My Lord and My God, Easter 2 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150

Doubt is a complicated matter. It can indicate a critical mind, one that asks questions, and never takes things at face value. The opposite is a gullible mind: one that is the delight of unscrupulous sales persons, dangerous politicians, and many televangelists.

There’s another type of doubt, one driven by deep emotion, an emotion stimulated by loss. It’s a form of despair, a despair that clings to loss and refuses to believe that there is any future other than one described by that which is lost. Life will never be the same again. Friends assure us that we will get over our loss of a job, an ambition, our loss of a relationship or the death of a dear one but we don’t want to hear it. We can’t believe it. Saint Thomas’s doubt is of this second type.

Instead of becoming the patron saint of those who never take things at face value, Thomas might well be the hero of people who are never on time. For some reason he missed the earliest encounters with the Risen Lord. About his statement: “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 will get to that in a moment.

Thomas first makes an entrance in Saint Johns Gospel shortly after Lazarus rises from the dead. He tells Jesus that all the disciples will go with him to die. Later, when Jesus tells them that he is going away to prepare a place for his followers, Thomas assumes that Jesus is talking about some geographical destination and says that he doesn’t know where Jesus is going or the way there.

He must have found a safe place to hide in his grief and despair after the crucifixion because he missed the first encounters in the garden, on the road to Emmaus, and in the first of the two encounters in the upper room.

We really don’t know enough about Thomas to assess his character, let alone to accuse him of being a habitual doubter. He’s Jewish. He’s a twin but we don’t know who his twin was. He’s devoted enough to Jesus to at least contemplate dying for him. He doesn’t want to be separated from his Lord. He wants to know where Jesus is going and how to get to him. And for all that, Thomas isn’t there for Jesus when he is arrested, tried, and put to death. He runs away.

After the crucifixion, as he hides in the city, he must be a bundle of fear, grief and guilt. There are few human emotions so devastating. To then discover that his friends, equally guilty, equally grieving, had been visited by Jesus and given authority to heal the very emotions with which he suffered was more than he could absorb or manage. Filled with shame he blurts out: “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.” Thomas won’t believe it for himself. He certainly won’t believe it from the mouths of his friends, who have been empowered to restore relationships: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas still hangs around, even though he is convinced that nothing can ever get better for him, that he deserves nothing better. The next week Jesus appears again, says Shalom, and immediately invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Like a dam bursting, Thomas’s fear, grief, shame, and hopelessness floods out and he collapses in adoration. “My Lord and my God”.

The writer of John’s Gospel, perhaps the Beloved Disciple perhaps not, concludes the story by telling us why he selected this one from among all the incidents he could have recounted. He writes: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

In one way or another we all stumble into life moments when we are seized by fear, remorse, grief, and loss. Our lack of belief that things can get better isn’t atheism or agnosticism, but rather a deeply personal conviction that we are the exception, the one left out. We may even believe that the Christian community is empowered reconcile, restore and forgive and that priests and bishops are chosen agents of reconciliation. There’s a much-neglected service of reconciliation in the prayer book. Yet we still exclude ourselves as if clinging to remorse rather than the life we deserve.

I wonder whether “John” points us deeper in that direction, that “Way, Truth and Life”? Is there significance in the gap of a week between encounters, one that the first Christians would have grasped? Is this a seven-day gap between Lord’s Days? As we do, the Early Christians offered the Shalom, the Peace, before the Eucharist, during which Jesus comes among us and invites us to explore his wounds. As we touch him, he enters us and, by faith, we let loose everything that has obscured his presence. He offers new life when we couldn’t believe one possible, and we drop to our knees and murmur: “My Lord and my God”.

If legend is true, St. Thomas obtained new life and took the message of reconciliation and forgiveness as far as India. His tomb, venerated by Christians and non-Christians alike is the heart of the Mar Thoma, Lord Thomas, Church with whom we enjoy communion.

Download the sermon for Easter 2C.

Written by The Reverend Anthony Clavier

The Reverend Anthony Clavier is the Vicar of St. Thomas’ Church, Glen Carbon, with St. Bartholomew’s, Granite City, Illinois.

