Homily from service on April 24, 2022 – Second Sunday of Easter
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
It starts with one. And then two. And then a few more.
It starts inside. Often, in the dark…in a tomb…in a locked room…but it quickly moves out…to the road…into the city streets…
It seems to always come through some personal, physical connection. Hearing your name spoken out loud…seeing the wounds…recognizing the wounds…touching the wounds…The wounds of others…sometimes your own wounds.
It’s often startling at first…but after the dazzling shock…and the wonder…there comes a dawning realization…Maybe this didn’t just appear out of nowhere…maybe it was always here…waiting…beckoning…urging you on…And you’re just able to see it now…Able to see him now. Able to see the resurrection…as if for the first time…The resurrection that is going on all around you…all the time.
The question posed for us, on this second Sunday of Easter is: How do we come to believe if we have not seen? How do we validate it for ourselves?
John’s account makes it sound as if believing without seeing is the better part. And it’s tripped us up for centuries. Thomas has become fixed forever as Incredulous, unbelieving…Doubting Thomas….Which is unfortunate, given what we know about him.
Thomas has exactly four lines: The first when Jesus is talking about going to Jerusalem and dying there, and Thomas says: “Let’s all follow…so that we may die with him.” But we don’t call him Courageous Thomas, or Bold Thomas, or Foolhardy Thomas.
The second thing he says is: “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” Which is a great question, and sets Jesus up perfectly to respond with the profound: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
But we don’t call him Inquisitive Thomas, or “set-up Thomas.”
It’s from this: “Unless I see the marks in his hands…” line that we get the doubt, but the last thing that he says way overshadows that. After being shown the wounds, Thomas exclaims: “My Lord and my God!”
Which no one else is recorded as saying…And it’s THE statement of faith. The confession all Christians must make, but we don’t call him “Confessing Thomas,” or “Faith-filled Thomas.”
No,“Doubting” is what stuck…all because he happened to NOT be hiding in the upper room…all because he simply he asks for the same evidence—the same experience—that the others have had.
Thomas is courageous, and inquisitive, and faithful, AND has doubts…just like all of us. And I would hope that none of us are known for the one thing that we regret saying…And I also think that labeling him “Doubting Thomas” says more about us, than it does about him.
Because when it comes to faith, we too often want to discount our doubts… and think that we’re supposed to look past our own struggles…get over them…and to just believe even without seeing. But faith almost always starts in the dark…alone…and very often…while seeing is believing… believing is also seeing.
So I think a better question…better than How do we come to believe if we have not seen?…is: How do we learn how to see what we believe? How do we train ourselves to see resurrection, and be aware of it when it happens?
The teacher who has taught for years, and believes that teaching is what they were called to do, but has grown increasingly fed up with the bureaucracy, the politics, the demanding parents, and the unmotivated students. But every morning they rise, review the day’s lesson plan, and head off to school determined to make a difference to at least one student…
The recovery group member who has pulled 100 sober days out of the chaos of their life. And discovers that day 101 isn’t a whole lot different from day 1, but they call their sponsor, and go to a meeting, and connect with their higher power…and make it to day 102.
The hairdresser who donates hours a month offering haircuts to the unhoused. The retired couple who gathers materials to produce their 20th casserole for the MANNA community during the pandemic…The full-time working parent who, between runs to various activities, still finds time to stop and buy an extra couple of bags of groceries for the B-Ready families. The person who hasn’t seen someone in church for awhile, and picks up the phone to call and check in.
These might seem like tales of grim determination, or simply just what people do…but seen with the eyes of faith…the eyes of belief…these are signs of resurrection. These faith-filled people are living out the promise that life always overcomes death, and their witness is (or should be) as compelling as that of John, or Peter, or Mary Magdalene, or Thomas.
In those dark…dim…solitary times…when we are alone with our doubts…like Thomas…alone with our fears…like Mary at the tomb…That’s when it can happen…When we welcome the doubt…the uncertainty…the shadows…That’s when we start to see with new eyes…
If we get fixated on believing without seeing…if we think our doubt means we’ve failed…then we’re actually missing the message of the Gospel according to John…which is all about moving from darkness to light…
And I wonder if pushing away our doubts…rejecting or repressing those shadows…I wonder if that doesn’t actually make it more difficult for us to believe what we do see…or rather for us to see what we do believe…In other words, I wonder if trying so hard to believe something that we’ve never seen…makes it harder for us to see the things that would actually help us believe. Because resurrection happens all around us, all the time…
Because when you come right down to it…witnessing is really our primary job. God is the only one who can actually effect resurrection. Our job is to witness it…to see it…to recognize it…to touch it…and to tell others what we have seen.
Sure, blessed are those who have not seen and have come to believe, but that’s not most of us…We are Thomas…We need to see…we need to reach out in faith…and when we can see resurrection happening…it guides us toward belief…supports us in our belief.
It begins in the dark…It begins with one…It begins with doubt…with a touch…with a name…and moves out to two…to others…to the streets…the neighborhoods. Resurrection happens…Resurrection is always happening.
Blessed are you who have not seen and have come to believe…And blessed are you who have asked to be shown…who need to touch…and verify what you believe…what you have seen…
Blessed are you who see what you believe. That Jesus is Lord. And the Lord is risen, indeed. Amen. Alleluia!