My thanks to Fr. Bret Hays, from whom I shamelessly stole much of this sermon, and my thanks to you all for your prayers as I recovered from whatever flu-like thing I came down with last week.
Well, here we are a week after the Resurrection, one of the happiest events in history, and sometimes, as my friend Fr. Bret Hays said, we can find the “stories about the risen Jesus (to) be difficult to approach. Some people have a hard time accepting the resurrection at all. Others find the Gospel stories to be too sketchy, strange, or disjointed, and just can’t connect. And reading the brief resurrection accounts after the lengthy passion narratives can feel off-putting or confusing; if the resurrection is so important, shouldn’t the evangelists have written more about it? But the thing I love about the resurrection stories, the way I connect with them, is the relationships. While the passion stories are all about a process: a brutal, public process, the resurrection stories focus on personal relationships; in them we see God’s power and grace connecting with people we can relate to.
“…Today’s Gospel begins in the evening of that day, with Jesus appearing to the disciples – except Thomas – and showing them his hands and his side. It’s easy to miss what happens next. Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is John’s version of Pentecost, the giving of divine vitality and authority to Jesus’s followers, whom we now call “the Church.” While Luke depicts the gift of the Holy Spirit in grand detail and a venue so public that it represents the whole world, John shows the Church starting quietly, in a room full of close friends.
“Just one problem: Thomas isn’t there. It’s easy to focus on his so-called doubt but the story is really more about Thomas’s full incorporation into the community of disciples we see the beginning of the Church’s identity as a community of relational faith. But his doubt makes Thomas relatable; for all of us have doubted people and things that were worthy of belief, and who among us wouldn’t have doubted if we were in Thomas’s place, lacking both evidence and experience? And when he demands evidence from his friends, evidence he thought couldn’t possibly exist, it comes off not so much as skepticism but as the bluster of a man who really, really wishes things were different. Even more relatable.
I do wish John or the other Evangelists had managed to write down more of what they were all feeling at these moments. Surely they were amazed and bewildered, as they did bother to write, but just as surely they must have been sad and angry and torn and elated. How did they deal with these things? How did they deal with poor Mary, who must have been a complete disaster? Mary sees her Son do wondrous things, get crucified for doing wondrous things, mourns His death like only a mother can, and then has to wrap her head and her heart around Him being alive, incredibly alive, again.
I’m not sure how exactly the disciples, the eleven and those around them, dealt with all these things. But one thing is certain: they dealt with it all together.
The story of Thomas, his missing of the first encounter with the risen Lord and his presence at the second, lets us in a little bit on how things played out. “When Thomas rejoins his old friends, though they are newly-empowered and encouraged, he (isn’t pushed out, but rather) receives the gift of faith from the risen Christ, meeting Jesus in his authentic, physical presence (in the midst of his friends. With them and for them Thomas blurts out) “My Lord and my God.”
“This is why Christians place such emphasis on relationships…Only relationships allow those who have not seen to believe. Both old and new relationships are essential to the Christian life and mission. Old relationships give us courage and renewal, while new ones are new opportunities to share the grace, peace, and joy of new life in Christ.
Our “Relationships are often fraught with difficulties…but Christ is no less present in the midst of our difficulties than he was on that first Low Sunday, and his invitation to honest encounter no less powerful. His presence put away the fear, doubt, and division of the disciples, and he does the same for us.” Why do we relate so well to people we hear about in the post-Resurrection stories? Because they’re just like us; and just like them, Jesus will do great and powerful things amongst us when we echo Thomas: Jesus, our Lord and our God.
***All quotes from Fr. Bret B. Hays, from his sermon given on Low Sunday 2015.