Exchanging the Peace, 2 Easter (C) – 2013

April 7, 2013

Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

We all yearn for peace and quiet, at least some of the time. We live in a noisy, intrusive world to the point when moments of silence may feel terrifying. Even when we are relaxing, there’s a good chance that the telephone will ring – a sales pitch for something we don’t need – or the doorbell ring, or the computer ping. Even if we decide to get away from everything, getting there can be stressful.

When we hear that Jesus appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection and said, “Peace be with you,” we wonder whether he was being sarcastic. The disciples are in the upper room, huddled for fear. Fear denotes an absence of peace. The disciples feared their new title, that of Apostle, feared their Mission to go out into the world and tell about Jesus, and feared the outside world that seemed ready to pounce and destroy them as it seemed to have done to Jesus.

At one level, Jesus saying, “Peace,” was utterly normal. Just as we say, “Hi,” or “Hey,” depending on our tribe, or “How are you?” – greetings that have become so habitual they are blurted out before we think. In Israel, then and now, the habitual greeting was “Shalom,” peace. It was expected. The response, “Peace be with you also,” was the polite reply.

Jesus says hello to his fearful, bemused friends, as he says hello to us, just as we share the Peace during the Eucharist each Sunday. Too often at the Eucharist we use that greeting to engage in hurried conversations that have nothing to do with peace at all! “Wanna join us for lunch after church?” “Have you seen what Marty is wearing?” “That sermon was a bore!” Meanwhile, the priest tries to shake as many hands as possible, hopes no one is offended if their hands aren’t shaken, and worries that this noisy interlude won’t destroy the rhythm of the liturgy.

Yet when we emulate Jesus as we exchange the Peace, we remember what he was saying to the disciples in the upper room.

What was he saying?

Jesus was saying that his presence is peace; a peace, as St Paul puts it, that is beyond our understanding, far more potent than an absence of noise, or a feeling of well being. Jesus says, “Peace,” and we are reminded how costly his gift of peace is, and how extraordinary its depth. Because Jesus has died, has risen, has ascended, we are offered a share in the results of those costly actions. Baptism reminds us that we have died with Jesus, have risen with him, have ascended with him, and now live in his company, in the company of the Church, fed by Word and Sacrament.

Secondly, the peace Jesus gives us means that nothing can separate us from the love of God, except our own unwillingness to accept the gift, live in the gift and share the gift.

Accepting a gift is a moment of self-emptying, of acceptance and gratitude. For a moment we are beholden, vulnerable, dependent as we receive that which we lack. Receiving a gift can strike our pride, can be uncomfortable.

Living in the gift demands an active gratitude. It also means that we value that which we have been given. We feel it necessary to show it off.

And that leads to sharing the gift. The gift of “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” is to be received as a trust to share with others. Thus when we exchange “the Peace” today, we say to those we greet, “Here is the most wonderful gift, the gift of accepting Jesus into our lives and sharing that communion with each other and out into the world.”

All the orders Jesus gave to the apostles are about that Peace: Go tell about me; go baptize; do this in remembrance; love one another.

In short, hearing and accepting Jesus’ “hello” forms us and renews us. It is that peace for which we yearn and which we are given. The apostles went into a hostile world. Many of them were martyred. But through it all they were upheld and sustained by the “Peace” Jesus gave them. Today he offers that same Peace to you.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

Removing the locks on our hearts, 2 Easter (C) – 2010

April 11, 2010

Acts 5: 27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Every night the same routine played out. It happened around the time the 11 o’clock news was on. As a child she usually slept right through it, but there were those occasions when she’d rouse from sleep, hearing the familiar gate of her father’s footsteps walking first to the kitchen door, then to the front door, then tramp downstairs to the basement. Dad would walk through the house and check the doors and secure the locks if need be.

It was a safe feeling to have – knowing that Dad was making everything safe and secure and that she and her family were out of harm’s way. Locked doors, secure doors, were comforting. The doors said, “If you just stay holed up here until daylight, then all will be well.” It was as if, in their silent and stalwart way, they were saying, “Everything is going to be okay, nothing can get through me, and I’m not going to let anything get to you.”

In short, locked doors assuaged fears, trepidations, anxieties, and uncertainties, and quelled the late-night wanderings of an active imagination.

