to Seminary, where I was faced with even more challenging questions and fewer answers.

And within all of those years of questions, I have to admit that there were times that I felt like Thomas, as though I was seeing my faith crucified, dead, and buried.  Any progress that I made was quickly followed with more doubt, doubt that targeted the shaky parts of my beliefs.

We’ve been there, haven’t we?  If not in a classroom, we’ve experienced it in real life.  Those moments when those who we have looked up to as exemplars of faith fail us in some way; when we see the church that we have loved for so long exposed to be toxic, hateful, and manipulative.  Those moments when the beliefs that we held dear for so long begin to crumble, when it seems that our faith is one of infinite questions and few helpful answers.  It’s hearing of yet another black man killed in Crown Heights, of the chemical attack in Douma, Syria, of our own pains and griefs and losses — I need not go on.  We know those moments far too well; when hope seems ludicrous and despair far more realistic and reasonable; when death seems closer than our breath and resurrection out of sight.

As much as I want it to be otherwise, I have to admit that I’m often not Mary Magdalene in our story from last week, encountering the risen Christ and heralding the good news.  Instead, I’m Thomas, cowering behind locked doors and needing some tangible proof for hope.  Thanks be to God, however, that Thomas is not the main character of our story — Jesus is.  The Easter story does not focus on who Thomas or any of the disciples are; this Easter story focuses on who Jesus is.

What we find in our scripture today is the culmination of what John began in the beginning of this Gospel: the Word of Life has come to us, taking on flesh to dwell in our midst, to live beside us, around us, and within us.  It is Christ coming to us, wherever we are.

Regardless of the barriers that we may put up or how well hidden we think we are, Christ finds us.

And as the Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, the president of Union Seminary, puts it, It is not that Thomas’s doubt drives him to demand answers from Jesus.  It is Jesus who is determined to reach this stalwart skeptic, whom no one else seems able to convince.  It is Jesus who refuses to let dead bolts or chains block the movement of love toward the one who lacks faith.  So too is it with us.  When doubt crowds out hope, we can be confident that Jesus will come to meet us where we are, even if it is out on the far edge of faith that has forgotten how to believe.[2]

 Faith does not come to us because we seek it with all of our intellectual capabilities.  I can promise you that my faith was not saved from my years of study, from debates, or from reading thousands of pages of theology.  No, faith is birthed in us because Christ comes seeking us, breaking through our locked doors, offering love and grace when we’re not even sure that we believe in love or grace.[3] Be it on the far reaches of faith or in the depths of Hell, behind locked doors or buried in the grace, there is no place that God will not go to reach us, offering us our own chance at resurrection.

The Thomas in me wants to say that this isn’t tangible.  This is a story from 2,000 years ago, and we do not have Jesus Christ standing in front of us, showing us his hands, his feet, and his side.  But friends, we are the body of Christ.  The body that has been pierced and crucified, shot and lynched.  The body that has gone through Hell and back again.  The body sent by God as a harbinger of peace.

Let us reach out, then, to those around us.  Look into our own wounds, both those that we have suffered and those that we have afflicted.  Hear the stories of where we have been.  Feel the pain and anguish that we have endured.  See how it is that we are still standing, even in the face of death.  And may we know that it is in these tangible realities that faith can be brought back to life; that we may learn to believe again.

And may we never forget that Christ has been there all along, refusing to let our best efforts stop the courageous hope of resurrection.

Amen.

[1] John 11:16
[2] Serene Jones, “John 20:19-31” in Feasting on the Word, ed. David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor
[3] Ibid.