The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C, April 23, 2017

Preacher: 
The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "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 (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "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."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

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 (John 20:19-31).

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When I first came to All Souls, everyone began asking me what I wanted to be called.  Mother Amelie was one option, and many Episcopal churches do call their female priests “mother”, but I worried I might be confused with a nun!  Others suggested “Reverend” Amelie, and then Andy Crane thought he’d call me Reverend A.  But slowly, I became known as Vicar Amelie, or simply, as Claiborne says, “The Vic.” 

The reason I’m going on about this is because it has made me sympathize a bit more with ‘Doubting’ Thomas, who was also known as “The Twin,” but who could easily have been called “Devoted Thomas.” Because this is the same Thomas who in the story of Lazarus, of all the disciples, declared himself ready to go with Jesus to Jerusalem and die with him.  But when we meet him this morning, he wears a nametag that reads “Doubting Thomas.”  I hope he will forgive us for sticking him with a name that belongs in fact to all the disciples, and that belongs, quite often, to us.

When today’s story from the gospel of John opens, all of the disciples except Thomas are gathered behind closed doors on that first Easter Day.  They aren’t acting like people who have heard the good news of the resurrection from the women at the tomb.  They’re acting like frightened, disbelieving people.  It says, “…the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked [in] fear…”  Then Jesus comes and shows them his wounds and finally they believe what they had already been told. (Notice! They didn’t believe either until they saw Jesus.)

But Thomas wasn’t there and later that day when he hears this incredible story, he doesn’t buy it.  He could be any one of us.  He’s seen the torture that is crucifixion and he knows that dead is dead.  Resurrection was beyond the bounds of belief, So he says those famous words, “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.” 

It reminds me of a children’s story I read several years ago, I think by Madeleine L’Engle, of a little boy who was prone to nightmares. He wakes up one night, yet again crying because of some fearful thing he had dreamed, and his mother comes in to comfort him.  Please, Mommy, he asks, can I come and sleep in the big bed with you?   Honey, she says, “you know you don’t ever have to be afraid, no matter where you are.  Because wherever you are, Jesus is there with you.  I know, he said, but right now I need him with skin on! 

This little boy was saying what Thomas was honest enough to say and what we all wish for at times: Please God, put some skin on so I can know for sure that you’re real.  We need something we can actually see and touch, whether wounds on the hands, a scar on the side, some sign, something that will reassure us.  If we are to follow Jesus, like Thomas, to the cross and beyond, we need to know at least once in a while that this story that we tell over and over, year after year, has some truth to it that we can hang onto. 

Because the Easter story is a powerful story. But then the week goes on and we come here on the Sunday morning after Easter and our dear friend has just lost his 30 year old daughter to a complication after surgery, or our brother has started drinking again or our boss has brought us to the edge of our sanity once again, and we have to stand up and say “We believe…” and it’s hard to do.  Here we are, declaring ourselves confident in a god we cannot see, whose wounds we’ve only heard about but never touched.  If we are to deal with our doubt and our fear, every once in a while, for God’s sake, we need some skin on him!

There was a woman I used to visit when I worked at Westminster Canterbury, and I still think of her.  Not much older than I, she was an accomplished artist and writer, but now confined to bed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a cruel disease that slowly robs you of the ability to move even the smallest muscle, though every sensation can still be felt. Every itch still itches, every ache still aches, but the person with ALS can’t move to do anything about it.

So, I used to come by, to just offer her my hands, and some company. To remind her who she was and what she loved, I’d bring my Art History books and we’d scroll through them together. One afternoon as I sat at her bedside, she said, “You know, when you are here, I forget to be afraid.  I get my life back.   And I think she was saying what Thomas said in that upper room, which is, that sometimes believing God is awfully hard and we need someone we can touch to make God real. Sometimes belief is really that simple.          

You’ve heard me say this many times before, but belief is not about agreeing with a set of doctrines, esoteric ideas about God, or a list of moral codes.  It’s about our hearts.  The word belief in Latin is “CREDO” which is where we get the word “creed” and it means “put your heart into.”  To believe is simply to entrust our hearts to the source of all our yearning, whether we understand that source or not.  (As St. Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”)

It is when we know that - in a felt way, not a “head” way….when we give God our heart, that we begin to discover that God has had skin on all the time.  We discover that God’s been waiting for us in the hug of a friend or the smile of a stranger.  We find God reaching out those wounded hands as a companion in our grief or simply a companion through a hard day. We learn that honesty and authenticity are more important than creed and our questions are the path to relationship.

And what’s even more surprising, God even dares to put on our skin from time to time – my skin, your skin.   Because the day will come when we discover that the things that have wounded our hearts have also left the mark of His compassionate love on us.  When our hearts are broken open, there is just more room for love to enter in.  The things that make us cry or afraid or doubtful are the doors through which Jesus come to us, once again.  And before we know it, we find ourselves bringing that same presence to others, who are locked away in their own brand of fear.  We come to realize how God uses us, uses our skin to walk around in.  God may use us to hug someone who’s lonely, to feed someone hungry in body or spirit, to wipe the tears of someone who is really tired.

I cannot count the number of times I have witnessed this over my years, here at All Souls.  I have watched how each of you become the hands, the feet, the face, the heart of Christ – with skin on.  But what has occurred to me most of all, as I contemplate my last days here, is how you have been God, with skin on, to me.  You have affirmed and inspired and hugged and helped me…in the face of my own doubts and fears, insecurities and questions.  And that is something I have learned to put my heart into; it has taught me a lot about what I believe, and who I am....not just Vicar Amelie or Reverend A. but a beloved child of God, who has been greatly blessed by you.

Whatever it is that you decide to call Thomas, whether devoted or doubting or simply the twin, he is the one who said the things we are afraid to think, posed the questions we don’t dare to ask.  He is our stand in. And through his story, we are reminded that we’re not locked away alone, we have each other, fellow disciples who have tried and failed and still, The Lord graciously comes. And like Thomas, we also wear a nametag, one given to us at our baptism, given by the One who made us and loves us still. That nametag is forever marked on our foreheads: Christ’s Own.  And you and I have the skin to prove it.

 

Amen

 

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