Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter, Sunday, April 3 2016, 10:30 am
Fr. Bruce Myers, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
The forty days of Lent already seem like a vague memory. The marathon of liturgies during Holy Week is over, crowned by the Three Great Days of the Triduum. Feet were washed, reproaches heard, a new fire kindled and paschal candle lit, water sprinkled, baptismal vows renewed, and Easter greetings exchanged: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
So now that’s all over and done with, it’s tempting to feel like we can all relax for a while now. The climax of the story having been reached on Easter Sunday, we can slide gently into a nice, long denouement—perhaps even until we start all over again next year, or at least until things start ramping up for Christmas. Today is traditionally called “Low Sunday,” after all. Can’t we all just lay low for a little while now? (I know that’s how a lot of clergy feel this time of year, not without cause.)
Lest we be tempted to close the book on Easter right after hearing the story of the empty grave, the church consecrates an entire season to Easter. We are just at the beginning of the Great Fifty Days during which we will hear more resurrection stories, witness the joys and struggles of the earliest church, and catch a glimpse of that city of light where God dwells with all God’s sons and daughters. We’ll gawk alongside the disciples at Jesus’ Ascension and at Pentecost hear the Holy Spirit arrive like the rush of a violent wind.
Every year, though, we spend this first Sunday after Easter in a locked-down house with Jesus’ disciples, who are probably feeling a mixture of grief, guilt, confusion, and fear.
They seem to have immediately forgotten—or perhaps more likely just dismissed—Mary Magdalene’s breathless, firsthand testimony that she had just seen the risen Lord with her own eyes. But then they themselves are confronted with the risen Christ, who penetrates their barriers, appears in their midst, speaks to them, breathes on them, bids them peace, commissions them.
Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus stopped by. And when presented with the testimony of Mary and now several others, he remains a sceptic: “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.”
We are all Thomas. We are conditioned—perhaps more than in any other time of human history—to insist on evidence, proof, data, before we’ll accept a claim. That’s often a good thing. In the internet age, when seemingly anyone can make a claim about anything and share it instantaneously with potentially hundreds of millions of people, the world could probably use a few more Thomases.
Yet Thomas’s scepticism is usually frowned upon. Being called a “Doubting Thomas” isn’t a compliment. About a year and a half ago the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, admitted during a public talk that he sometimes struggles with doubts about God. In response to a question about doubt he answered, “There are moments, sure, when you think, ‘Is there a God?’ ‘Where is God?’”
It became a media story of the kind only the British press are capable of creating, and the archbishop’s staff ended up having to do what amounted to damage control in the wake of his candid comments. But Archbishop Welby was simply giving voice to the reality that none of us believes without some measure of doubt. Pope Francis has said, “The great leaders of God’s people … always left room for doubt. We must always leave room for the Lord and not for our own certainties.”
It’s our doubts that make our faith possible: “[F]aith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I sure have my share of doubts as I prepare to move into a new ministry, but those doubts live alongside a sure and certain hope in God’s promises, in the resurrection and all it means. And so we live, each of us, in that faithful tension of being among the people who Jesus blesses as “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”—doubts and all.
Yet we’re still tactile creatures who long for proof. We want to see with our own eyes the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands, put our own fingers in his wounds, and say for ourselves in response, “My Lord and my God!”
If Jesus Christ is personified in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, we don’t have to go far at all to see him. All carry wounds—some we can see and touch and, more than that, try and heal.
If Jesus Christ’s image is in each of us, then we touch Christ in the flesh of our each other’s hands when we share the peace, receiving from one another the peace Christ offered his disciples.
If Jesus Christ is present in the bread and wine of the eucharist, then we receive him in the palms of our hands, and feed on him by faith with thanksgiving.
And so we can say with the disciples, “We have seen the Lord.”
These are all very tactile, physical things: nourishing, welcoming, clothing, visiting, embracing, eating, drinking. And all of these things we do not as really as individuals, but as the church—whether it’s offering food and drink to a hundred or more people in the parish hall before mass, exchanging the peace with another member of the church with whom you need to reconcile, or receiving the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist.
We do all these things as an embodied community of disciples of Jesus—as the church. We gather, like those first disciples, on the first day of the week, week after week, relatively few in number and with our share of doubts, and experience Christ in our midst, never imposing himself, but standing before us—in the stranger, in our neighbour, in the eucharist—offering himself to be received, inviting us to see and touch and believe.
And then we are sent: “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you.” The little band of flawed Christian disciples we hear about Peter leading in the book of Acts was the church: the ongoing sign of Christ’s resurrection in and for the world. “We are witnesses,” Peter declares.
And we are witnesses. This little band of flawed Christian disciples is the ongoing sign of Christ’s resurrection in and for the world he loves, possibly with our own weird mix of feelings of grief, guilt, confusion, and fear. And we are being sent into the world to love and serve the Lord, on the first day of the week, week after week—doubts and all.
So go in the peace of Christ, knowing that wherever we go (whether to Toronto or Quebec or wherever the Spirit leads us) Jesus sends us with nothing less than those first disciples had, to be the embodiment of resurrection everywhere we go.