The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
It has been one week since Easter Sunday. One week since children held delightfully decorated eggs in their hands, felt their weight, touched their smooth shells, and cracked some open for a sugar high only Christmas and Easter can duplicate. It has been one week since we sang in joyful alleluias: voices soaring, bells pealing, trumpet and organ resounding. It has been one week since that delicious lunch, or brunch, or dinner with a scrumptious glazed ham, or delectable roast chicken, or as many syrup covered pancakes as you could lay your hands on. It has been one week since the guests were in town and smells faintly wafting through the house of your grandmother’s citrus perfume, or your grand-baby’s lavender lotion, or your father’s full flavored pipe tobacco. It has been one week since we witnessed that beautiful celebratory scene unfold, that holy day to beat out all holy days—Easter Sunday.
Yet our scripture readings for today do not seem to allude to such a momentous occasion. Today we are not met with continued celebration, with, “Alleluia Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed alleluia!” But instead we are met with the struggles of the early Church.
For example, in Acts the apostles are professing their faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. Yet as we read in the verses before and after this particular passage, the apostles are not only met with insults and frustration, but with numerous imprisonments and death threats. Then in our reading from Revelation, written a generation or even two after the Easter event, these seven churches in Asia are being encouraged that Christ will indeed come again, that their suffering, their persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire will one day be alleviated. And in our Gospel story today, probably a story and a character with which we are very familiar, the budding Church is faced with new struggles. This Gospel narrative is directed at an audience that has not physically witnessed the resurrection. These early Christians have not seen Christ with their own eyes, have not heard his voice, have not touched the wounds in his side, hands and feet. This is why we are told in the Scripture, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” All of the apostles and original disciples are dead and gone. The witnesses of the resurrection are no longer present. All that remains are their stories. And those Christians that are left are called to have faith in an event that they did not see, taste, touch, hear or smell.
The apostle Thomas becomes a stand in figure for all of those in the early church who had to wrestle with their faith. Believing in a risen Christ others had seen, but they had not. A risen Christ who had once walked upon this earth, but had not walked among them. A risen Christ who defies the natural world by overcoming the chains of death and living again. The early Church struggled to find a balance between doubt and belief.
But friends, let us be honest today. Let us own up to the reality of our own journeys of faith. Even in the midst of the celebration of Easter, even in the midst of the joy, in the midst of the alleluias: doubt is real. Disbelief is real. Questions of faith are real. And these questions arise in the Easter season just as much as any other season in the church year. Just because Jesus Christ is Risen, does not mean these questions go away, pushed to the back of a dark and empty tomb. We all, at some point during our relationship with God, experience doubt.
This doubt can take on many shapes and forms. It can be outright disbelief in God, or a reluctance to speak the words of the Nicene Creed. It can be a split second of uncertainty as to God’s Divine purpose for your life, or the skepticism of whether or not Jesus Christ did rise again from the dead. It can be a mistrust of the Church, or a fear that the Gospel might actually change us for the better. All of these are moments, instances, of doubt. And we all, no matter where we currently stand on our faith journeys, have fallen on this spectrum of disbelief at one point in time or another. The name “Thomas” from our Gospel narrative, could just as easily be replaced with Sarah, or Chris, or Janet, or Alex, or Mary, or Tom, or you. Doubt is not something new to Christianity, post the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. And the words of today’s Gospel, “Blessed are you who believe and yet have not seen,” are just as true to us in the 21st century, as they were for the early church of the 1st century.
Even two thousand years ago believers demanded scientific evidence. All of our post-resurrection narratives, all of the post-Easter encounters with the Risen Christ, centered around empirical verification. It is about seeing and touching Jesus. In all of these narrative, this man that they thought was dead is somehow now with the disciples in flesh and blood, eating and drinking, talking and listening, physically present in the world. Mary Magdalene does not know her teacher is present in the Garden on Easter Sunday, until he calls her by name. Then all of a sudden she can see him. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus can not recognize Christ as they encounter him on their journey, until they sit down and break bread together. Then they see this supposed stranger for who he really is. And Thomas does not believe until he sees Christ enter that locked room, with fresh wounds from where the nails entered Jesus’ hands and feet. For the apostles witnessing the resurrection, journeying towards faith in the Risen Lord, was a sensory experience. Amidst their own doubt and disbelief, they wanted to see, touch, taste, smell and hear that their friend and teacher was alive.
Our own journeys are also sensory experiences. We ourselves want to physically witness the resurrection. And although we are encouraged, “Blessed are those who have not seen,
And yet have come to believe,” we want to empirically probe our faith, to see, touch, taste, smell and hear our God. And friends, this is exactly what we do in Christian community. In the midst of our doubt and disbelief, we encounter the Risen Christ with one another. Knowing that no matter how much uncertainty plays a part, we are lifting each other up. We are strengthened in our faith and we come to know God through participating in our community and invoking all of our senses.
We hear the story of the resurrection told over and over again b listening to the faith journeys of our friends, by reading the words of Scripture aloud in this sanctuary every Sunday, by hearing the cries of those suffering and responding to their call. We taste the resurrection in the breaking of the bread, our Eucharistic feast, in sipping a cup of tea with a fellow parishioner who is struggling, in scarfing down soup and stew in a group of young adults meeting and talking about their faith, no matter the pressure placed upon them on their campuses. We smell the resurrection as we sniff the beautiful Easter lilies when we approach the chancel steps, as the aromas of burgers and hot dogs diffuses throughout the annual Pentecost picnic, as chrism oil lingers on the head of an infant, long after the baptismal blessing. We touch the resurrection in a bear hug given at the peace, or chopping potatoes and beets during a youth retreat to Heifer Farm, or the newlywed kiss as two are given to one another in holy matrimony. And friends, we do see the resurrection as well, even if we do not see a thirty-three year old middle Eastern Man who bears the marks of torture standing before us. However, we see the Risen Christ in the world around us: in the faces of both friends and strangers, in the rising of the sun every morning after the darkest of nights, in the renewal of the earth every spring after unexpected winter storm has blown through (frozen streams trickling to life, bulbs blossoming and blooming, a new energy reverberating throughout all of creation).
This is what we do with our doubt. When we, like Thomas, cannot fathom that Christ is Risen we meet that doubt, that disbelief head on when we engage it with all of our senses. Testing it. Probing it. Using our own incarnated humanness to meet the incarnated divine. All I have to do is look around this church and I know that the Risen Lord is here. Can you see him too?