A video of this sermon is available here.
The Holy Gospel according to St. John, the 20th chapter, beginning with the 19th verse.
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, 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.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
When I was an intern, a pastor-in-training, I officiated and preached for the funeral of my closest friend’s mother in that small prairie town.
While I had a kidney stone.
Knowing that was the only time my friend, who had welcomed me into his family that lonely year, would likely enter a church building or hear me preach.
And at the doorway a friend of his felt he should tell me, “I don’t believe in women preachers, but you’re okay.”
I laughed off the backhanded compliment (as we are socialized to do) but felt the weight of the emotional labor he expected me to do, so that he could feel in control. It was an important part of my training for ministry. All kinds of people can be rigid about whose testimony they will trust about God. If it is not about gender, it’s someone else’s race or ethnicity or class or sexual orientation or job or any difference from ourselves that might be uses to call their testimony invalid. Until we reach the pinnacle of selective faith: To some people – like Thomas – no one else is a credible witness except himself.
Today I proclaim to you and myself, that God will show up in ALL POSSIBLE WAYS for us to hear that Jesus is risen from the dead. Jesus will conquer death, pass through locked doors, and even make multiple trips. Even if you, like Thomas, have very narrow qualifications for how God can reach you, God will still do it. As much as it irritates me, Jesus wants that guy in the doorway after the funeral to know resurrection too.
But blessed are those who have not seen evidence of the resurrection, from their preferred messenger, yet still come to believe. Blessed are those who will hear the good news from someone who doesn’t show up in a body they recognize or grant authority, and yet they still encounter God. Blessed are those who can experience God’s boundless love from someone whose body doesn’t look like theirs or move in the world like theirs. For they are really living in faith.
The blessing that Jesus utters after showing up for Thomas is the blessing of the incarnation, and incarnation does not simply mean that God became flesh in Jesus. The blessing of the incarnation is that God continues to show up in human bodies, incarnated in us. What a blessing for those who can see God in other people’s wounds, fearful posture, or exuberant announcements and trust that this IS how Jesus shows up in our world. This is proof that death has no victory, because God’s love is revealed through those whom we have denied credibility. This is the new life, that God will work in the world and speak to us through “them,” whomever we see as the “other”. Blessed are those who will listen and recognize that these others are God’s witnesses.
Who is that “other” for you? One of the Asian parlor workers shot and killed in Atlanta? An Indigenous girl who disappeared but no media reported it? A black man killed by police? Or an older white man in rural America with very firm opinions about the place of women in society? The blessing Jesus speaks into being is not just that God can reach you through unexpected people, a benefit to you. It is a blessing to the world when you will start witnessing and believing that these bodies, these human beings are like Jesus, bodies in whom God dwells. When we believe this is true, then we will respond to the violence done to these witnesses. We too will rise up, break through the fear and apathy and insist that everyone with a body be treated as a child of the living God. Now that would be a blessing for the world, indeed.
Thomas probably had it in him to trust his companions, the other disciples, when they told him that Jesus was alive, in the flesh. But he had been through a lot. Maybe Thomas couldn’t trust his own mind and heart to believe, without Jesus verifying reality for him. This happens when we have been marginalized or feel like the world is passing us by. Those who are gaslit and told too many times that what they experienced is not really true, begin to question their own faith, their own trust in themselves as a reliable witness. If that is the case for Thomas, I relinquish my being offended by him, and offer as much mercy and forgiveness as Jesus does. If Thomas can learn to trust his own experience of Jesus again, then God-willing, he could learn to trust other people’s witness about God and they have been through too.
God showed up repeatedly for me during that year I lived in a prairie town of population 200, sometimes through stuck-in-their-ways older men, including my friend and neighbor who asked me to baptize him in the river on the last fishing trip of the season. Part of the work of preparing me for ministry was apparently destroying some of my own stereotypes and progressive prejudices. Jesus can show up to and in the body of anybody, even Thomas.
In all the generations since that first Easter, we have needed the blessing of faith without Jesus physically insisting upon it in front of us. Yet he is here, even at home, in whatever locked space you find yourself in this week after Easter. You can trust your own faith, the story in your own body of wounds that heal with new life, but still leave scars. You can trust the relationship you have known with God is real. God is alive again – in you! And in every child of God you or I have refused to believe. Thanks be to God.