Second Sunday of Easter, Year A
19 April 2020
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
The disciple Thomas is often referred to as doubting Thomas, because of his insistence that he see Jesus as the others had. And because of his insistence Thomas is seen as the archetype of the modern skeptic who will believe only what they can see or somehow apprehend with their senses.
I am not sure that this is historically accurate, regarding Thomas who was a disciple and a believer, or regarding what Jesus’ appearances are about. And we do well to remember that even though Jesus blesses those who do not see and yet believe, Jesus never calls for blind faith. He asks his followers to count the cost (Luke 14)
I think of this because our passage ends with Jesus blessing those who do not see and yet believe. And while Thomas and the Ten and whoever else was hiding with them behind locked doors had the privilege of seeing the risen Lord and recognizing him by his wounds, this kind of seeing is not the point of the passage, for why then would Jesus bless those who do not see and yet believe?
It is interesting that even though the Gospels tell us of numerous appearances of the risen Jesus, Jesus praises those who believe without seeing.
His appearances are tangible and real. Jesus appears in body who eats broiled fish in the company of his disciples and who bears the marks of nails and spear. Jesus invites his disciples to touch him, saying that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as he has. (Luke 24)Jesus is recognized by Mary because she hears him call her name, by the disciples on the road to Emmaus in the breaking of the bread, at the lakeside by his authority to cast out the net in the right place at the right time.
And still Jesus acknowledges the challenge of believing without seeing.
This reminds me of the empty grave on Easter morning. When the women and the disciples come to the grave of Jesus, they only find the empty tomb and the linen wrappings that had been on the body of Jesus. They don’t find Jesus. It is Jesus who finds them. He calls Mary by name, comes to them behind locked doors, walks with two of them to the town of Emmaus. They never find him but he always finds them. And this seems to be the point.
Now, the life of the disciples had been turned upside down. They had had all kinds of expectations of Jesus, and dying hadn’t been one of them. They did not yet understand the resurrection, nor the cross, all they knew was that their hopes had been dashed and that they were afraid.
Perhaps like us today. I mean, most of us probably believe in the resurrection and believe that the cross was for the redemption and restoration of the world, but we may be deeply disheartened at the world we find ourselves in.
We worry about the future, we worry about loved ones, and we worry about how the pandemic is not only changing our lives but also our communities. When will we be able to gather again, when have our next potluck or block party?
So, we are the disciples behind locked doors. Their fear is our fear.
But the Gospels tell us that Jesus comes to the disciples and gives them peace. And as Jesus finds them, Jesus finds us.
And while the grave is empty and there is no evidence to speak of, the resurrection is a reality that can only be received in faith. But a reality it is, for the disciples base their lives on it. They return to Jerusalem, to Galilee, they cannot stop speaking of Jesus, they become the church. Some go to prison, Stephen is the first to die for his faith. But just as important as Stephen’s death is his service to the poor among them; as is their sharing of their possessions and their welcome of Gentiles, and the equality they see they have in Christ Jesus, as Paul says to the church in Galatia, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Faith in Jesus means for the church that even when we are no longer able to see Jesus with our eyes, we see the vision of God’s reign. We are able to imagine a different world, which is why it has been the mark of the church since its very beginning to care for the sick and for the poor.
Yes, the risen Lord comes to the disciples but the empty tomb makes them and us look for Jesus in other places. And that is the point of Jesus’ admonition to Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold on to me,” and his instructions for them to go to Galilee where he will meet them. And it is the point of the angels’ question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
It is true that we are the ones Jesus blesses for we are the ones who believe without seeing. But not seeing does not make us blind. We do not see Jesus in the way that the eleven saw Jesus on Easter evening, or Mary in the garden. But we see Jesus in the love among us and the love for others.
Jesus comes to us in the breaking of the bread, not only the bread of Holy Communion but the sharing of our resources with one another.
Jesus finds us when we check in with one another, caring for one another and the new community we find with strangers, even at a safe distance.
Jesus finds us through an e-mail I received last week, a woman in Richmond is seeking volunteers to sew face masks for residents of the downtown eastside, seeing possibility and not scarcity, seeing opportunity where we may have seen powerlessness.Jesus finds us where the needs of the vulnerable are considered in a way they have not been considered before. In his Easter message Pope Francis called for universal basic income. Is that a surprise seeing the ways in which many governments have responded to the crisis?
The empty grave means that the Kingdom of God is near and that we have eyes to see it.