Perhaps that is what the disciples felt on that Easter night so long ago. They were in the room behind the locked doors in fear of those who killed Jesus. They had walked alongside him for three years. They had been out in the public with him and engaged in his work and crusade. Then they who had spoken so confidently had, in the end when it mattered most, deserted him and the cause. They not only deserted him, some even denied they knew him.

Perhaps there was more than fear at work in the disciples. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty clear that there was more than fear at work. They were grappling not only with fear, but with scorn, ridicule, anxiety, a sense of failure and its ugly cousin, shame.

Maybe what the disciples were doing was not so much shutting out the world, but locking themselves in. Isn’t that the way it goes with our hearts?

What if we look at this gospel story as more than a resurrection account and story of eleven frightened men locked away in a remote room on some back alleyway of Jerusalem? What if it was a metaphor for our lives as Christians today and the fears we face? It is possible that St. John could have meant it as both as he wrote to a young struggling, persecuted church.

We face fears, anxieties, trepidations, uncertainties, and even shame on a daily basis. We slam home the bolts of the locks on our hearts, and we realize that by locking the world out, we are really shutting ourselves in. We become a prisoner of our own sins, shame, and self-perceptions. Like the disciples, we try to hide from our shame and disappointment in ourselves by locking the doors to our hearts and not letting anyone in.

This is particularly true if we’ve been hurt before. Each hurt is followed by another lock, another barricade on the door to our hearts. But we put up a good front. Let’s just say that the door is magnificent on the outside but impenetrable.

The Easter story is the culmination of Good News. In the midst of the disciples’ fear, anxiety, and shame, Jesus comes and stands among them. He restores them with the gifts of his peace and the Holy Spirit and charges them to carry on his ministry, his mission of reconciliation.

“To forgive,” in Greek, also means “to set free.” It means to release from bondage and captivity. When Jesus stands among the disciples in a room with a locked door and announces, “Peace be with you,” he is saying not only are “You are forgiven,” but also “You are free.”

At the center of the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus Christ has come looking for us – even behind closed doors. According to John’s text, he walks right through the locked doors to find us. He shows us his wounds from the cross, which are the marks of our forgiveness. Then he says, “Peace be with you.” You are forgiven, peace is restored to your troubled soul, and you are free.

We receive the same charge given to the disciples. We are to be about the ministry of reconciliation. We are to be about the ministry of unlocking the doors to people’s hearts so that they too can experience the freedom and healing of God’s love in Christ. We are called to set people free by pouring out on them the same forgiveness we have received. We are to be Christ’s disciples in the world; forgiven, restored, reconciled, and freed from sin and death.

We accept into our hearts once more today the risen Christ, and in doing so, we realize that fear is changed to faith, anxiety to peace, shame to restoration, and the locks on our hearts have all been removed and we are free.

 

— The Rev. Scott Baker is rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Newport News, Virg.

Mistaken identity, 2 Easter (C) – 2007

April 15, 2007

Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Well, here we are again on Thomas Sunday. Good old doubting Thomas. Thomas could be the patron saint of modern people. Thomas was reported to have been a twin, and it’s possible he was an identical twin – as such, he would have known all about mistaken identity. He would have known how easy it is to be wrong about something, even when we see it with our own eyes. He couldn’t take the disciples’ word about having seen Jesus alive; he needed proof; he needed to be sure.

Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That would be us. We didn’t make it to the empty tomb, didn’t see the angels, didn’t hear Jesus call us by name in the garden. We weren’t in the upper room with the other disciples when they got to see Jesus. When we hear the gospel stories, we sometimes identify with the characters in them. Are we like Peter, overcome by fears when things get tough? Could we be strong like the women, who stayed with Jesus despite the cost? Maybe. But most of all, we’re like Thomas. We have doubts. We want proof.

Most of us long for accuracy in the stories about Jesus so that we can feel that we have that proof – all the witnesses are in agreement, so this is exactly what happened. Some of us create that neat and tidy bundle in our heads, but many of us only manage to produce a package that looks like it was wrapped by an inexperienced buffoon, a package that definitely would not stand up to the rigors of the postal service. Yet we long for that neat and tidy package that will build our faith, help us believe when we’re in a crisis, and keep us going over the long haul of discipleship.

