Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

We can all agree that last week was a little weird, right? I’m not saying that it was bad; no, I thought that it was wonderful. But as a whole, something felt off. 

Rather than wearing a specially planned suit and tie, I instead rolled up to the church in a leather jacket, jeans, sunglasses, and a black bandana around my face, looking like a villain from The Walking Dead. Rather than walking into the church to find Lefty and the choir already getting everything ready for our biggest Sunday of the year, I was the first one in the building. When I walked in the sanctuary, I did not see or smell one single lily. And while we had over 500 people in the church last year, this year there were only four of us. 

And it’s quite possible that you joined the Easter service still in your pajamas, unshowered and with a severe case of bedhead. For some, it very well could have been the first Easter in decades that wasn’t spent at church, the first Easter where you didn’t have lunch with family or hunt for eggs in a backyard somewhere.  

I think Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church said it best in his sermon last Sunday: 

It’s Easter Sunday. It doesn’t look like it. It doesn’t smell like it. It doesn’t really feel like it. But it’s Easter anyway. [1] 

And Easter felt weird. 

Today we gather again to continue our celebration of this Easter season, and it all feels so strange again. In our words and music we are still proclaiming the resurrection, but it is admittedly harder to see it in the face of everything that is happening around us. An Easter “Alleluia!” is a bit harder to sing out when we’re faced with a world that still seems to be stuck on Good Friday. 

In a time when we are in such need of resurrection—or at least in a time when I am in such need of resurrection—it seems that it is hard to find. 

As is always the case for the Sunday after Easter, our reading this morning takes us to the story of Thomas. I must admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for him. If you remember the ending of last week’s reading, Mary Magdalene comes face to face with the risen Christ, and she goes to share the good news with the rest of the disciples. They don’t seem to believe her, however, because they are cowering in a locked house in fear in the very next verse. It’s not until Jesus physically appears to them, showing them his hands and his side and offering peace, that they rejoice and believe. 

Thomas, however, has missed it, and we are not given any clues as to where he might have been. He gets back later that day to find the other disciples in a frenzy, saying that they have seen Jesus alive. Of course, to anyone who had not been in the room, this sounds absurd and impossible. And so he sarcastically says that he has to put his finger in Jesus’ hands and his hand in his side to believe any differently. Because that’s not how life works. 

Yet there’s something about this story that has always stood out for me. In our Bibles, it happens between verses 25 and 26, something that has to be read between the lines. Thomas does not believe his friends who are declaring that something miraculous has happened, but he still stays with them—a whole week, in fact. In the midst of mocking his friends for their story, he still waits with them, even if he doesn’t quite know what they’re waiting for.

There’s a cynical part of me that says that he wants to prove the other disciples wrong, but that ultimately rings hollow. 

Let’s go back to John 11, to the story of Lazarus. Jesus had just fled Judea to escape death at the hands of the people there, but now he tells his disciples that they are already going back. The disciples try to reason with him, telling him that it is far safer to remain where they are, but Jesus is adamant. And it is Thomas who urges the other disciples to go with him to raise Lazarus, saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [2] Even if it meant death, Thomas was ready to follow Jesus.

Let’s then jump to John 14, at the scene of the Last Supper, when Jesus is metaphorically talking about his father’s house that he is preparing. He then says: “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” And while they were all confused, it is Thomas who speaks us: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [3]

Throughout the Gospel of John, Thomas is one of the disciples who shows faith in a way that the others do not; it is Thomas who seeks to follow regardless of the cost. And what I find happening in between those verses of our passage this morning is the reemergence of that faith. He knows that the resurrection couldn’t have happened; it goes against everything that he believes and what he knows about the world. Yet he finds something that goes much deeper than belief or unbelief, than confidence or absolute doubt: he re-finds his faith in the one that had brought him thus far. He lets himself be moved by that sliver of faith; compelled by that spark of hope. 

It’s the work of simply showing up. Just like Mary showed up to the tomb with her burial spices, he shows up to where his friends are. It’s nothing drastic; all he’s doing is staying with his friends for a few days. But it seems that it’s just enough, because after seven long days of waiting and wondering why in the world he agreed to stay, Jesus comes to him. He offers himself, so that Thomas can see the marks of the nails, can place his hands in his side. But Thomas doesn’t really need that. He comes face to face with what he was convinced was the most absurd thing to happen; his notions of what is real and what is possible crumble, and all that he is left with is the presence of the risen Christ. He in this moment manages to answer, “My Lord and my God!” 

There are times when Easter comes easy, and the idea of resurrection and joy is easy to find. There are times like now, however, when it can be hard to believe in Easter in this Good Friday world. 

This Easter season feels like in the space between those verses; we find ourselves in that long week between first hearing the news of the resurrection and encountering it for ourselves. It feels weird, and it’s going to feel weird for a while. And yet there’s always the opportunity to act like Mary and Thomas and to just show up. Not physically, of course—please stay home. But even as we hear songs that right now may seem out of touch with reality and as we watch another worship service from our couches, before us is the opportunity to show up and open ourselves to the wonder of grace and love, to the possibility of resurrection happening even in the smallest moments.

Because the good news is that Jesus is risen, whether or not we feel like celebrating it. Resurrection is happening now, even if we don’t initially see it. We wake up each morning to an empty tomb, even if our church seemed just as empty. In the midst of this pandemic, of social distancing and quarantine, it is still Easter. 

Let us hold on to the faith that, sooner or later, the Risen Christ will meet us. It make take a while for us to notice him; these sings of resurrection may seem insignificant at first. 

But Jesus comes to us, breaking through our locked doors to offer us his peace. And that will make all of the difference. 

Thanks be to God.

[1] Bishop Michael Curry’s Easter Sermon, delivered on April 12, 2020 at the National Cathedral.
[2] John 11:16
[3] John 14:3-5