Second Sunday of Easter
Christ Church, New Haven
“Belief is a wise wager. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.” -Blaise Pascal1
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Grace and Peace be unto you.
As we celebrated Resurrection Sunday and continue in our Alleluia season of Easter- there appears to be a feeling of relief within us. One that looks forward to a life spent in hope yet we are aware of the realities of life such as sickness, social disparities, and violent tragedies. Somehow Easter makes us optimistic by assuring us that through grace and our faith in Jesus Christ, All is Well.
Within today's Gospel, after days of penitent and passionate prayer, filled with fear and bereavement -- the disciples witnessed the glory of Our Resurrected Lord. Bursting through the doors a dead man appears alive and greets His friends.
Often when this text is preached, one is attracted to the Thomas' disposition and his bold disbelief---" 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." Thomas desired concrete evidence, he desired to touch the untouchable, as a curious child or a researcher investigates... He was honest with himself and his peers. I imagine that others may have said or thought worst concerning Christ, but .... Thomas voiced his disbelief. It is only in the Gospel of John that Thomas is isolated as the faithless disciple concerning the appearance of the Resurrected Christ.
Doubt concerning the Resurrected Christ is prevalent within the Synoptic Gospels. For instance, in Mark 162, Jesus scolded the disciples "for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen." Also, Matthew's account (28:17)3 notes that, "when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted." Likewise, in Luke4, Jesus says, " Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!" Within these Gospels, Christ is not discouraged by their disbelief instead He responds boldly and sternly by revealing himself, ministering and prophesying to His disciples.
Furthermore, we are aware that Thomas confesses and worships, "My Lord and My God!" And Jesus responded "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." We are of that generation.... those who have not seen him and yet have come to believe.
By no means, am I promoting people to issue remarks which may discredit or challenge the testimonies and the promises of Our Lord. Vaguely, do we acknowledge Saint Thomas' ministry and his obedient response to Christ's Commission of preaching the Gospels and of forgiving and retaining sin. The Apostle Thomas is accredited by Asian Christians, particularly those of Kerala, India as the first evangelist and the founder of one of the eldest Christian communities in the world which dates back to the first century5. I am giving Thomas a little mercy and pushing back on Augustinian theology and missionary approaches which demonize those who doubt or disbelieve.
We witness that Christ ministers to our disbelief and invites us to reach out and touch his flesh and experience his glory! The revelations of Our Lord may not be voiced or presented in a tone that pacifies our existence and our behaviors. The Lord is truthful, the truth of love is that...love can be affirming, convicting, sorrowful, or joyous.
Historian and theological scholar of comparative and historical studies of religion, T. James Kodera suggests that confined doubt rejects of the gift of faith and paralyzes the believer6. It is by reaching out and confessing our doubt or disbelief to Christ that we are further inspired by the Holy Spirit to reconcile and to strengthen our relationship with God, the Father and one another."
Earlier this year, seminarian Leigh Karn preached on doubt and hatred--Her reflection on the bombings in France and France's involvement in the death of Somalians brought me to tears7. As I sat in the server's seat of the Lady Chapel- I began to cry... silently pouring out my feelings of doubt and disappointment in others and myself. I wondered why God created humanity and why He would allowed us to massacre one another.
Later that night, while preparing for Compline I felt hopeless. I even concluded that the ministry was meaningless-- if people continued to hate and to kill one another. I mustered the courage to voice my doubt and my fear as we began to pray in sacristy. In response, a Hildan patted me on the shoulder and attempted to assure me of God's love and grace. She stated that God never promised us infinite happiness in this world, but He promised a life spent with Him and salvation in the hope of a new world yet to come, a new Jerusalem. Instantly, I began to reminiscence on the introductory chapters of Bonheoffer's Cost of Discipleshipwhich affirmed that God's costly act of love through the Crucifixion and the Resurrected Christ which compels us to believe and to obedience... even when it hurts the most8. Grace cost a Father the precious blood of His Son of Our Savior. What was given freely to us...was costly to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. That day God ministered to my disbelief and doubt through Leigh's sermon and the inspirational words of a Hildan.
Imagine how the apostles responded to experiencing the Resurrected Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit and being sent out with earthly and heavenly authority to forgive or to retain sin. Jesus' commission of the repentance and the remission of sin transformed Jewish culture and doctrines. We know that prior stories within the Gospels that such authority and actions were considered as a form of blasphemy that could result in death. According to Judaic law, men could not forgive the sins of men- only God through His mercy and justice forgives the sins of men, because all have committed sin. In other words, how could a sinner forgive sin?
Talk about rubbing salt into old wounds, Jesus' commission absolutely aggravated the high priests and some of the religious leaders. Caiaphas and his priests
· just enticed his disciple Judas Iscariot to betray him
· persuaded and befriended his oppressor Pontius Pilate to Him to crucify him
· and accused Him of being a deceiver and made all necessary precautions through Rome to guard His tomb.
These leaders were conning, powerful, and dangerous- however their efforts failed to prevent the fulfillment of God's promises and His gift of redemption and salvation. "Once God's Word goes forth from His mouth; it will not return to Him empty; But it will accomplish that which he has purposed, and prosper in that for which he sent it. [Isaiah 55]" Jesus is the incarnate Word of the God- The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth [John 1]."If the religious leader had accepted and believed Jesus Christ to be the messiah, they would have understood that His teachings and life accounts were the fulfillment of God's promise and laws.
Believing in the Incarnate and the Resurrected Christ invites us to participate in the possibilities of a Triune God. Jesus' Appearance to the Disciples compels us to believe in Jesus Christ and to obediently respond to His Commission of life to all. Thomas' vivid statements of doubt are not as critical as John's intent in writing. It was written, "that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in His name." It does not matter how we come to believe, God is merciful; however it matters that we DO believe upon His returns. He will send His Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to help and to encourage us along the way. As the disciples believed in Jesus Christ as the messiah, so too let us believe as we recite the Nicene Creed and prepare for the consecration of the bread and wine which gathers us in communion and assures us of the hope of salvation.
God Bless You!