Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! It is still Easter for these next 50 days and our scriptures bless us with encounters that our ancestors in the faith had with the Resurrected Jesus.
So, it is with great joy that we gather today on this second Sunday of Easter for our own encounter, to worship our Lord and to celebrate our decade of ministry together. I am spilling over with joy and gratitude but a little sorrow keeps creeping in and being my companion as well.
That’s because we have come to this moment due to my terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis, so that’s understandable, and I imagine many of you are feeling much the same. Joys and Sorrows. The elements of our lives.
And yes, while it seems hard sometimes, todays Gospel text is a beautiful primary of how to live life despite the sorrow, trauma, and grief that accompanies our joys. The story of Thomas is a gift because it tells me that God shows up and God’s people show up for us.
I want to start however by sharing a story about my cancer Camino that I find fascinating and I hope will pull us into the text. Back in January while on retreat in Kauai I began having shortness of breath, a cough, a hoarse voice, and not feeling particularly well. Five Covid tests told me that wasn’t the problem and asthma wasn’t either because despite using my inhaler at sea level or once home, at over 6,000 feet, I was not shaking it. What was going on I wondered?
I soon had my next x-ray scan and started seeing the oncologists where the recurrence was detected but my lungs did not improve much. I needed more…. Lord help me I prayed. My final evaluation before beginning my new chemo treatments was done at MD Anderson where that oncologist sat across from me and showed me my latest CT report my lungs were full of tumors! I was stunned to be honest—it said the radiologists quit counting at 15 spots- but there was the problem. It wasn’t asthma, or Covid, or winter allergies, or from being out of shape, it was my cancer!
But no one to that point had found that and here is the interesting part of the story. We went back to our hotel room where Paul and I both felt more at peace and almost immediately my symptoms resolved. My cough? Gone. My inhaler? Back into my purse. My shortness of breath? Back to pre-Hawaii levels. My answer? My scientific brain says that makes no sense. My theological brain says, oh yes. I needed more. God and God’s people showed up and it changed everything.
Now let’s shift from my story to Thomas’. Thomas needed more. His world had been upended and he was a mess. Mary had seen Jesus in the garden and burst out with the news “I have seen the Lord.” Then in the next Resurrection appearance, Jesus appeared to the other 10 and they got to see Jesus!
They too shared their news with Thomas saying the same thing “We have seen the Lord!” And so, Thomas, not doubting Thomas but BOLD, fully authentic disciple Thomas says, “I need my own experience, my own encounter with Jesus.”
He does not simply accept their encounter as his own saying “Ok, guess it’s true.”
He says I need more! I need more than your stories, I need my own. I love that about Thomas! Can you imagine the pressure just to acquiesce, to appear ‘believing’, to say, ”um, okay…” But he did not!
They had all followed Jesus, loved him and seen him crucified! They all got to see Jesus their beloved Rabbi and Lord and he needed that too. And so, he boldly named that. And guess what? He got what he needed!
God showed up! For him! In a way that was just for him! And I am willing to bet that it changed everything for him. That is one of the truths of this passage for me. We can be bold!
It might appear that we are unbelieving, but we believe enough to say what our authentic need is. In the Gospel of John, believing is being in relationship with God, with Jesus.
And Thomas definitely wants that relationship to continue! He wants to believe and so he asks for what he needs. He isn’t getting a scientific answer that explains the Resurrection. He gets a theological answer that is exactly what he needs. Jesus is present for him specifically.
And notice, he doesn’t get chewed out for needing his own encounter. Instead the Lord invites him to touch his wounds, saying, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Did you know that is a mistranslation? That word "Doubt" has labeled Thomas for centuries and he hasn’t received a whole lot of grace but rethink what Jesus is saying…. “Don’t break off our relationship, be in relationship with me!”
And that is exactly what Thomas was asking for. How do you have a relationship with a Savior that had died? Well, Jesus had the answer and Thomas got what he needed. God showed up!
That is a key truth about this passage for me but something else also jumps out -- God’s people also showed up!
I read Henri Nouwen’s book Can You Drink This Cup last week and one of the insights that he shares is that we are able to drink our cup, claim our joys and sorrows when we have a trusted circle of friends.
Nouwen says that in order to know ourselves truly and acknowledge fully our own unique journey, we need to be known and acknowledged by others for who we are. It’s hard, we want to run from speaking about our inner life in order to avoid confrontation with others and ourselves! But that is not what Thomas did.
He spoke his authentic truth- that he was having a hard time believing, and they embraced that! We don’t get the details of the week between Jesus appearing to them behind locked doors but Thomas must not have been shamed, ridiculed, shunned, or expelled for speaking his truth!
Which one of the others had NOT been overcome with grief, guilt and yes shame at abandoning Jesus as he was tried and crucified? And to them Jesus had appeared, shared peace and breathed on them, and commissioned them.
So, to that trusted gang of fellow believers, his authentic response was received. His need was held as was he. God’s people showed up! And it made all the difference! He was there the following week, behind the closed doors WITH THEM, fully embraced and welcomed despite having confessed TO THEM that he needed more to believe.
I began by suggesting that this text is a beautiful primary of how to live life despite sorrow, trauma, grief that accompanies our joys of life. This a wonderful story to have in our scriptures because God and the 10 heard Thomas’ need.
And God AND the disciples showed up. John goes on to say that these stories are written so that you may believe and through believing (which remember is being in relationship) you may have life! I think knowing that God shows up for us AND that we show up for each other is critical for our lives.
I can be bold and ask for what I need and so can you! When we share our need to God and our trusted group, WE ARE HEARD and we will receive what we need. Now, it might not come at the exact moment or in the way we might imagine it, but keep your eyes of faith open and see the results of being authentic and honest with God and your gang.
It changes everything. We remain in relationship. We receive peace and the Holy Spirit. And we are charged to live our faith in community (our families, our groups, our towns, etc.) by forgiving, by loving.
We are going to sing one of my favorite hymns and I find myself singing it often because it proclaims these truths in song. No storm can shake my inmost calm when to the Rock I’m clinging. Since LOVE is Lord of Heaven and Earth, how can I keep from singing?
In this life of mine I find that I am now on an unexpected part of the journey. So are you. So were the disciples. But we won’t be left in our grief, our disbelieving.
God shows up and so do God’s people. And it makes all the difference. So let’s keep singing! AMEN.