Acts 2:14a, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Every year, if one follows the Revised Common Lectionary, Thomas gets the spotlight on the second Sunday of Easter.
I refrain from labeling him “doubting,” as that seems unfair given where Thomas ultimately ends up in this story. He declares with no caveat, “My Lord and my God!” Anyone of us should be so faithful in our unequivocal proclamation about Jesus. Besides, much happens in this resurrection narrative before Thomas enters the scene. The Risen Christ walks through a locked door – that ought to be noteworthy. He displays his still-fresh wounds. He gives the fearful disciples his peace, that promised peace that passes understanding. Further, he breathes on them, bestowing upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit, that power and accompaniment for which they were to wait. Not to mention he sends them out, no less than God the Father sent Jesus – surely this is worthy of remembering this week. And let’s not forget our risen Lord’s admonishment about forgiveness. He tells his followers that they have the power to forgive sins, or not. This is no small task and responsibility.
Nonetheless, often we fixate on Thomas, his unwillingness to go along to get along, to take his friends’ word for all these miraculous happenings, for his desire to see and hear and experience his living Lord for himself. Given that Thomas, like the others, went through the trauma of Jesus’ Passion, can we blame him for his skepticism?
While this resurrection account of Jesus and the ten and then Jesus with the eleven, comes around every year, this year I hear it differently. In the middle of a pandemic and all the upheaval this public health crisis has wrought this story of people afraid and sequestered resonates loudly. When we, out of a need to protect ourselves and others, must isolate and separate, Jesus finding a way to breach our enforced barriers, enter into our anxiety-ridden spaces, come to us in all the internal and external chaos, and bring his peace resonates loudly. Wrestling with very present questions of pain and suffering, death and finitude, and then declaring faith in Jesus, the Messiah, proclaiming the promise and power of resurrection, does not come without a tangible, personal experience of our Risen Lord.
This year, this story of hope in the face of fear, peace in the middle of chaos and belief in resurrection despite deadly circumstances resonates loudly and Thomas becomes more relatable than ever.
We, too, need to see and believe, touch and feel, hear and know that Jesus, while still wounded, lives and breathes. Our fear is utterly understandable. The death toll of this virus mounts. The extent of the economic fallout is yet to be determined, but we know it is, and will continue to be, huge. The grief of dashed dreams, hopes and expectations reverberates throughout our collective consciousness. We’ve seen the suffering, the wounds inflicted, the crucifixion completed. No wonder we shelter in place in anxiety, with no sense of when the world will take a turn for the better. John’s Gospel allows us, invites us, compels us to name aloud our lament and our trauma, without shame or embarrassment. We are the ten and we are Thomas.
Jesus knows exactly where we are, we cannot hide from the Risen Christ. He does not condemn our struggles to believe in God’s power and God’s goodness when all we’d imagined or planned gets upended. He makes his way to us, wherever we are, to reassure us of the trustworthiness of God’s creative, living Word. He allows us to see him, touch him, stare at and study him, recognizing our fragility and shock. Then he reminds us of all he taught us. He gives us the gifts he promised that he would: Peace. The Spirit. A mission and purpose.
As we huddle anxiously in secluded places, how have we seen and heard, touched and felt, experienced without question our Lord and God, Jesus Christ? If we have known the peace that passes understanding in a season when so much defies explanation, we are called not only to tell about it, but to offer it, embody it. Those of us who have received the gift of the Spirit are sent, virtually perhaps, but sent nonetheless, to extend and embody forgiveness. If we have seen our wounded, yet very much alive, Lord; we are to declare and believe and act out of the truth that death did not, will not, cannot have the last word.
Hope in the face of fear. Peace in the midst of chaos. Belief in life no matter how deadly the circumstances. How can those of us to whom the Risen Lord appeared live these truths in the world to which we are sent?
I recently watched a video created by the Washington Post. The reporters went into an intensive care unit in New York City at the height of the Covid-19 crisis. They spoke to nurses and doctors covered from head to toe in protective gear. I was struck by the tenacity of these health professionals, overwhelmed, stressed, but stalwart and committed. One nurse said despite the number of deaths, she always, always assumed, and therefore acted as if, the patient would recover and live. She noted that without that hope and expectation she could not do her job in the way she need to do it. The end of the video showed a circle of masked men and women huddled in prayer. That same nurse shared with the reporter that they prayed before each shift, Christian prayers, Muslim prayers, Jewish prayers, every kind of prayer, displaying faith and a belief in healing and hope and life, in the face of deadly, overwhelming, desperate circumstances. Seeing and hearing their courage, their calm in the eye of the storm, their hope in the face of fear, bore witness to resurrection, to the presence of our wounded and living Lord present in the heart of suffering whose Word is trustworthy and promises are true.
Our Lord and our God, the risen Christ, comes to us giving us hope in the face of fear, peace in the midst of chaos and the ability to believe in life no matter how deadly the circumstances. Equipped with the Spirit, we are sent to share these gifts, be these gifts to the world. Especially now.
- How are you feeling on this second Sunday of Easter? Do you relate to the disciples afraid and huddled behind locked doors?
- How do you view Thomas? If you had to place an adjective in front of his name, what would it be?
- How have you seen and felt and heard Jesus? What did he tell you? Show you?
- Why do you think, of all the things Jesus could have given his followers the power to do, he gives them the power to forgive sin? How have you used this power?
- When have you experienced Christ’s gift of peace?
- Where are you being sent this week to share the good news of resurrection?
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