A sermon preached on the second Sunday of Easter (Year C, RCL)
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
I want to ask you a question. Who believes that spaghetti grows on trees? Well I have to say that you are a bunch of doubters. For a period of time in 1957 a sizable portion of the British population believed that spaghetti grows on trees. Why? Why you may ask? Because they saw the evidence. On April 1st 1957 the distinguished and respected British broadcaster Richard Dimbleby narrated a documentary on the BBC which featured a family from Ticino in Switzerland carrying out their annual spaghetti harvest. It showed family members carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry. Spaghetti was not a widely-eaten food in the UK at the time and was considered by many to be an exotic delicacy. In the end it was an April fool’s joke, even the BBC can have some fun. However the fact remains that people basically wanted to believe, they saw and they believed.
On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty, she ran and told Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved, and they went also and saw the empty tomb. A little while later, the risen Jesus appeared to Mary. Mary confused him for the gardener but recognized him when he called her by her name. Mary believed, she had seen him and she did what the Lord asked her. She went and told the other disciples. And now we pick up the story in our Gospel reading that we have just heard.
How do the disciples react to hearing that Jesus had been raised from the dead? Did they go out and proclaim the good news? Did they have a celebration to mark this good news? No. They huddled together in a room and locked the door out of fear. The reaction of the disciples to the news that Jesus had been raised from the dead was fear for what it meant and I’m sure that there was a good serving of doubt in that room as well.
What happened next? Jesus appears in that locked room. Now it would not be unreasonable to expect that he may be a little ticked off. After all of his teaching, after all of that time spent together, after being murdered on the cross, after being raised from the dead, he shows himself to Mary and asks her to tell them that he is alive. And all his disciples could do was to lock themselves away in fear. Was he frustrated by this response? No. Not at all. He comes to them with a blessing – Peace be with you. The disciples see Jesus, they see his wounds and they rejoice. Finally! Jesus empowers them with the Holy Spirit and sends them out into the world to live and share his gospel.
But Thomas was not there, he had not seen, and he had his doubts. I don’t think that he lost his faith, or that he did not believe but he had his doubts. And for this, for the rest of eternity he gets labeled Doubting Thomas. A name which I think is a little unfair. We have no evidence that his friends, the other disciples, had any different reaction to Mary telling them that she had seen the risen Lord. And I guess that if we search deep within ourselves then many of us may have doubts at times at some level. I know that for me, doubt can surface in the form of me questioning what I think or believe about a certain aspect of my faith. But that questioning helps me think and in the end makes me stronger in my faith.
So Thomas doubts, what does Jesus do? He appears to the whole group, this time including Thomas. Interestingly the other disciples are still in that same room. The door is unlocked but it is still closed. We are making progress. Jesus is still not flustered and gives Thomas the same blessing Peace be with you. But this time he goes even further in showing Thomas that he is real. He invites Thomas to touch him, to place his finger on the Lords body. That is all that Thomas needed, to see the Lord. He did not need to physically touch him.
All that he needed to do was to see the Lord. And now we see doubt turned on its head. Thomas replies My Lord and my God.
My Lord and my God.
Up until this point in our gospels Jesus is referred to as teacher, master or Lord. Thomas’s doubt is wiped away and he sees Jesus not only as his Lord but also as God. The divinity of Christ shines into his life. The response of Thomas is much more striking than the response of the other disciples the week before. He who doubted now saw God in the flesh.
Jesus’s response Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe is not a put down of Thomas and his doubt, but a blessing. It is a beatitude. It is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. It is an instruction to Thomas, to the disciples and to you and to me to go out and help people see our Lord and our God in the world and in our lives.
We know that is what the disciples finally did, they opened the door to the room that they were huddled in, we know that they went out and preached the Good News. In our reading from the Acts we heard how Peter and the apostles got into trouble with the Jewish council for teaching in Jesus’s name. If they once doubted, they now believed and being sent by the Lord our God, they did his work.
So here we are, one week after Easter. Are we like the disciples, huddled in a room with the door closed? We have been told that Jesus, our Lord and God is risen. We have seen Jesus at work in our own lives and in the lives of others. Now it is time for us to go out from the room and help others see Jesus in their lives and in the world around them.
How will we do that? How will you do that? When you leave this church, this room today, what can you do to help someone else see Jesus? Maybe they will see Him in an act of kindness that you show, maybe they will see Him not by your judgement but by your offer of a blessing. Where there is darkness, maybe you will bring light. There are so many ways that you can help people see Jesus at work in the world. But you need to go out and show them.
At the 5pm service last night we welcomed baby Edward into the Christian family in a joyous and happy baptism. Edward’s parents, Godparents and our whole community supporting Edward gave our promise to help show Edward Jesus in his life. I reminded all those present last night that it will be easier to show him Jesus when times are good. When he sees Jesus in the beauty of this earth, in this place that we call home. In the love of his family and friends. Everyone present last night made their baptismal promise and with that promise comes a commitment to try our very hardest to help Edward see Jesus when times are also hard. When he has doubts, when he is afraid and when he retreats into his own room just like the disciples did. Each and every one of us join those present last night, though our own baptismal promises, to show not only baby Edward but all who we come into contact with, the face of Jesus in their lives.
In spite of any doubts that we may have, if we believe, then Jesus will make himself known to us, he will bless us. And like Thomas, having seen Jesus at work in our lives and in the world we will come to call Jesus both our Lord and our God.
So we have made it through another season of Lent and Holy Week will soon fade into distant memory. Tonight we waited in darkness and then cried out Alleluia and celebrated the first Eucharist of Easter. The stone is rolled away, Christ is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Well that is all well and good for those of us who are at a point on our journey of faith to accept an empty tomb and a risen Lord. But lets remember that it took the disciples time to accept and to believe.
So as we ring bells, fill our churches with fragrant flowers and celebrate, let us not forget those who still doubt. Those who peep into the empty tomb and have questions.
Today should not belong to the exclusive believers club, it should be the day when the members of the exclusive believers club continue the hard work of living the Gospel of Love, meeting people on the road, and reaching out to those who have questions.
Happy WORKING Easter Day, may you share the blessings that you receive with those who need to receive.