What we get from the gospel accounts are stories filled with conflicting accounts. Some people see only the empty tomb, some see an angel or two angels, some see Jesus, some talk with Jesus, some only recognize Jesus when he breaks the bread. Everyone seems to have been caught off guard by the resurrection. The disciples don’t seem to be able to capture their experience with any accuracy. They always seem surprised by Jesus’ appearances. They seem to struggle to deal with how resurrection works. Yet Jesus comes to them in their fear, their confusion, and their doubts and greets them with “Peace be with you.” He even makes a return visit the next week so that Thomas can experience the resurrection first hand.

It is important for us to remember that Jesus does not come to the disciples in a blaze of glory, surrounded by angels or accompanied by trumpet flourishes. Rather he comes quietly; he seems to surprise the disciples. And he comes with his wounds – the wounded savior coming to his wounded disciples. He is not all neat and tidy, but still bears the marks of his suffering, the marks of his humanity. Even his resurrected body still shows the signs of his dwelling among us. As humans, we struggle to hide our woundedness as a sign of weakness, yet the risen Christ still bears his woundedness and comes to meet us and bring us his peace. His resurrection gives us hope that we will be healed and made whole.

When the risen Lord came to the disciples in the upper room, he brought them his peace, he breathed his spirit on them and commissioned them to live and preach his message of love, forgiveness, and peace.

In the creation story, God molded Adam out of the clay and breathed life into him. In the upper room, Jesus breathes the restoring life of God into the disciples, making them new people and, through them, offering new life to the world. The very fact that we are here this morning, continuing to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, is testimony to the power of the Spirit present in the disciples and in the church throughout the ages.

This story isn’t a vignette frozen in time in that upper room in Jerusalem; it is gospel, good news that transcends time and place. Whenever we practice forgiveness, whenever we overcome the power of death in its many forms – hatred, violence, indifference – the spirit of Christ is alive and well in believers, and resurrection life is expressed again in this time and place. We can’t “prove” the resurrection, but we can be fingers pointing to it whenever we are signs that the life of Christ has not been extinguished, but is enfleshed in us and in every Christian community.

Jesus’ appearance to Thomas reminds us that doubts do not disqualify us from discipleship. Jesus says to Thomas and to us, “Do not doubt, but believe.” The theologian Paul Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; rather it is an element of faith. Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian pastor and writer, puts it more basic terms. He says that if we don’t have any doubts, we’re either kidding ourselves or asleep. He characterizes doubts as “the ants in the pants” of faith – they keep it awake and moving! Doubts do not disqualify us from discipleship.

At the very beginning of the Gospel of John, the author proclaims that, through Jesus, God has brought life and light to the world. In the death of Jesus on the cross, it appeared that the powers of darkness were stronger than the power of light, that darkness had overcome the light. Through the resurrection, we are shown that the light still shines. Jesus commissioned the disciples to continue his work, to spread his light throughout the world. Their future changed through Christ’s gift of the Spirit. In our baptism, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and made Christ’s own forever. We, too, have a new future because of Christ’s resurrection. We, too, have been commissioned to spread the light of Christ.

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, a contemporary theologian, asks us to think about the resurrection through the metaphor of the sun. She says, “We cannot look directly at the sun, for the brightness would blind us – our eyes are not suited to that strength of light. Yet the sun, which we cannot see directly, illumines all else, and in its light we make our way in the world.” She goes on to say that the resurrection “illumines the entire landscape of the New Testament: the resurrection is the confirmation of that which Jesus revealed in his life and death and it is the catalyst that transforms the disciples, releasing the power that led to the foundation of the church.”

On this April morning, when the world outside our doors has put away the baskets and the bunnies of Easter and moved on, we continue to be challenged to live as though the resurrection really does illumine our lives. We are challenged to reach out and embrace the future in faith, believing that the light of the resurrection will enable us to make our way in the world. We are challenged to seek peace and reconciliation, knowing it is the work of Christ and the Church. And most of all, we are challenged to remember that while we may look at ourselves and see only doubting Thomases, God looks at us and sees the best: God sees beloved children, faithful friends, spirit-filled partners in the ongoing work of creation.

 

— The Rev. Mary K. Morrison is pastoral associate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Los Gatos, Calif.