Happy Second Sunday of Easter.
Today’s gospel is one of my favorite stories of the entire church year.
I love Thomas. Poor, sweet, holy, Doubting Thomas.
I am so glad that Doubt is a part of our Easter story.
And I love that this story of doubt is the first Sunday Gospel lesson we hear after Easter Sunday.
On Easter Sunday, we were singing out with confidence: Death is No More! Christ is Risen Indeed!
But the earliest disciples greeted the empty tomb quite differently.
The eleven didn’t believe the women.
Thomas doubted the men.
After Jesus' death and resurrection, the disciples are constantly gathering behind locked doors in fear.
Even as they began to understand that Jesus had Risen—and remained with them in a new way through the Holy Spirit—their response to this Resurrection Joy came more like a whisper than a shout.
The disciples show us a quiet and often fearful, nervous uncertain hope in response to the resurrection.
In our Gospel story today we hear that “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear.”
One of the reasons I like Thomas so much is because my heart always goes out to the person who is not in the room when the really important “YOU HAD TO BE THERE” moments take place.
And Thomas really gets left out on this one.
Why wasn't he there? Where was he?
Was he too afraid to come? Did the others send him on a coffee run?
Did someone forget to TELL HIM that they would be gathering?
And-- I love that the disciples, when they finally catch up with Thomas, think they can just tell him about Jesus coming—through the locked doors—breathing the Holy Spirit on them and commissioning them.
As if their experience was something that could possibly be believed by just because they said so.
But, Thomas stands his ground -- he wants his own experience of encountering the Risen Lord.
He tells the others, “unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails, I will not believe.”
I think there are two important things we can learn from Thomas this morning.
First, like Thomas, each of will experience Christ Resurrected in our own way and in our own time--
Our experience of God, of the Holy Spirit, of encountering Jesus in our lives matters.
Reflection on our own experience of God is revelatory.
In other words, faith and belief are revealed to us through our lived experience--reflecting on moments when we’ve glimpsed God, known Jesus in a new way, encountered the holy unexpectedly--
Revelation comes to us the way it came to Thomas--not because someone told him to believe--but because of a personal experience--an encounter--with Jesus Crucified and Christ Resurrected.
If revelation comes through our personal experience, then there are as many ways to encounter the living Christ as there are ways to live and move and have our being in this world.
Thomas asked to see the crucified Christ resurrected to new life.
His experience was a revelation of faith and belief.
I wonder, how have we asked to see the crucified Christ resurrected to new life?
More importantly, how have we already experienced the crucified Christ revealed as the Living God?
To value personal experience as a way of encountering and knowing God is particular to feminist theology and spirituality.
I did not know, for example, until I got to seminary, that there was more than one way to imagine and name God. (Which is strange because when I got to seminary I fancied myself a feminist)
However, once invited to reflect on my experience of the Holy, my faith exploded like fireworks---the God who informed my faith became colorful, playful, noisy, celebratory-exciting and surprising.
To reflect on the vast and varied experiences of our lives for the purpose of revelation, the ability to see and name how and when we experience Jesus crucified and Christ Resurrected in our midst is a valid, essential, critical way to know the risen Lord.
Our experience. My experience. Your experience. Their experience. His experience. Her experience matters. It is Revelatory.
The second truth I believe Thomas teaches us is that doubt is a very real part of Christian faith and discipleship.
I have had many conversations with my peers who say to me that they would really love to come to Church but, frankly, they don't feel like they can bring their doubt—their disbelief—their questions to church.
There is too much certainty in church today.
How, I wonder, did certainty and confidence and righteousness become a prerequisite for engaging the mystery of faith?
Thomas shows us that belief is not a pre-requisite for discipleship.
Church ought not be a place we come once we have it all figured out—it is a place we ought to come so that we can begin to engage the process of figuring things out for ourselves—as a way to experience God and Jesus in a new way and grow in faith.
That's exactly what the disciples were doing behind those locked doors as they gathered with whispers and fear and uncertainty: they were trying to make sense of it all. Wondering how they fit into the story—and how the story fit into the world.
They were doubting. And grieving. They were bickering and fearful precisely because they risked faith—belief—in the resurrection. And in their experience of doubt and disbelief, they encountered the Resurrected Christ.
Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian, writes: doubt is a consequence of the risk of faith. (say this again).
Faith, he insists, is a risk.
We take a risk when come to church, keep the Eucharistic feast, listen to the Gospel, read Holy Scripture, pray, and seek to find and uncover God in our lives--and in our world.
And if we take these risks of faith we ought to expect doubt to hit us upside the head now and then.
I wonder, what is it that causes us to doubt today?
And how might God be calling us to be truthful about our doubt—to fully embrace the risk of faith?
When Thomas demanded to put his finger into the wounds of the crucified Christ, he touched the very source of his doubt.
And it was, paradoxically, by drawing nearer to his doubt that his faith was inspired.
Our doubt cannot be avoided or neglected or hushed away.
The Gospel this morning calls us to stand with courage in our uncertainty so that our faith might be revealed to us in new ways--revealed to us through our own lived experience.
May Thomas accompany us on our Easter journey, blessing and holding our doubt, making holy our experience, in order to stir up in us even greater courage to risk faith in the Resurrected Christ who, by the Holy Spirit calls us always further out into the world to love and serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart.
Anne K. Ellsworth
Easter 2, Year B
April 11, 2021
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings