The Second Sunday of Easter E. Bevan Stanley
April 19, 2020
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20: 19-31
Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.” In thee Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Here we are in the midst of a pandemic. Most of us are doing our best to keep a safe distance from others and to avoid any possibility of encountering the COVID19 virus. Fear is all around. There is the real possibility of being infected by the highly contagious disease. If one is infected, there is the real possibility of dying from it. Nevertheless, medical and emergency personnel continue to go into work in places where the virus is all around. They risk their lives for others. And since we can never know where others have been or how careful they been, anyone who is still working with the public is risking themselves for their neighbors. Everyone of them is a hero. And then there are those who are laid off and cannot work and are facing financial hardship or disaster. And the rest of us, even if we have luxury of avoiding contact with others still can’t be sure that a loved one, a relative, a friend may not catch the disease. As a species we are hard-wired to come together in a crisis, to help each other. This distancing is counter-intuitive to us and increases our anxiety and our psychic discomfort. This is a hard, frightening, and dangerous time. It does no good to deny it; indeed, it can be dangerous for ourselves and our neighbors.
Despite modern communication technology, we can feel disconnected and isolated. And time! Time has slowed down. I can’t believe it has only been a week since Easter. The snow yesterday makes it feel like mid-March, not mid-April. It appears we have at least another month before we can think about easing the restrictions that are hindering the spread of the virus. I feel like the kid in the car who, after only five minutes into a two hour trip, says, “Are we there yet?”
One of the advantages of slowed time is that it gives us the opportunity to slow ourselves and pay more attention to all that fate or God offers to our consciousness. Many of us are enjoying walking outside. Others are taking time to cook or bake more. Others are taking more time to read or pray or write in their journals. Time also helps us absorb new truths. What seems impossible when we first hear of it becomes real over time. Like the COVID19 virus. In January it seemed far fetched that a flue in China would so disrupt our lives here.
The reading from the Gospel of John contains several of these elements. The story begins on the evening of Easter Day. The disciples have locked themselves in a house “for fear of the Jews.” They were afraid that the authorities might come and kill them Just as they had their leader. Jesus “came and stood among them.” It’s not clear if he passed through the door like a ghost or materialized in their midst as if tele-transported in Star Trek. He says, “Peace be with you.” They need not be afraid any longer. He shows them his wounds as a means of identification, as if they wouldn’t recognize him with them. The disciple rejoice when they see the Lord. Jesus repeats his message and adds to it: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the breath of Jesus. It is the gift of the Spirit that allows us disciples to be sent in the same way that God sent Jesus in to the world. Then he continues, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This implies that the primary task of followers of Jesus is to forgive sins, to reconcile people, to overcome estrangement and alienation. We are putter-togetherers. Which makes it all the more frustrating that we cannot pass the peace. That we must keep our distance from one another.
Then the story switches to Thomas. He missed the whole scene on the day of the Resurrection. When he heard about it, he said, “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.”
He is an empiricist. I think he is say, “I’m not calling you guys liars; I’m just saying I got to see for myself. This is too good to be true.” Then a week later, which would be today, They are gathered again in the same house, and Jesus comes and stands among them again, just as he had a week earlier. Again, he sayd, “Peace be with you.” Ever since that day for nearly two thousand years we disciples have gathered together on the day of the Resurrection so that Jesus can come and stand among us, and give us his peace, and breathe the Holy Spirit into us, and send us out just as God sent him into the world. This time Thomas was there. Jesus invites him to put his finger in the wounds and his hand in his side. “Do not doubt, but believe,” he says. Actually, a more literal translation would be, “Do not become untrusting but trusting.” Thomas is convinced. Indeed, the text does not say that Thomas did put his fingers in the wounds; he just says, “My lord and my God.” As far as we know he is the first to make this affirmation. So it’s a little unfair to call him “Doubting Thomas,” when he is the first to acknowledge Jesus as God. Then Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is a word to the rest of us. Seeing is not necessary to faith, at least not in this physical way.
The next couple of lines make it clear that this was the original ending of the Gospel. So this Jesus’ last word to us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Maybe in this time of having time, we can see what we have not seen before. Or we can see with our inner sight as well as with our outer. We may practice seeing with our heart. In this time of peril, we can practice trusting our Lord. In this time of not breathing on each other we can practice breathing the breath of God. In this time of anxiety we can practice receiving the peace of God. In this time of separation from one another we can practice reconnecting by phone, Zoom, or letter. In this time when we are all in this together we can help our neighbors who may be experience financial hardship with generosity in supporting the various efforts to help them. And we can express our appreciation for those who continue to work in jobs that keep our food, utilities, medical care, and other necessities coming to us.
In the end we practice hope, courage, and love. It’s the Christian thing to do.