**A sermon written by the Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker (@ReedmanParker on twitter) in collaboration with Rev. Erik Parker and inspired by Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis’ text study “Freeing Thomas” attended via Zoom Friday April 17, 2020.**
GOSPEL: John 20:19-31
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.” (Read the whole passage)
Today, we are 7 days on from the morning of the Empty Tomb. Yet, Easter has only just begun. Easter is not just a day, but 50 days. Not just a day, but an entire season of the church year. Fifty days to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Christ. And each year, on the second Sunday of the season, we hear the same story. The story of the disciples hiding out in a locked room and Jesus appearing to them. The story of Thomas missing the whole thing, refusing to believe it and Jesus returning a second time, a week later to appear to Thomas.
This morning we momentarily return to the day of the empty tomb. For us the woman ran back to tell their story a week ago for the disciples we encounter in hiding, they have just heard the report of the women, just minutes or hours ago. Yet, even with this news, they are still hiding. Hiding because of grief. Their teacher and friend has died, and like so many of us when on of our loved ones dies, they likely found it hard to summon the courage to go out into the world.
But also hiding because of legitimate fear. Jesus has been arrested, tried, and put to death by the religious authorities and the empire. The disciples don’t know if they are next, if the soldiers are out looking for them. Jesus wasn’t the first Messianic revolutionary figure to be executed by the Romans, and they wouldn’t be the first group of followers hunted down by the authorities either.
And so they are hiding, with good reason to do so.
Maybe until now we didn’t fully understand or appreciate the disciples’ response to their situation. Maybe we couldn’t understand what legitimate reasons to be locked down might look like before this moment.
But we have a better understanding now. Now that we are also locked behind our doors. Now that we fear for our health and safety. Or following the orders of health and government bodies to stay home in order to stay healthy. Or perhaps begrudgingly following the pleas of grown children to stay inside because of the particular risk to seniors who don’t believe they are seniors that this virus poses.
And so there in the midst of lockdown, as the disciples hide from the world in fear, Jesus appears. Jesus appears bringing peace and breathing into them the spirit.
Then Jesus moves on.
The disciples are left with a split experience. A new reality has been revealed to them, but still one that exists parallel to their current one. On the one side is the grief, danger, suffering and death. On the other surprising new life, a teacher and friend returned to them.
And Thomas misses the whole thing. Unlike the others, Thomas isn’t hiding away on the day of the empty tomb. Perhaps he was dealing with the experience of crucifixion differently than the others, maybe we had accepted this new reality more quickly than the others.
So when he returns to the group, and they share with him the news that the women had brought them, and then that they had experienced themselves first hand, Thomas is not on board. Thomas refuses to be pinball back and forth, to accept these two competing realities.
It must have sounded like the most absurd thing Thomas had ever heard. This alternate reality that doesn’t line up with what he knows to be true: Jesus is dead. That’s the world he is living in. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would be alive. The disciples, his friends, are living in an alternate universe where Jesus is living, while he, Thomas is living in the world where that is simply not the case.
And we get it. For many of us, this world that we are living in seems unbelievable. It is not normal.
Earlier in the week, our family called Erik’s grandmother to wish her a happy birthday. She is 96 years old, living in a care home in Saskatoon. “What a strange world this is,” she remarked as the kids ran in and out of the conversation, simultaneously signing happy birthday while showing off ninja moves and Easter dresses. Normal conversations in abnormal times.
Split realities that hardly seem possible at the same time.
It feels like we are living in an alternate universe. Where what should be, isn’t. What was normal may never be again. We are trying, sometimes desperately so, to keep doing the things we’re used to doing in these new or adapted ways, while at the same time knowing that the world we are living in is not the same. Cannot be the same.
It is almost as if we be believe that this pandemic moment is like a dream, an exception to reality. That life will soon go back to normal and we will all forget this awful time of forced physical isolation, this time of pandemic.
Maybe rather than doubting that Jesus was alive, Thomas knew something that we haven’t quite figured out yet.
There is no going back, there is no back to normal waiting for us on the other side.
“We have seen the Lord,” the disciples exclaim to Thomas.
“But I haven’t,” Thomas must have thought to himself.
Jesus comes to Mary Magdalene. Her resurrection moment is hearing Jesus call her by name. Jesus appears before the disciples, behind locked doors, and says to them “Peace be with you”. They see the risen Lord and believe.
Thomas isn’t asking for anything different than what the others have already experienced for themselves.
The difference is that Thomas asks. In the midst of a mixed-up, fear and anxiety ridden, grief fuelled world, Thomas asks to see Jesus, just as the others have.
Remember, that in John’s Gospel believing is synonymous with relationship. Thomas is not expressing doubt so much as desire to be in relationship with Jesus. To have the same experience of Jesus coming to him as he has heard Jesus has done for others.
And doesn’t Thomas express what we all want and need? To know that our relationship with Jesus doesn’t just go away. That Jesus is with us in the midst of grief and death. In the midst of sickness and job loss, of uncertain and abnormal pandemic times. Just as Jesus is in the midst of the joy of new life, of celebrations and life as we have known it? To know that Jesus is with us even when we can’t be together, gathered in our church home, when we cannot touch one another through the sharing of the peace or the handshakes and hugs that we greet one another with week after week? When we cannot sing together, pray or play together as we are used to.
That Jesus comes to us. Jesus finds us, no matter where we are, or what roadblocks of walls, or locked doors might be in the way. Jesus meets us where we are and reveals himself to us in ways that we can see, and hear, and identify. Even in the midst of death and grief. Even in the midst of pandemic and the unknown.
Throughout the 50 days of Easter we encounter stories of the resurrection, of Jesus meeting people where they are and revealing himself, alive, to them. And through these experiences, Jesus’ friends and family, his disciples, come to believe: “I have seen the Lord” they exclaim to others: Mary Magdalene to the disciples, the disciples to Thomas and Thomas to the whole world: Jesus is not dead, but lives.